On Tuesday night, Prof. Ariana Kim, music — who has spent time in residence at places from New York to Italy — will serenade an audience in a more familiar location: The Carriage House Cafe.
Kim is a Grammy-nominated violinist and teacher who has been awarded some of music’s top prizes. When performing violin as part of the Aizuri Quartet last spring, Kim clinched a $100,000 check, a record deal for the quartet and one of competitive music’s top honors: the University of Michigan’s M-Prize.
“It was a huge honor and distinction,” Kim recalled, speaking to The Sun by phone after her win last year. The competition involves both traditional performance competition aspects as well as workshops, community engagement with local children and questions about the groups’ intentions to pass on music to the next generation.
Though the M-Prize is fairly new, Kim said, “when it came around, it blew everything else out of the water.”
In the months following the win, the Aizuri Quartet — whose name is drawn from traditional Japanese woodblock printing, done in shades of ink from blue to indigo — recorded and fine-tuned their album blueprinting before its release in September. The unusual title is not just a play on words but also a nod to the way humans construct themselves and their art in many layers and as a continual process, according to Kim. The album picked up a Grammy nomination in 2018 for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance.
Constant remodelling in both art and life has been key to Kim’s development as a performer, artist and educator.
Kim’s parents are both music educators as well, her father at the University of Minnesota and her mother at a local music school. Minnesota still holds strong roots for Kim, who returns every year to perform with the Chamber Orchestra of Minnesota.
Growing up, music was far more than just a hobby in the Kim home. It was normal to hear nothing of a sibling or parent for hours but music through the walls of the practice room. Conversations around the dinner table also wrapped around music, Kim told The Sun.
“[Music] was, in my house, such an all-around part,” Kim said. “In a way it’s overwhelming. Creative juices are constantly flowing … it became almost a spiritual thing.”
This “spirit” of music served Kim well as she earned her bachelor’s of music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and her master’s and doctoral degree in music from Julliard, both top schools in classical performance. However, in keeping with her holistic philosophy, many of her individual pursuits have been interdisciplinary work across cultures, languages and walks of life.
Kim has performed in underprivileged schools around the country as well as in women’s prisons, and spent six months of 2016 on sabbatical in Brescia, Italy, working with North African refugees on a Cornell Council for the Arts grant. There, she hosted workshops and open salons, encouraging refugees to embrace traditional instruments and music from their homes in a collaborative setting.
Though the refugees spoke many different languages and came from wide-ranging backgrounds, they were able to reach a commonplace through musical and artistic expression, Kim said. She tied her experience together in a project entitled “Le storie di vita nel legno,” or “The Stories of Life On Wood.”
“Music transcends. Hearing is the first sense that we develop in the womb,” Kim said last year. “It makes the world smaller in a good way.”
Despite performing all over the world and garnering some of the most sought-after accolades in her profession, Kim finds something unique in teachingclasses in music performance at Cornell.
“It’s a different craft,” she told The Sun in July. “I learn so much from [my students] — teaching, the need to figure it out. I couldn’t envision my life as not being a performer, not being an educator.”
Kim said last year that one of her favorite parts of teaching was the variety of students she is able to connect with through their passion for the arts.
“I love teaching my music majors,” Kim said last year. “I love just as much teaching the engineers and the medical students.”
She said she loves those non-music majors because of their passion for the arts — because they are “there for the love of it.” Even if her non-majors leave Cornell and never touch an instrument again, Kim knows that music will follow them regardless as they become the “next generation of connoisseurs.”
Kim also performs with The Knights in New York City, and will perform with the Aizuri Quartet in a chamber opera based on the Tale of Genji, a traditional Japanese folktale, next month. Over the last six years, Kim has performed more than 40 concerts at Cornell and in the Ithaca area.
Her next concert will be a team-up with local pianist Kerry Mizrahi, and will feature a blend of work by Bach, Brahms and Gershwin as well as American folk music. The show kicks off at Carriage House Cafe at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.