Close observers of the situation at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will be aware of the stream of announcements from musicians on Facebook and other places that they are either taking the retirement package offered by management as part of the recent contract settlement, or in some cases taking a leave of absence to pursue opportunities elsewhere.
It came as a huge surprise therefore when this afternoon the SPCO announced that Second Principal Violin Kyu-Young Kim, who revealed in February he was leaving for New York after winning a spot on the New York Philharmonic, is now staying to become the SPCO's senior director of artistic planning. He becomes the first SPCO musician to move into a management role at the organization. On top of that, he will retain his musical position within the orchestra, and will continue to play regularly.
He said the offer had come together quickly. Three weeks ago he was fully committed to starting with the Philharmonic tomorrow, but then the opportunity arose.
"I have done a lot of soul-searching myself about what I'd like to do in my career, and I'm ready to jump into the deep end now and go for this," he said on the phone from New York this afternoon. He was scheduled to start with the New York Phil tomorrow, but now he finds himself with not only a new job, but his old one too.
"Well, that's certainly going to be one of the challenges of the job, the time management issue," he said on the phone from New York this afternoon. "I'm experienced enough I think in the playing part of the job to know how much preparation I need to do for rehearsals and concerts and what that takes, and so I have a pretty good understanding of that. But I have been having lots of conversations with people about how to structure it. It helps that the role will be somewhat redefined and that I will be able to reduce my playing time somewhat."
As senior director of planning Kim will be responsible for programming the SPCO's seasons. He says the SPCO's structure which has musicians serving on committees making artistic decisions has helped prepare him for his new role. As with his predecessor Patrick Castillo Kim is well versed in the classical canon, but declares a commitment to new music.
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He knows he comes in at a difficult time. Until his announcement in February that he was going to New York, Kim was on the musicians negotiating committee for the contract dispute. There are no officials numbers as to how many musicians will leave what is currently a 34 member ensemble, but about to be 28 under the new contract. However there are indications the SPCO could lose a third to even half of its current players.
"It's going to be a great challenge to fill open positions." Kim said. "I can only speak for myself, but the decision to stay or to leave was a real one for me, and it's so personal and it relies on so many factors, I can really only speak for myself in that regard. But you know I am excited about the possibilities for this orchestra, and I think we really want to move things forward and look to the future and make this the greatest organization and the greatest chamber orchestra we can."
Musicians aged 55 and older have until June 17th to indicate whether they will take the retirement package offered as part of the contract settlement. There is then a rescission period during which musicians may withdraw their acceptance. As a result a management representative said this afternoon final numbers won't be available until after the 4th of July holiday weekend.
One other piece of orchestral news which comes about as a result of Kim's appointment to his new job, his wife, cellist Pitnarry Shin who was expected to leave her position at the Minnesota Orchestra will now be staying.