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Composer has a ‘Playful’ attitude toward music

Texu Kim says contemporary music should be ‘spicy yet delicious’

Composer Texu Kim speaks during a press event held Monday in southern Seoul. (Kreis Classic)
Composer Texu Kim speaks during a press event held Monday in southern Seoul. (Kreis Classic)

Composer Texu Kim is set to release his first album “Playful” Thursday, under classical music label Kreis Classic.

The album consists of six works, performed by violinists Baek Ju-young and Kim Gye-hee, cellist Mun Tae-guk, pianist Ilya Rashkovskiy. Pianist Kim Jung-won participated in the recording as the producer.

“I always compose works with the goal that the works should be fun,” Kim said at a press event held Monday in southern Seoul. “I want the fun to be shared by the performers, too. My compositions may be difficult, but there is fun in it, you know, like when foods are spicy yet delicious.”

“Contemporary music is often considered difficult, but it is still a great a joy for me when I hear that my works are fun,” he said.

Kim is a composer inspired by the more recent aspects of Korea, rather than traditional Korean music. His works include “Zzan!!”(2020) which refers to the sound of “cheers” when drinking in Korea, “Kookminhakgyo Fantasy“ (2018) inspired by melodies often heard at Korean elementary schools, and “Chopsalteok” (2012), chewy rice cake.

Having served as a composer-in-residence of the Korean Symphony Orchestra, Kim‘s works have been performed by prestigious orchestras around the world such as the New York Philharmonic, the Minnesota Orchestra and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.

Kim’s best-known work “Pali-pali!” (2018) is also included the album. The 10-minute piece for violin and cello was commissioned by the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival. The work was inspired by the commission itself. The organizers gave a rather short deadline for the work and Kim was inspired by the rush.

”I wanted to do something Korean, but not another Arirang work. ‘Pali pali’ is something that does not even require an explanation to Koreans,” he said, referring to the “hurry hurry” culture in Korea. 

Cover image for album “Playful” (Kreis Classic)
Cover image for album “Playful” (Kreis Classic)

For “Sonata Amabile” for violin and piano, Kim went back to his younger days, delving into why he composes music.

“As a student, I always said I want to be loved. It may be childish for me to say I want to be loved at almost 40, but I still wanted to be loved, and for my works to be loved,” he said.

The sonata consists of three movements: Kki: Allegro, Mo: Larghetto and Mu: Presto. Each part describes the love of “gisaeng,” or women courtesans, mother and mudang, or Korean shamans.

The composer‘s unique career trajectory has received much attention. Before turning to music, he studied chemistry at Seoul National University. After choosing to do music, he went to the US to complete his studies, earning a doctorate in music at Indiana University. Since then, he has been based in California, as a professor of composition and music theory at San Diego State University.

“Living in the US, it is impossible to live unconscious of race,” Kim said, expressing sadness for the recent Atlanta area shootings. “Even my name directly indicates that I am Asian and a Korean. There are ups and downs.”

“I understand that in receiving a commission, my Korean background cannot be left out whether the commissioners want the Korean-ness in the work or not,” Kim said. “I cannot change the frame in a day.”

Meanwhile, Kim is to take part in the upcoming Tongyeong International Music Festival as the music director of “Dear Luna,” a dance drama starring ballerina Kim Joo-won, which will be staged from Friday to Sunday.

By Im Eun-byel (