This profile of ANAM alumna cellist Sarah Kim was initiated in 2019 at a time of transition in Sarah’s music life. She was visiting her family in Melbourne before returning to Freiberg to pack up and relocate to another continent, Los Angeles, USA. A primary reason for this latest move of the increasingly peripatetic Sarah was to work with renowned US-born cellist Ralph Kirshbaum at the Thornton School thanks to a full scholarship from the University of Southern California.
Sarah recalls being drawn to the cello by her father’s love of the instrument, and commenced her own cello-playing journey at the age of 8. Through her parents’ encouragement and her innate ability, Sarah progressed rapidly with the help of a school scholarship to St. Catherine’s School, Melbourne. In her teen years, with increasingly competing demands in schoolwork and swimming, she made the decision to commit to music professionally in order to explore music on the level she desired. She was accepted into the University of Melbourne’s Program for High-Achieving Students, enabling her to commence a Bachelor of Music Performance degree while still in high school.
After university, Sarah went to ANAM with the clear intention of setting herself up for a career in music at the highest level. She received mentoring and tuition from Howard Penny (Head of Strings, Resident Cello Faculty) and had many memorable opportunities with inspirational visiting artists such as violinist Pekka Kuusisto and conductor Simone Young. Her time at ANAM included the final year of Brett Dean’s directorship, Sarah recalls from that time:
“Something that has really stayed with me was how much I learnt from working with Brett Dean, especially his approach to modern and contemporary works – it’s something I draw on regularly when working with contemporary music to this day.”
ANAM provided constant performance opportunities that, Sarah observes, is essential, “No amount of hours in the practice room can replace that experience on stage.” Crucially, this schedule of performance meant constantly learning new pieces, teaching her how to prepare efficiently and perform confidently as a professional musician when presented with minimal rehearsal and practice time.
As to her advice on rehearsing and performing, she emphasises honesty and discipline:
“Record yourself – it's easy to get swept up in your head with the music that you want to hear, rather than what you are actually playing. Recording takes the guesswork out and enables you to close the gap between desire and reality. Also, play your music as you’d like to hear it. There will always be critics, even people advising that you need to play in a certain way in order to achieve a goal. At the end of the day, if you play with integrity and in a way you yourself can be proud of, you can always be sure of yourself.”
Her most memorable takeaway advice for any current and future musicians from those crucial ANAM years is, “Push yourself! There are so many opportunities on offer and the more you apply yourself, the more you will yield from it.”
Following her time at ANAM Sarah moved to Germany to commence a Masters of Music with Jean-Guihen Queyras at Die Hochschule für Musik Freiburg. In 2012 she was awarded the first prize of the Carl Seemann Prize for cello and graduated in 2013. More success followed with a Masters in Chamber Music with distinction from Die Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart. Her time in Stuttgart included a soloist diploma (Konzertexam) with Professor Conradin Brotbeck supported by a professional development grant from the Ian Potter Cultural Trust.
Since then, Sarah has enjoyed a wonderfully varied professional music life, performing in many music festivals throughout Australia and Europe. Some unique festival highlights include Melbourne International Arts Festival, Adelaide International Cello Festival, Beethoven Festival Bonn, the premier short course International Musicians Seminar Prussia Cove, Cornwall, UK, founded in 1972 by the Hungarian violinist, Sándor Végh and Hilary Tunstall-Behrens, and Prades Festival Pablo Casals, Spain, that was established by Casals in 1950.
Sarah performs solo, chamber and orchestral works, and considers herself a performer, or even interpreter, of notated works, rather than an improviser or creator. She teaches young adults, a key expression of her belief to give back to an art form that supports her, and mentions her development as a teacher and mentor, and understanding the importance of what not to say. She stresses the necessity, a demand instilled during her time at ANAM, of making the effort to learn new repertoire for her own continuing personal development.
On the matter of instruments, her companions in life, Sarah has the good fortune to play a 1706 Giovanni Grancino, made available to her through a private benefactor. In addition, she plays a contemporary cello made for her by a Turkish luthier, Ersen Aycan. Asked about favourite pieces or artists, Sarah says it’s impossible to choose, but she does single out an eclectic trio of Ivry Gitlis, Marta Argerich and Ella Fitzgerald that feature in her regular listening.
What of life without the cello? Sarah considers the piano an instrument she would love to be able to play. If in another world where music was not her profession, she would choose architecture, an ongoing interest of hers, great appeal lying in its creative problem-solving. In terms of everyday life away from music? There’s the travelling, as for many musicians, Sarah finds health and happiness in the outdoors and being physically active. “I try to keep up with running and pilates, but I most enjoy water sports - in particular paddle-boarding and wind surfing - and the occasional tennis lesson… though I’m not sure it loves me!”.
Sarah is a wonderful representative of the fine lineage of cellists to pass through the ANAM. Look out for her, especially on one of her return visits to Australia!
Words by David Cramond
Profile last updated July 2021