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Sibelius, Rachmaninoff And … Table Tennis At The San Diego Symphony

The Symphony presents guest conductor Eun Sun Kim with a new composition by a contemporary composer alongside works by Sibelius and Rachmaninoff.

Eun Sun Kim will guest conduct the San Diego Symphony this weekend.

Photo by Nikolaj Lund

Above: Eun Sun Kim will guest conduct the San Diego Symphony this weekend.

First of all, we need to talk about ping-pong.

Composer Texu Kim, who currently teaches at Syracuse, shares his name with a beloved Korean table tennis coach. Because of this, the Korean-born composer is often asked if he's good at ping-pong. "Though the answer is 'No,' this silly coincidence has led me to write a musical piece about it," Kim wrote in the program notes for his 2014 composition, "Spin-Flip."

In the piece, Kim tried to encapsulate the sound of a rousing table tennis match. Cracks of paddles, taps of plastic, intermittent volleys and the applause of an audience are translated into music with alternating harmonic structures, instrumentation and staccato punctuation to name a few.

The spin of a ball and flip of wrists evoke tangible representations of table tennis, but given that Kim studied chemistry alongside music, the term spin-flip's use in science is also of note. It can mean the interplay between an electron and proton in a hydrogen atom, or is also what happens when a black hole suddenly flips orientation after engulfing a smaller black hole.

Debuted in 2015 in Seoul, the playful, engaging and curious piece has only been performed by two other orchestras in the United States. This third appearance — with the San Diego Symphony — doesn't necessarily mean that a piece is rare as much as it calls attention to how impressive and special the contemporary work is. "As with most new works by living composers (especially younger ones like Texu Kim!), getting a second or third or fourth performance after the world premiere is not always guaranteed," said Clement So, director of artistic programming for the San Diego Symphony. "It’s wonderful to see many orchestras and conductors around the world are taking an interest in Texu’s music."

Korean conductor Eun Sun Kim will lead the Symphony in this performance of "Spin-Flip," by Texu Kim. Eun Sun Kim was appointed in December as the incoming music director of the San Francisco Opera, taking over the role in 2021.

Following Texu Kim's work, the symphony will perform a concerto by Jean Sibelius. Sibelius' "Violin Concerto in D minor" is his only concerto, not that the Finnish composer is lacking in any sort of productivity: His repertoire includes seven symphonies and dozens of choral pieces and symphonic tone poems (including the famous and grand "Finlandia").

Featuring accomplished violinist Nancy Zhou — who won the 2018 Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition — the "Violin Concerto in D minor" is one of the most performed concertos in American classical music performance today, and it's vibrant, strong and enticing, with deeply melodic violin weaving through a powerful orchestral backdrop. And according to the program notes, the work has been performed by the San Diego Symphony ten other times since 1961, a sharp contrast to the scarcely heard "Spin-Flip."

Also performed will be Russian composer Serge Rachmaninoff's "Symphony No. 3 in A minor." It's the more pensive offering in the performance, with twinges of brightness in an otherwise moody and contemplative set of three movements. In the final movement, the allegro, the dance-like introduction melds into something that's cinematic and not so much curious as it is prying. Rachmaninoff, whose volatile productivity often mirrored his own struggles with depression and grief, composed little new work in the years after fleeing communist Russia for the United States. After a long creative drought, he finished this work in 1936, his third and final symphony.

Photo by Jürgen Keiper

Conductor Eun Sun Kim will appear with the San Diego Symphony this weekend.

The presentation is a lively mix of compositions and dynamic performers, and was curated by Eun Sun Kim with the Symphony.

"The classical music world has been following her career as a young, rising-star conductor for several years now; her recent appointment as Music Director of San Francisco Opera (following many performances in major opera houses and orchestras in Europe and North America) is a testament to her talent," said Clement So.

The San Diego Symphony performs works by Texu Kim, Sibelius and Rachmaninoff, led by maestro Eun Sun Kim with Nancy Zhou on violin, Feb 28 and 29 at Copley Symphony Hall.

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Julia Dixon Evans
Arts Calendar Editor and Producer

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI write the weekly KPBS Arts newsletter and edit and produce the KPBS Arts calendar. I am interested in getting San Diegans engaged with the diversity of art and culture made by the creative people who live here.

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