Northern VA and Washington DC Tour

We spent the last week of June in Nortern Virginia and Washington D.C. to play two recitals: Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association's Lyceum Summer Series and a house concert at our friend David's house in DC. Aside from our musical engagements, I and Grace got to enjoy the Smithsonian Institute, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the DC Marina, old town Alexandria, and of course some wonderful companies. 

Choi-Kim Duo Recital at Alexandria's Lyceum, sponsored by the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association

Our program included: Martinu Sonatina, Bernstein's Clarinet Sonata, Devienne's Clarinet Sonata No. 2, Cantilene by Louis Cahuzac, "After you, Mr. Gershwin!" by Béla Kovács, and the world premiere performance of Bright River by Peter Lieuwen (commissioned by our duo in 2014). We quickly found out that it's a challenging but truly enjoyable program for everyone.

 Visiting Northern VA is always sentimental as a place where I spent a good part of my youth growing up. I look forward to visiting again next year with another interesting program and see my old and new friends in the area. 

Seafood market at Southwest Washington Marina where you can enjoy some fresh and delicious food!

Almost overwhelming Basilica with some amazing architecture and mosaic in Byzantine style. The mass here was accaompanied by a superb organ playing. 

At our friend David's beautiful house in DC. In addition to our program, I and Grace each played with David: Brahms Hungarian Dances for four hands and Finzi's Bagatelles.  

ASO Cirque de la Symphonie

Albany Symphony Orchestra with Cirque de la Symphonie

This weekend was the second time for me to play with Cirque de la Symphonie, but it was still too exciting not to glance at the amazing acrobats every once in a while during rehearsals and performances, etc. A truly challenging endeavor if you are the musician! In fact, my very first concert after being appointed as the principal clarinetist of the Albany Symphony Orchestra back in 2012 was with ASO and Cirque de la Symphonie. With some really nice musical selections (including some of my favorites such as Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espanol) and great performances by the acrobats, I find these productions much more enjoyable for both musicians and audience than conventional pops or holiday concerts.  

I grew to really love playing with this group, particularly with the wonderful woodwind section! They are all outstanding musicians and amazing friends! One of many exciting projects I get to do with this group next year is a performance of Concerto for enhake called Thronateeska and Orchestra by Steve Landis. This project was initiated by my chamber ensemble enhake and Albany Symphony Orchestra a few years ago. I am really looking forward to the world premiere of Thronateeska in February and will certainly keep everyone posted about the concert.

Albany Symphony Orchestra Clarinet (and bassoon) sections! 

Everyone Has the First Time

Getting ready for the big solo!

Getting ready for the big solo!

Every once in a while, we all get to enjoy some special first-time moments. My past couple weekends were spent rehearsing and performing with the Oak Ridge Symphony in Oak Ridge, TN. The town, located just northwest of Knoxville, is well known for being a key location for the Manhattan Project during World War II. I have performed a number of times in their Chamber Music Series, and each time I was struck by its highly educated audience members and their great interest in classical music. It was a pleasure meeting some familiar faces and play some great music with local musicians there. So here are some first-time experiences for me:

  • Playing one of the greatest orchestral clarinet solo parts: Kodaly's Dances of Galánta
  • Playing on a new mouthpiece in a public performance for the first time in six years  (I've been using my previous mouthpiece for all occasions. This time, I tried my new Vandoren M30D and really loved it!)
  • My awesome wife accompanied me for the trip to the concert, so we got to spend some relaxing time together in Oak Ridge and Knoxville for the first time!


Krehl Clarinet Quintet with the Larchmere String Quartet

I spent past couple days in Evansville, IN working with the Larchmere String Quartet. I got to know them through my friend and violinist Alicia who joined the quartet some time ago. We read through some music last year and planned several exciting projects together for coming years. This weekend, we began working on Quintet for Clarinet and Strings by the little-known composer named Stephan Krehl. I came across the work by chance and was immediately intrigued by it. Learning this sort of unknown piece (from late 19th century) can be both exciting and challenging. I feel very fortunate to meet a quartet that is willing to commit great deal of time and effort in learning this piece and give it a new life. Our work this weekend definitely shed some light and gave us a good prospect.  

