5 Questions to Eunbi Kim (pianist, entrepreneur)

New York City-based Eunbi Kim is a virtuoso pianist and genre-defying creator and performer. Her 2013 music-theatre piece Murakami Music draws on the novels of Haruki Murakami, and her solo program re: last night was premiered at The Kennedy Center in 2015. In late 2017, she released her debut album A House of Many Rooms: New Concert Music by Fred Hersch on Albany Records, and gave her first TEDx Talk “Performing Through Fear.” She is also exploring her voice as a composer and writer, and is developing a one-woman show that combines The Moth-style storytelling with music for the piano. We asked 5 questions to Eunbi about her interdisciplinary projects and arts entrepreneurship.

You’ve done a great deal to establish yourself in a relatively short time at an early stage in your career; what role did entrepreneurship play in this?

Entrepreneurship allowed me to create opportunities for myself, for my work to be seen and heard. It provided me a way to see projects through from ideation into fruition. I think being entrepreneurial is highly creative–it requires thinking outside the box to find solutions.

My first project, Murakami Music, was created on a shoestring budget, and I was able to book multiple sold-out performances, tour it nationally, and garner international press. It even led to unforeseen opportunities such as commenting for media outlets, lecturing at universities, and being invited to publish a paper on my research. And I was able to use the fruits of this project towards creating other opportunities for different projects.

If it’s safe to assume that being a classical pianist is your core discipline, how has incorporating the use of text, audio, memoir, storytelling, theatre, jazz and popular music–everything that goes into your multimedia work–expanded what that central discipline means to you?

It has led to a state of inquiry–What was innovative about this music during its time? What was going on in history, society, and culture? How or why is it relevant today? How can I breathe something new into this work?

All of classical music was contemporary or new music at one point in time. I wonder as a contemporary pianist–Who premiered it? Who commissioned the work? If it’s recent enough to have been recorded, what is the first recording like? Is there a recording of the composer performing it?

Eunbi Kim–Photo by Shervin Lainez

How do you see the choice of composer and repertoire for your debut recording A House of Many Rooms influencing the future direction of your projects, whether purely music or interdisciplinary?

Working with Fred Hersch on this album really cemented my desire in continuing to collaborate with composers as part of my core artistic practice, whether it’s purely music or interdisciplinary. It is a deeply rich and fulfilling experience for me to connect with the score in such an intimate way through working closely with its composer.

Typically after finishing a project or even during, I tend to want to go in a completely different direction on the next project. With this recording, I specifically wanted to work on a project that was purely musical and challenged me pianistically. And I wanted to work with a singular composer, as if I were studying and making a composer’s portrait. I also wanted to make something tangible like a recording and saw this as the perfect opportunity. The direction that I’m exploring now is writing and composing my own work. I plan on or hope to work with multiple (women) composers on my next project, which will feature both multimedia and experimentation with a different recital format.

However, Fred is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met in my life, and I plan to take everything that I learned from him with me moving forward in whichever direction I go. He gave me so many great nuggets of wisdom and encouragement and really showed me the highest standard of what a complete musician looks like. I hope to emulate the kind of generosity that he’s shown me and others like me who are young artists one day.

In your TEDx Talk, you spoke of your experience being bullied by a male professor, and on Instagram you shared that you were a victim of sexual harassment by a powerful person. Can you talk about how your experiences, in the context of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, have shaped your perspective and practice as a creative artist?

I’ve become more cognizant of women not being heard on multiple fronts and platforms across the board. One of the most glaring issues that I find in music is women composers not being heard, not being programmed and recognized, and I want to make a concerted effort to help change that as a creative artist.

I was only able to share openly about my experiences in my TEDx Talk and Instagram because I came to understand that I was not the one to blame in my stories. For many years, I thought it was my fault. There is a sense of shame that comes with being a victim; you ask, “Why did they choose me? There must be something wrong with me.” It was empowering to share my experiences while standing in this truth, and I received an outpouring of support from people, many of whom shared their own stories. These recent movements have made it feel safer to share and have these kinds of conversations. I want to continue using my voice on various platforms but now find ways to also incorporate this kind of dialogue directly into my artistic work.

Can you talk about your plans for your one-woman show?

It’s in the ideation phase right now but I’m envisioning my voice being a central component next to the music, whether it’s spoken, sung, used with or without piano, around the theme of finding my voice and feeling heard. I’m a huge fan of The Moth, and I want to incorporate storytelling into the show- haven’t figured out just how yet. I’m also a fan of podcasts, stand-up comedy, spoken word, interviews, and theatre, and if I’m brave enough, all or some of these elements will be there. I’m inspired to write and compose a lot or some of the music but I want to collaborate with and commission other women artists for the show as well.