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Another Scoop of Astronaut Ice Cream

By Ariana Kim

Violinist and teacher Ariana Kim’s career has brought her around the world—performing across the country in San Francisco, New Orleans and New York City, and abroad in South Korea, Italy and beyond. It all started right here in the Twin Cities: Kim grew up in a musical family and, at the age of 10, graced the Orchestra Hall stage for the first time. At 16, she made her debut with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra performing Mozart’s Fifth violin concerto before leaving home to start her college career. Though she’s now based in New York, her Minnesota music roots remain deep as she continues to lead the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota as co-artistic director and return home for appearances on popular series like Liquid Music and The Great Northern. Before beginning a new role at as one of three hosts of the broadcast series This Is Minnesota Orchestra, she reflects on her musical upbringing in Minnesota.

They seemed almost fantastical to my 10-year-old self: those iconic cubes that playfully protruded from the walls, as if made from larger-than-life astronaut ice cream. Though I had sat many a time in those soft, burgundy seats to hear my hometown band before, it was quite another experience to be on stage. I felt dwarfed by the magnitude of the occasion, realizing how much bigger things seemed looking out into the balconies, understanding the honor that was upon me, and wanting to do justice to composer Fritz Kreisler. In my bubblegum-pink dress–sewn with such care by my mother, I looked out to see my father with camcorder in hand, walked to my post, took my bow and started to play. The rest of the evening was a rather magical blur, but when things came back into focus, I felt relieved and proud all at once–then changed back into my soccer shorts and gleefully ate my weight in Chinese food at our favorite Dinkytown dive. 

Such was my first performance at Orchestra Hall–a debut, as they called it back then–performing Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro with the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, “Uncle Jim” (conductor Jim Bartsch) at the podium. So many things went into making that experience possible, from the privilege of access that I was given to my artist-teacher parents who taught me to practice every single day and the simply cool partnership that the Minnesota Orchestra offered to its youth orchestra counterpart so that we youngsters were able to play in that sublime hall. Fast forward 20 years, I found myself in nearly the same spot on the same stage (just slightly taller and minus the bubblegum-pink dress), honoring the late Stanislaw Skrowaczewski—who served as music director of the Orchestra for 19 years—to whom my brother Daniel and I paid tribute in his last completed composition, a duo for violin and viola he wrote for the two of us. As I got older and came to know Maestro Stan (“Bear” as he was affectionately called) and Judy Dayton—another giant of the Twin Cities arts world—I began to recognize that such an institution didn’t just happen upon us. The roots of the Minnesota Orchestra run deep into the cultural soil of our hometown, and I am delighted to serve as your host for the October 2022 This is Minnesota Orchestra broadcast.

Having grown up just across the river in St. Paul in an overly musical home, friends and colleagues, vocation and passion, work life and family life were one in the same. My parents Ellen and Young-Nam, both violinists who have become staples in the Twin Cities cultural fabric themselves, provided a strong foundation on which I built my musical abode. A lovingly fierce tiger dad on one side, and a mom with Suzuki patience on the other was my daily cocktail, and though I blame myself for the 5 a.m.-pre-school bus scale regimen, it somehow all worked.  While I’ve shared my time as a working musician living in San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Indianapolis, Italy, South Korea and currently New York City and upstate in Ithaca—where I serve on the music faculty at Cornell—I feel most at home in the Twin Cities. I look forward to every concert (and now hosting moment!) with soul-nourishing joy that brings me back to “loon land,” whether it be through my work with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Wayzata Symphony, on the Liquid Music series or through my work as co-artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota.

It hasn’t been an easy few years for most of us, and keeping a bright eye forward is often easier said than done. When the state of affairs around us looks bleak and daunting, perhaps one of the most helpful things we can do is to go home. Whether it be a physical place, your people by birth or by choice–or simply an experience that makes you feel warm from the inside out, that’s what going home should be.  Perhaps if we all make such things more of a priority, we’ll all be better for it. And, a stop at the Science Museum for some astronaut ice cream is never a bad thing.