Here is a preliminary list of dates and places where we will perform Krehl's Clarinet Quintet during 2014-15:

  • October 14 - Lincoln Memorial University, TN
  • October 15 - WPLN Nashville Noon Live Broadcast (with performance and interview)
  • October 16 - Tennessee Tech University
  • November 10 - Middle Tennessee State University
  • January 24 - University of Evansville, IN
  • June - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

It is exceptionally rewarding and invigorating to make music with a group of wonderful friends. Look how much fun we are having!

A Peek at My Studio - Vandoren M30D Mouthpieces!

The messy desk in my home studio

My studio is located in the basement of our home. Although it does not have any windows (my wife's studio is also in the basement, but it is on the walk-out side with plenty of sunlight), it is almost entirely soundproof. It feels very cozy, and I can play pretty much any time during the day or night. I try to keep it fairly clean, but certain things have been going on to keep it quite messy during this weekend. 

Some new toys to try out!

After months of very busy performing schedule, I finally have a week or so to sit back and relax. So I decided to try some new mouthpieces. Several colleagues told me their positive experiences with Vandoren M30D. My wonderful friends at DANSR kindly sent me some samples to try over next few weeks, and they arrived just in time!

Although the "D" models are Boehm system mouthpieces adapted to the German or Reformed Boehm clarinets, they do work fine with regular Boehm system. I went with M30D, which according to Vandoren has "a good balance between timbre and roundness."

Upon my first few minutes of trial, I immediately noticed they are very different from my current set up. I had to come down significantly on reed strength (from V12 3.5+ to V12 3 or 3.5) and use a ligature that is much freer. Silverstein ligature, one of my recent acquisition, seems to accommodate it fairly well (the string-inspired design also seems to be right fit for these German mouthpieces). Vandoren flyer recommends "56 rue Lepic" but I still prefer the sound and control I get from V12 (I tried samples of rue Lepic 3-3.5+ and V12 3-3.5+ that I received before coming to the conclusion). 



These are some of my early observations:

  • Noticeably consistent and uniform sound throughout registers
  • A very refined tone (darker than my order setup but with lots of high frequency ring) but maybe too "artificial" for my taste
  • Very easy blowing 
  • Incredible improvement on the intonation. Although the mouthpiece is set for A=441Hz, I seem to be able to manage it for both A=440 and A=442 without much problem. 
  • The altissimo register seems to suffer the most. I hope this is something that I can overcome after some time getting used to the slightly adapted embouchure.

I picked three that I liked the most out of the eight I received and plan on trying them out in the "field" during next couple weeks. Fortunately, I have rehearsals and concerts that would test this new set-up to a great extent (principal part for Kodaly's Dances from Galanta, Brahms Symphony No. 4, Stephan Krehl's Clarinet Quintet, and various WW quintet music). I am very hopeful as the early result is rather promising. I will post some follow up thoughts in few days. 

Yay (or sigh) for more mouthpieces!

What's on my stand?

KBS 1FM Classical Music Studio - Devienne Clarinet Sonata

Yesterday, my François Devienne Clarinet Sonatas CD was prominently featured as the "Recommended Album" on Korean Broadcasting System's popular show Classical Music Studio. The show was broadcasted nationally and can be heard again on the below website (click September 5 show): 

9월 5일 KBS음악실에 저의 낙소스사 앨범인 François Devienne Clarinet Sonatas가 음악실 추천 음반으로 다시한번 소개 되었습니다. 위에 링크에서 9월 5일 방송을 클릭하시면 다시 들으실 수 있습니다. 

2014 August in South Korea

I feel very fortunate having spent incredible last three weeks of my summer in Korea. The trip is long but I take it quite frequently to visit my family. This time, I had all that, some great food, and also lots of music.

During the first week, I had a chance to meet and work with wonderful people at Duo Music Seoul. Not only they took a great care of my instruments, but spent untold amount of hours with me to make sure that I feel comfortable with the Buffet Prestige basset clarinet. I was also invited to give a lecture entitled "Mozart, Stadler, and the Basset Clarinet" at Duo Hall for a group of brilliant clarinet student's from Seoul's leading universities and high schools. 

I found this poster at Duo Music Seoul!

