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Symphony Cellist, Brother Get Rocky Mountain High

San Diego Symphony principal cellist Eric Kim has his own definition of a Rocky Mountain high. Over the first weekend of December, Eric and his older brother, Benny Kim, played the Brahms Concerto for Violin and Cello with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Sixten Ehrling.

“We received standing ovations for two of the three performances,” said Eric Kim after a San Diego Symphony rehearsal last week, “and that’s not a typical reaction for a Denver audience.”

Kim’s expertise on Denver audiences comes from having spent last year as the Denver Symphony’s acting principal cellist. While performing the concerto and touching base with his friends in the orchestra pleased Kim, he experienced no overwhelming desire to return to Denver.

“San Diego is looking better than ever,” he said. “In Denver, they still haven’t resolved the orchestra’s financial problems, so the morale there is really low.”

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The opportunity to play with his older brother--two years older to the day, he noted--was an unusual treat for the 24-year-old cellist.

“It was really gratifying to relate to each other as colleagues, instead of being at each other’s necks. It’s a curious thing. When we were in school, we each focused on our own careers, and as brothers, we fought all the time.”

He did concede, however, that after their father’s death, when they were still teen-agers, his older brother encouraged him to pursue his music studies and gave him a model to look up to.

Benny Kim, a concert violinist, lives in Chicago. Although there is one other Kim sibling, he is not a musician. The Chung Trio has no potential threat from the Kim family, he added.

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Critical reaction in the Denver press to the brothers Kim and their Brahms performance was limited because the papers were busy covering a “Nutcracker” ballet production that opened the night of their performance, according to Kim. He did bring back glowing words from Anne Culver, the music critic who broadcasts her reviews on Denver’s KVOD-FM, that city’s classical music station.

“Eric Kim and Benny Kim officiated with skill and total involvement,” Culver said. “Sixten Ehrling and the orchestra imitated their mood in a very exacting manner. The Kim brothers were impeccably synchronized, matching tone, intensity, attack and release points, and overall concept.”

Between rehearsals and performances, Kim and his brother went skiing, and Eric was able to initiate his brother in the sport.

“We’re both sports nuts,” Eric said. “It’s a kind of involvement we need to balance our music.”

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SIGHTS AND SOUNDS IN THE CITY. For a unique aural and visual montage, drop by downtown San Diego’s Sonic Arts Gallery, where Frederick Abrams’ “The Underground Cathedral” has been set up through Jan. 27. The Los Angeles artist’s wall-sized, striking, stained-glass sculpture merges the Paris subway map with an outline of the human brain. While you puzzle over the philosophical implications of Abrams’ verbal word plays--the subway stops and monuments have been renamed with anarchic abandon--you listen to a tape of Abrams’ music called “ ‘F’ Train Fugue.”

Like his visual art, Abrams’ music merges disparate experiences. His 25-minute sound track is built on an actual recording of a subway ride on the “F” train from New York’s East Village to Brooklyn and back. The subway sounds of pulling out of each station flow into Vangelis-like interludes that the artist has performed on synthesizer and spliced into the subway journey.

True to the canons of musique concrete , the tape contains a chance pitch of a Guardian Angel who entered the subway car asking for donations “for new members who cannot afford T-shirts, pins or berets.” The haunting sounds of the synthesizer and the bright, inviting colors of the glass sculpture invoke an urban spiritual journey, Abrams’ subway cathedral.

Last week the artist was tending the Sonic Arts Gallery while its proprietor, Jonathan Glasier, was out of the city. A man of various talents--artist, craftsman, composer and philosopher--Abrams chuckled over accepting the label of post-modern Renaissance man. He was loath to characterize or categorize the people who dropped into the “F” Street gallery to view his work, but he did note a similar response from two visitors that puzzled him.

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“The comment that this show is ‘over the heads of San Diego’ bothers me,” Abrams said. “I wonder what that could mean?” Perhaps prophetically, two of his smaller glass works bear relevant titles to the viewers’ observation: “Small Minds” and “Hardening of the Mind.”

YES, YOU CAN COME HOME. Harpsichordist Jennifer Paul will perform the big solo in Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto with the San Diego Symphony on Dec. 17-18. After studies in Boston and the Netherlands, the former North County musician now makes Los Angeles her home. She was an award winner at the Festival van Vlaanderen International Harpsichord Competition in Brugge, Belgium, in 1983, and has performed in Europe and the Far East. This will be the harpsichordist’s San Diego Symphony debut.


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