As told to Greg Cahill
Keep Connected chronicles the ways in which string players are staying in touch with their audience or students during the global coronavirus pandemic and its lingering impact on live concerts and classroom education. Even as society struggles to reopen, virtual performances and social media outreach programs have kept performers in the public sphere, since live concerts, festivals, and other large gatherings remain largely unsafe.
Violinist Kristin Lee has spent most of the quarantine in New York City, but recently she has been residing in Taipei, Taiwan, where she is permitted to perform. Lee—a recipient of the 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant, as well as a top prizewinner of the 2012 Walter W. Naumburg Competition and Astral Artists’ 2010 National Auditions—is an acclaimed soloist, chamber player, and concertmaster. Born in Seoul, Lee began studying violin at age five and within a year won First Prize at the Korea Times Violin Competition. In 1995, she moved to the States to continue her studies under Sonja Foster and in 1997 entered the Juilliard School’s Pre-College. In 2000, Lee was chosen to study with Itzhak Perlman after he heard her perform with the Pre-College Symphony. Lee holds a master’s degree from the Juilliard School. She is a member of the faculty of the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. She also serves as co-founder and artistic director of Emerald City Music, a non-profit organization based in Seattle that has brought classical music to local hospitals, transitional housing communities, and schools, as well hosting virtual concerts for online concert-goers. She will join pianist Orion Weiss for a Music@Menlo webcast of works by Gershwin and Ravel on Sunday, January 17, at 5 PM (PST). Tickets are $25.
Tell me about your daily routine while quarantined.
I woke up around 8 AM and the first thing I did was turn on my radio to WNYC, where I hear NPR, and make my coffee. Coffee time lasted for about half an hour, followed by my workout, shower, email, lunch, and practice! After all this is done, it would be around 5–6 PM, and I enjoyed leisure time cooking an elaborate meal while catching up on some Netflix. Every Monday, I spent the evening on Zoom because I was hosting a weekly virtual event for my organization called Emerald City Music. Other nights, I would Zoom with friends to catch up and see how they’re doing through the quarantine.
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player while working and living in solitude?
I learned that I’m actually very good at figuring out ways to be occupied. If I had too much time, I always found something to do to keep myself busy, whether it’s actual work, or fun activities like doing a puzzle or trying a new recipe. At the same time, when I wasn’t able to find any activities, I learned how much I depend on friends and people in my life because the number one thing I missed the most was interaction and communication. As a player, I learned that I seek for motivation to make music. To be honest, I had a difficult time picking up my instrument in the beginning of the quarantine because I realized my motivation was always coming from performing. The pandemic taught me to shift those motivations to something more meaningful and now my reason to play is completely different. And I’m happy to say that I’m playing more than ever, even without performing.
How are you staying connected with your audience during the quarantine? Tell us about virtual sessions you’ve participated in?
I think a regular schedule is the most important element to stay connected. Everyone is oddly busier than ever, but feeling so isolated. So, if I make a point to be the one to keep setting up Zoom calls and reaching out, it helps keep the communication going.
How have you selected your internet programming?
It was a mix of things, but mostly pieces that I wanted to learn and made it a goal—or pieces I wanted to bring back and make improvements.
What is the response like?
It’s hard to know what response you’re getting from a virtual platform because you can’t hear their clapping right when you finish. I really had to learn to get used to that because in the beginning, it really let me down. But now we get thoughtful emails and kind text messages
Why is it important to stay connected on social media?
The world is so different today than even ten years ago. You can’t just show your glamorous self on stage—you need to share your face without makeup and photos of your pets, too. People are hungry to connect on a deeper level, and social media has become a crucial part in breaking that barrier.
How do you rate your experience with virtual performance?
It’s hard to tell because what may sound good under my ear may not be the best through the Zoom call. Even if I play my best, but forget to have my “original sound on” on Zoom, then it will never sound good. We are living in a time when we have to know how to work more than our instruments.
Is this something you will continue even as venues reopen?
Definitely not as much as I am doing it now. Live concerts will never be able to be replaced.
What are your goals going forward as performance venues reopen slowly?
I will never take live performance for granted ever again. Every concert will be my most important performance.
What projects are you working on?
I have been running a virtual festival that brings 17 arts organizations onto one online platform. I’m constantly working on finding ways to stay innovative on virtual platforms!
Ms. Lee will be performing Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2, his Tzigane, and selections from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess as part of Music @ Menlo’s Explorers Series. For information and tickets, click here.