Guest pianist Michael Kim brings Brunton to its feet

Renowned pianist performs guest recital.

The Mount Allison music department welcomed the exceptional artistry of Michael Kim last Friday as the accomplished instrumentalist performed a selection of pieces for solo piano. The program, entitled “The Evolution of the Piano,” aims to chronicle the essential composers and developments in the instrument’s history and take the audience on a musical tour of the highlights of piano composition and style. 

Kim, an award-winning pianist, achieved international fame through his collaboration with some of the world’s most exceptional musicians and symphonies, including Orchestra Sinfonica de Trujillo and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. His most well-known production is “The Schumann Letters,” an exploration of the life and music of German composer Robert Schumann. Kim is currently a professor and dean of the School of Music at Brandon University in Manitoba, and his recordings continue to be broadcasted regularly on CBC Radio and several other media sources around the country and the globe. 

Kim’s program featured select solo piano pieces intended to explore and highlight the ways in which piano music in the Western tradition has changed over time. Featuring works by Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Debussy, and others, Kim demonstrated that compositions for piano evolved alongside cultural values, avant-garde artists, and technological developments in the very construction of the instrument. 

In addition to his evident musical talent, Kim’s approachable and relaxed personality allowed him to connect intimately with his audience. Before each piece, Kim took time to explicate the notable characteristics of each composer and their place in the broader narrative of piano history, in a way that was accessible and engaging. Kim also provided a sturdy academic backbone to the evening’s performances by briefly demonstrating specific examples of stylistic innovation throughout music history, including Chopin’s experiments with resonance and tonality and Debussy’s augmentation of chord structure that pioneered modern and contemporary music.

After sufficiently representing the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic musical periods, Kim showcased the experimentalism of contemporary music by performing “Five Pieces for Solo Piano” by Canadian composer John Hawkins. The piece sets out to deliberately challenge and explore what the piano is truly capable of by utilizing dissonant chords, indefinite tempos and time signatures, and unorthodox methods of playing, including the direct plucking and muting of strings inside the piano with one’s hands. The evening then concluded with Kim’s own personal arrangement of George Gershwin’s well-known piece “Rhapsody in Blue” for solo piano, a performance that has been praised for its unique yet accurate replication of Gershwin’s original style.

A common theme throughout the evening was how individual or collective innovation in music can change the ways in which music is heard or conceptualized.Kim’s program was both a condensed anthology of some of history’s greatest pianists and an informative look into how the piano has been perceived and enjoyed over time. Where music is going, we might never know—but Kim may be at the forefront of authority for this investigation.

Daniel Marcotte