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Inside the Music

Composer Chat: Three Questions with Texu Kim

Texu Kim smiling with dark background
Composer Texu Kim, a 2015 alumnus of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute.

When composer Texu Kim’s music was first heard at Orchestra Hall—the U.S. premiere of his Splash!! as part of the January 2015 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute—his witty and colorful work was among the concert’s most warmly received pieces. Nine years later his music is returning to the Hall, as his work Dub-Sanjo will be heard at the February 17 Lunar New Year concert as well as concerts on March 8 and 9 that also feature Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. In a recent interview, Kim reflected on his Composer Institute experience, described his unique method of titling pieces and previewed his upcoming projects and performances.

Looking back on the 2015 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, what are the most valuable things you learned? 

Participating in the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute in 2015 was a pivotal moment of my growth as a composer, for which I will be grateful forever. The performance of my piece, Splash!!, went superbly, although it was highly demanding. I was more ambitious, wanting to use as many composition techniques and fancy effects I had learned as possible. Working with these supreme musicians made me realize what (and how much) I asked for from individual performers and the entire group. I was so grateful that I began thinking more deeply about honoring their life-long endeavor with my music. I am still learning (and my music is still demanding), but shifting to a more humane and humanitarian mindset was crucial in my growth as a musician.

Another significant insight I gained through the Institute is understanding the “industry” and how composers can serve better. The Institute was efficiently designed for the participants to interact with and learn from essential parties in concert-making (in addition to the composers and performers), including staff from various departments (artistic, communications, etc.), public relations and copyright specialists and audience members. And, of course, I gained much from the insightful guidance of the composer and conductor mentors (Aaron Jay Kernis, Kevin Puts and Osmo Vänskä). Again, knowing how much work and how many people go into the process was a revelation, and it prepared me to collaborate with other orchestras later, especially when I became the composer-in-residence of the Korean National Symphony Orchestra. I am pleased to report that I initiated and facilitated the Korean National Symphony Orchestra (as its ex-composer-in-residence) to create the Composers’ Atelier program in 2021, primarily modeled after the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute!!

Lots of your pieces (like Splash!!) have titles ending with two exclamation points, and others like Dub-Sanjo don’t. Can you talk about your thought process in titling pieces?

Titling is an essential part of my creative process—mainly for my own pleasure, but it can also be an effective tool to communicate with the rest of the world. The consistent use of two exclamation points helped me to establish a sort of “brand,” though it was not a strategic choice when I began doing it. I loved ending titles strongly (I am also generally into “fun”), which might have something to do with Korean speaking intonation and folk music phrasing, both often ending strong, in retrospect. Also, as I mentioned in the interview with Fred Child at the 2015 Composer Institute concert, having three exclamation points felt too much, and having one felt too lonely. I do this, however, only for titles that go well with a strong ending, like Splash!!, Bounce!!, and Pali-Pali!! (a Korean expression meaning “chop-chop!!”).

It’s not as noticeable, but I also have many titles with a hyphen, like Ko-Oh, Spin-Flip, and Dub-Sanjo. It might be related to my familiarity with hyphens that many Korean people use in their names. Or, I might simply love having symbols in my titles. I just realized that I have also used the dollar sign, plus sign, slash and < symbol in my titles. It is also fun to have some enigmatic elements. That said, only one-sixth of my pieces have the double exclamation points—and one-tenth have a hyphen (!!).

What are some highlights of your recent performances and upcoming projects? 

First of all, I am thrilled to be back here with Dub-Sanjo! And in 2023-24, I have a couple of visits to Minnesota (when it rains…). I was at St. Olaf College last September to participate in their inaugural Korean Composers Festival, where my chamber music pieces Pali-Pali!! and Pahdo were played. I will return to the Twin Cities on May 23-26 to join the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s performances of Līlā, commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition.

On March 21, Eun Sun Kim will conduct Spin-Flip with the Philharmonia at Southbank Centre in London. I will also have three pieces performed at Carnegie Hall this spring: on March 10th, the New York Youth Symphony (with its new director, Andrew Kim) will perform Dub-Sanjo; on March 26, Alarm Will Sound will play Līlā (presented by Carnegie Hall); and on May 22, Sejong Soloists will give a world premiere of with/out, a quadruple concerto (with violin soloists Frank Huang, David Chan, Andrew Wan and Daniel Cho) which they commissioned from me in celebration of their 30th anniversary. 

I did not know how many orchestral performances I would have when participating in the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute in 2015. I feel like I am living in a dream—and again, I will feel indebted to the Institute for any of my achievements.

Get your tickets now to hear the Minnesota Orchestra perform Texu Kim’s Dub-Sanjo, which will be heard at the February 17 Lunar New Year concert led by Junping Qian as well as the concerts on March 8 and 9 that also feature Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with Eun Sun Kim conducting.