As told to Greg Cahill
Keep Connected chronicles the ways in which string players and organizations are supporting and keeping in touch with their audiences or students throughout the global coronavirus pandemic quarantine—even as other sectors of the economy reopen, live concerts and classroom teaching are expected to lag behind.
Concert cellist and recording artist Hee-Young Lim hails from the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and recently livestreamed the Elgar Concerto with the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra. Lim, 33, is a graduate of the New England Conservatory and has studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris. As principal solo cellist with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, she became the first female Asian cellist to lead a section in a major European orchestra. In 2018, she became the first Korean cellist appointed to a position at the prestigious Beijing Central Conservatory in the People’s Republic of China. Her Sony debut, French Cello Concertos, led the Washington Post to describe her as “a deeply gifted musician with a full, singing tone, near-flawless technique, and a natural lyricism that infused virtually every note.” Her next Sony recording, Russian Cello Sonatas, of Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff sonatas, was released June 5.
Where are you quarantined?
I’m currently in Seoul, my hometown. I came back to Seoul to spend the Chinese New Year holidays with my family and wound up staying here for the entire semester, as my conservatory has decided to run courses online this semester. Teaching and giving exams online is very interesting. I have to confess that it is somewhat challenging, but we are lucky to have the technology in this difficult time.
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player while working and living in solitude?
Now that I am not on the road performing, the solitude has provided me with some time to chill and to practice at a slower pace. The alone time also gives me the chance to work on pieces that I’ve wanted to learn for a very long time. Actually, our conservatory had midterm exams by video this week, and I’ve listened to about 70 students playing the Popper études! I really appreciate how these lovely études lifted my soul, especially in these times of isolation. The student performances inspired me to practice these études myself—I hadn’t had a chance to play them in concert, but now I am seriously considering doing so.
How have you stayed connected with your audience during the quarantine?
Recently, I was asked to play the Elgar Concerto with the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra in Korea in a livestreaming concert without an audience. It was the first time I experienced this kind of concert setting. I had mixed feelings while performing, because the current pandemic situation made my heart ache, and it was surreal to perform live in a concert with an orchestra with no audience. I tried to play with my fullest heart for my audience on YouTube!
How have you selected your internet programming?
I was excited to have been invited to perform a livestreaming concert for the Violin Channel on May 29. I am also recording a streaming performance for Sirius Classic FM that will be broadcast in June. I will perform music from my new CD, Russian Cello Sonatas, released June 5 on Sony Classical, as well as several other favorite pieces. And I plan on doing more online streaming performances for music lovers everywhere.
How do you rate your experience with virtual performance?
For me, it doesn’t matter where I perform, my playing and concentration will be the same regardless of the venue as I am accustomed to playing in various settings. Playing in a room virtually is certainly more casual and cozy than performing live a big concert hall, but I do prefer having an audience with whom I can interact. In a concert, there is a genuine give and take between the performer and the listeners, and the mutual interaction lifts us all to a higher plane.
Why is it important to stay connected on social media?
By its very definition, social media is about the interaction between communities. The music industry has been transformed by the digital era, and in today’s fragmented world, social-media platforms for artists, whether emerging or established, have become a critical way to communicate directly with fans and build a community of like-minded music lovers. It is so important to engage directly with your fans, share your new projects and passions, and respond to their questions and feedback. If your fans care about you as an artist, they will become your advocates and biggest supporters. It really is a win-win for both the artist and music lovers!
So, the responses are very supportive and I am so grateful to have the encouragement of my fans. They inspire me to grow and excel as an artist. For example, I was touched by the feedback to my first album—fans left amazing comments about my music on my social media, as well as on Amazon and other music platforms. One individual said he listened to my album on his way to Taipei from Toronto and shared how it affected him. Some fans even contacted me directly on my website after they listened to my album on the radio. YouTube is another excellent platform that allows you to engage directly with music lovers and share your performances, such as my recent concert with the Gyeonggi Philharmonic. Many people wrote encouraging comments, saying that they loved my playing and would like to hear more pieces. The unique opportunity social media provides to engage directly with existing fans also allows me to grow an audience that appreciates my musicianship and, hopefully, will attend my concerts when things get back to normal.
What else have you learned about your audience?
I have learned that we can inspire one another, and that they help me fulfill my role as an artist. New opportunities such as live and recorded streaming performances also affords me and my audience the chance to become more involved in the process of art creation. All of this has brought me and my fans closer together.
Any tips for other string players considering this path?
I would like to share the famous saying: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The life of a musician can be challenging at times. It has its ups and downs and resilience is the key to keeping us moving forward. When you first fell in love with music you began a lifelong process of discovery and refinement as a musician. As you strive to build a career, don’t be daunted by the ongoing process of auditions and competitions—it is a part of a rewarding process and growth as an individual and artist. Remember you’ve prepared for these moments all your life! Don’t be discouraged, stay motivated, and let your love for music act as your inner GPS as your career flourishes.
How will you continue going forward as a player? Will the quarantine change your path?
I think we are witnessing a transformation of the music industry—things are not going to just revert back to the way they were before. I can’t predict what will happen after the pandemic, how musicians who tour heavily on every continent will be able to continue with their performance careers, but I am sure there will be challenges that we will all have to meet. I do think it will be difficult to give concerts over the next year or two, but I am hopeful that once a vaccine is widely available, the arts will have found a way to adjust to the new reality, and musicians and their audiences will find a way to come together.
Q: Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers? This is a difficult time, but I think the world is discovering the need for art and music even more than ever. People need beauty in their lives and to be uplifted!