My CD is displayed far right at Duo Music's Gallery

Mozart Lecture at Duo Music Hall, Seoul

I was both anxious and stimulated for my upcoming performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concert, K. 622 on basset clarinet with Seongnam Philharmonic Orchestra. Not only this was my debut with basset clarinet, but I was told that I am the first Korean clarinetist to have done it in Korea! The Seungnam Arts Center was truly impressive with a massive complex of concert halls, opera house, art galleries and restaurants:

Hall Lobby at Seongnam Arts Cetner

Steps to the Concert Hall



They also had some large banners with name on all over the street!

The street in front of Seungnam Arts Center had full of these banners

Maestro Lim and musicians of the orchestra were very considerate and helped me to focus on my music making. I did not feel one-hundred per cent in commune with the instrument, yet, but gradually shifted my thoughts from various technical problems back to the music. 

Dress Rehearsal with Seongnam Phil

Dress Rehearsal with Seongnam Phil

with Mastero Lim

Playing the basset clarinet

Playing the basset clarinet

The performance will be broadcasted on Arte TV Korea, and I plan on posting the video when it becomes available. For the time being, I put together some clips from our dress rehearsal on my Video page.

I got to do some things that only famous people do:

People lining up for my autograph!

People lining up for my autograph!

It was also nice to catch up with many friends in Seoul. I and Grace got to hang out a bit and play a concert with our violinist friend Jiyeon. In preparing for our recital, we crammed in few hours in this secret location at the heart of Seoul ran by her management.

A different view of Seoul

We ordered in some pizza with sweet potato topping

Rehearsing some trios

Isn't this a nice place?

Our concert took place at Maria Callas Hall during lunchtime, and the program featured some short, but exciting works by composers like Saint-Saens, Widor, Piazzolla, etc. And of course, I played the Adagio from K. 622 on my basset clarinet. The concert was documented in detail (in Korean, and with many pictures...) here.

Entrance to Maria Callas Hall


They had some ultra high end speakers

They had some ultra high end speakers

We were even mentioned in a table mat in the restaurant

After the first performance by our "trio"

[Press Clipping] Exploring New Opportunities with Mixed Chamber Ensembles with Wonkak Kim and enhakē

The following article appeared on the official blog of the International ClarinetFest 2014 following my performance/lecture with enhakē at the ClarinetFest in Baton Rouge, LA. The article is written by my wonderful colleague Dr. Tim Phillips, clarinet professor at Troy University.


On Saturday at 10:00 AM in the Black Box Theater, clarinetist Wonkak Kim and his chamber ensemble enhakē presented a lecture entitled “Exploring New Opportunities with Mixed Chamber Ensembles.” The ensemble consisted of Kim, violinist M. Brent Williams, cellist Katherine Geeseman Decker, and pianist Grace Eunhye Choi. (It should be noted that Choi is not a regular member of the group, but was filling in for one member who had recently had a child.)

The lecture began with the group performing the Breakdown Tango by John Mackey. This work was originally  composed for Antares (formerly Elm City Ensemble) and has been performed by them at least 100 times. After the performance, Kim presented some “trivia” information about the group. He indicated that they met when they were students at Florida State University, hence the name of the group. Enhakē actually means “sound” in the Seminole language. He then guided the lecture through a series of topics: Disclaimer — things don’t always work out as planned, working with each other, establishing short-term goals, taking advantage of each other, reaching out, taking tangos to Argentina and choros to Brazil, (re)investing in the future, commissions, and recording.

Kim stressed the importance of developing friendships with the members of your chamber group. Of course, as life evolves, it is likely that you will eventually encounter individual changes of location and family circumstances. Yet, these changes do not mean that the ensemble can no longer rehearse and perform. He suggested having a handful of pieces that you return to frequently, allowing the group to really get to know each other as musicians.

Violinist M. Brent Williams explained that he had done several arrangements for the group and they performed two of these arrangements, Oblivion by Astor Piazzolla and a Brazilian choro. They noted that all of these arrangements are available for purchase on their website The session ended with the group performing a section of a new piece they recently commissioned from well-known composer Libby Larsen.

Throughout the lecture, Wonkak Kim was engaging and jovial. The other members of the group chimed in occasionally, and their performances were of the highest quality. This session was an excellent contribution to the Clarinetist as Entrepreneur theme of this conference.

–Notes by Timothy Phillips
Timothy Phillips serves as Associate Professor of Clarinet at the John M. Long School of Music at Troy University in Troy, Alabama, and manages Clarinet Corner, weekly program on Troy University Public Radio.