Violinist Michelle Kim ’91 has crafted an impressive classical music career, performing with symphony orchestras, chamber music groups and at music festivals worldwide.
In 2001, she joined the New York Philharmonic, where she is now Assistant Concertmaster, The William Petschek Family Chair.
So, recently, she decided to create for herself “a fresh new challenge” and pursue a solo career overseas. “Why not do something I’ve never tried before?” says Michelle. She started with a successful two-week tour of South Korea, where she was born.
Michelle arrived in the U.S. from Seoul in fifth grade knowing barely a word of English. She began playing piano at age 7 and at 11 switched to violin, inspired largely by her father, a tenor and conductor. In Los Angeles, she immersed herself in studies with legendary teacher/violinist Robert Lipsett. “I started late,” she says, “and that fostered an element of competition in me.”
By the time she entered Crossroads School in seventh grade, Michelle was fluent in English and violin. She discovered a “pretty incredible, prestigious music department” and outstanding academics—both of which helped propel her a few years later to recognition as a Presidential Scholar, she says.
Particularly memorable was working with conductor Heiichiro Ohyama, “a dynamic force” who would later become her mentor. Also unforgettable was music theory class at Crossroads—so advanced and “insanely difficult” that it enabled Michelle and others to skip first-year theory classes in college.
She went on to the USC Thornton School of Music, where she started teaching right after graduation. She currently teaches at the Mannes College of Music at the New School in Manhattan.
Early in her career, Michelle joined a string quartet led by Henry Gronnier, another mentor, who later loaned her his violin for her New York Philharmonic audition. That gesture, and an instrument loan as a teenager from the Colburn Foundation, led her to establish the Doublestop Foundation in 2010. The nonprofit provides stringed instruments to promising musicians who can’t afford the investment.
“It’s rewarding to help other musicians,” says Michelle. “This is one way we can share the stage.”