Hye Min Choi was playing the violin at 3, taking lessons and watching her mother, a cellist, perform in their native Korea.

“I decided to change to viola when I was 11,” Choi recalled. “One of my cousins actually played viola, and after I heard her play, I was fascinated by the warm, dark sound, so I told my mother. I really wanted it.”

Choi, now 36, would go on to play viola in school orchestras and later, enrolled in college, obtained her bachelor’s degree in music from Seoul National University. She then obtained a master’s in music from New England Conservatory and her doctor of musical arts from Boston University’s School of Music where she is on the faculty. After obtaining her doctorate, she received the Artist Diploma from BU as well.

Violinist Hye Min Choi practices at Lorimer Chapel at Colby College on Nov. 23 before performing with the Colby Symphony Orchestra. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

“In 2007, I came to the U.S. and I was more involved because in many ways, I could have more opportunities here,” Choi said. “I think the music world in Korea is smaller. As a student, I couldn’t have many opportunities other than competitions, so it was really great for me to have a chance to play with faculty members and other professionals. I love it.”

I was chatting with Choi Nov. 23 in the green room at Lorimer Chapel on the Colby College campus, a couple of hours before she performed with the Colby Symphony Orchestra. She had been invited to join Colby professor Eric Thomas in playing his composition “Threnody for Ann Arceneaux Double Concerto for Clarinet and Viola,” a work he wrote in remembrance of a friend who died while they were in high school.

Choi also performed, with Thomas on clarinet, Max Bruch’s “Romanze for Viola, opus 85,” and “Concerto for Clarinet and Viola, Opus 88,” under the direction of Jinwook Park.

Thomas’ piece was plaintive, sorrowful and then reflected a range of emotion — joy, anger and finally peace. Choi, Thomas and the orchestra then performed the romantic Bruch pieces, so beautiful and ethereal that for a moment in time, we could believe that all was right with the world. Truly a gift just before the holiday season.

We were blessed to be in the presence of these accomplished musicians, whose life work is all about the joy of performing and sharing with listeners the fruits of their labors.

Indeed, Choi had said before the concert that when she plays her viola, she is sharing stories.

“I really love performing,” she said. “When I was a student, I was really stressed out because I was always trying to prove something on the stage. I actually had stage fright all the time. Then I actually heard about something cellist Yo-Yo Ma said in an article — that performing is not about proving something. It’s like sharing a story on the stage. After I read that article, I could apply that for myself. I really love sharing stories on the stage. I didn’t get nervous after that. I teach students that all the time.”

Choi said she admires world-renowned violist Tabea Zimmermann. She also is grateful to Michelle LaCourse, a violist and professor at Boston University with whom she has worked.

“I was really fascinated by her teaching style,” she said of LaCourse. “She not only teaches the notes and the technique, she also tries to teach students to relax their body so they don’t get injured. In Korea, no one taught that. I had experienced injury to my wrist. She was a huge help.”

In addition to teaching at BU, Choi has private students in Boston. On Sundays, she coaches chamber groups for Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. She tries to visit family in South Korea once a year.

Her list of accomplishments is long, having received many awards in the U.S. and Korea, including prizes in the Music Journal, Music Choon Choo, World Newspaper, Kyung Hee University, Sung Shin Women’s University, Duxbury Music Festival Soloists’ and Boston University’s Bach competitions, as well as the String Department Honors Award at BU.

She has performed as a soloist with the BU Symphony Orchestra, New England Repertory Orchestra, Duxbury Music Festival Orchestra, Boo Am Art Hall Young Artist Concert, Young San Art Hall Artist Concert, Unis Chamber Orchestra and Gangdong Orchestra. She has participated in many music festivals including the Bowdoin International Music Festival, Music Alp Festival, Montpelier International Music Festival and Busan International Festival. She has won many prizes in chamber music, including the Needham Music Award, prizes from the International Chamber Music Competition, American Protege Competition and the American Fine Arts Festival Competition.

The list goes on. As a member of the Charis Quintet, Choi performed in Carnegie Recital Hall in New York, was chosen by the Bowdoin International Music Festival to perform live on Maine Public Radio and has performed as principal violist in Haffner Sinfonietta, Hwaum Boston Chamber Orchestra and Boston Chamber Symphony.

Choi also teaches summers at BU’s Tanglewood Institute.

“I love teaching, and I actually get some many new ideas teaching — and it helps me,” she said.

She enjoys performing with the Colby Symphony and looks forward to returning in March after the orchestra’s winter break.

“I will be back next year for Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” she said.

Next year, 2020, is the 250th anniversary of German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth. It will be a great year of celebration for his music, which will be performed around the world.

And that includes here in Waterville, on the Colby campus, by Choi and other premier musicians.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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