Written by Jeffrey Jamner, Kentucky Performing Arts, Senior Director of ArtsRise
This is the story of a journey I have witnessed of a prodigy growing
into a fully mature artist over a 12-year period. I chose to write this
now, because I just heard former Gheens Artist Jinjoo Cho perform as the 2014 Gold Medal Laureate at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (ICVI) just
before the finals of the 2018 competition. The picture below shows
Jinjoo and me together after her stunning performance last week.
I first learned about Jinjoo from conductor Jason Seber when she was 17 years old. She had won the concerto competition of the Cleveland Institute of Music
as a high school student in which her competition included college,
graduate, and even Doctoral music performance majors. Following up on
this lead, I called her teacher at the Cleveland Institute of Music,
Paul Kantor, and told him that I wanted to talk with him about the
possibility of engaging Jinjoo to perform at Kentucky Performing Arts
Gheens Great Expectations series. I could hear the excitement in his
voice as he said to me, “Boy have you found yourself a violinist!”
Indeed, I had. Later that year she went on to win the Gold Medal at the
Montreal International Violin Competition.
We arranged for Jinjoo to give a recital and a community residency.
The next fall I recognized her in the audience at the finals of the IVCI
and introduced myself, saying that we are excited about her upcoming
performance and residency in Louisville. And with a delightfully
informal spunk, she looked right into my eyes and asked me, “is it
Loueyville, or Louissville, or Louavull? Which one is it?” Over the
years I came to expect this kind of playfulness from Jinjoo which you
can also hear in her playing.
Jinjoo’s first recital in Louisville at Kentucky Performing Arts Bomhard Theatre received a rave review from the Courier-Journal’s Andrew Adler including the following quote: “I
think I’m going to start referring to Jinjoo Cho as the ‘it’ girl of
this season’s classical recital scene. ‘It’ as in pay attention to her
every gesture, her every note. Because she has lots of what may be
called the ‘wow’ factor.” He later went on to include this performance as one of his top ten concerts of the decade.
In her residencies in schools and in the community, Jinjoo has proven
to be a natural at connecting with and inspiring young people. I will
never forget when she played the first violin part in the Mendelssohn
Octet with seven string students at the Youth Performing Arts School.
After being introduced to the group – most of whom were just a few years
younger than her – she jumped right into rehearsal with energy,
enthusiasm and immediately helped raise the ensemble’s level of playing.
The outreach opportunities in the Gheens Great Expectations program
have helped to broaden Jinjoo’s understanding of the power and
importance of education and outreach. And this has helped shape her
trajectory as an artist, teacher, and entrepreneur. A couple of years
ago she made her vision of reviving the Encore Chamber Music festival and school a reality, bringing high level musical training to hundreds of very gifted young artists.
How did Jinjoo Cho become the only three-time Gheens Artist? In 2013,
Glen Kwok, the Executive Director of the International Violin
Competition of Indianapolis (IVCI), met with me for coffee while he was
in Louisville for a conference. He proposed a discount artist fee if we
would agree to engage the 2014 Gold Medalist as a Gheens Artist in 2014 –
without knowing who it would be in advance. Jinjoo won the Gold Medal
and returned to Louisville a third time, performing in the Gheens Great
Expectations concert and performing at WUOL’s Lunchtime Classics as well
as working with violinists in Kentucky Performing Arts ArtsReach Violin
Studio (see photo below).
In the WUOL performance, which you can listen to online,
I had the honor of performing the Mozart Sonata in E minor with her,
and it was one of the finest chamber music collaborations of my career
as a pianist. In performance we responded to the slightest suggestions
in each other’s playing resulting in interpretive choices we did not
practice or discuss in our rehearsal. After the performance we both
spoke about how this brought a freshness and spontaneity to our
Nearly four years later, sitting in the audience at the IVCI Donor
Appreciation Recital reserved for the previous Gold Medalist, I marveled
at Jinjoo’s performance. You can see and hear her performance online. She
has grown from a young phenom, playing with a level of mastery and
musical sophistication well beyond her years, to a fully mature artist
of the highest level. Her program of works by Britten, Previn, Chausson,
and Faure were very challenging to play and not the kind of program
that most violinists would choose. But here she was, no longer
restricted by the choices offered by a competition and playing what she
wanted to share – and it was magnificent. She had a wonderful partner
in pianist Hyun Soo Kim, who played with joy, a superb ear for ensemble,
and a great variety of pianistic touches. Jinjoo’s playing was big and
also intimate, very personal and without a hint of excess even when
taking us to the edge with her bold interpretations.
After such a difficult program, Jinjoo returned to the stage with her
pianist for one encore. She announced to the audience her gratitude to
the IVCI competition, one of the most important competitions in the
world and one she dreamed of competing in since she was fourteen. She
then played an arrangement of “Over the Rainbow” as if to say that
sometimes dreams really do come true.
With generous support from the Gheens Foundation, The Kentucky Center
has discovered, presented, and help to nurture the artistic and career
growth of dozens of Gheens Artists since 2004.