Jonah Kim says more patience, less hot sauce on his latest album

Aug 14, 2020

Cellist Jonah Kim

When cellist Jonah Kim was just 15 years old, Washington Post music critic Joseph McLellan called him "the next Yo-Yo Ma." 

Kim is in his early 30s now, and he's carving out a path all his own. His new album, recorded with pianist Sean Kennard, features sonatas by Samuel Barber and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Kim and Kennard began playing together at the Curtis Institute about 20 years ago, in part because they were two of the youngest enrolled students. Kim recalls that he was 10 or 11 and that Kennard was about 13 when they first played the Rachmaninoff sonata together.

When asked how their performance of the Rachmaninoff has changed in the past two decades, Kim said his music-making is very similar to his tastes in food. "When I was fourteen," he says, "it didn't matter what cuisine [I was eating] - I put hot sauce on everything. At this point, I think I have a little more taste." 

For him, this increased taste level translates into greater and more frequent contrasts in the music, but more patience, too. "There are more peaks and valleys, and yet the gestures are not as abrupt or as sudden," he says. "It's just more patient."

Kim has studied with some of the greatest cellists of the 20th century, including Janos Starker and Orlando Cole. He's grateful that they encouraged him to play musically and with strong technique, instead of just allowing him to rely on what he calls "tricks" and "gestures."

In addition to the Rachmaninoff, the new album includes the cello sonata by Samuel Barber. Kim's teacher Orlando Cole gave the premiere of the sonata with Barber himself at the piano in 1932, when Barber and Cole (or "Sammy" and "Landy") were students at the Curtis Institute. Kim recalls that, during his lessons, Cole would show him and Kennard letters that Barber had sent about the sonata and other pieces. 

The new album, featuring Kennard and Kim playing sonatas of Rachmaninoff and Barber, is out this week on the Delos label. Click here for more information.