Hee-Young Lim: Playing her way into a magical place

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    Hee-Young Lim - playing in the Forbidden City
    Performance in The Forbidden City

    Upon graduation from NEC, she continued studies at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, where her teachers included Philippe Muller. After she graduated from the NSMP with the highest distinction, très bien à l’unanimité and moved to study at the Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt, Weimar, where she earned her Konzertexamen degree mit auszeichnung or summa cum laude. By the time she was twenty, Miss Lim made her North American recital debut at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

    Two years later she won first prize at the Washington International Competition for Strings . She was a Silver Medalist of the 2009 Houston Symphony Ima Hogg Young Artist Competition. Later she won the Grand Prix at the Normandy International Forum (France), and won third prize at the Witold Lutosławski International Cello Competition in Warsaw. In 2015, Lim became principal solo cellist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, appointed by none other than the orchestra’s Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. In September 2018, Miss Lim became the Professor of Cello at the Beijing Central Conservatory, the first Korean cellist named to the Beijing faculty.

    Hee-Young Lim with Yannick Nézet-Séguin
    With Yannick Nézet-Séguin

    Here’s where it gets a little ironic – and very funny – for the child who “didn’t really want to play the cello.” It was, as Miss Lim tells it, the piano that had once stolen her heart. She would not be “gently persuaded” to “take up the cello”. But when her mother said she was going to give away the expensive instrument, Miss Lim finally relented. “I changed my mind really fast then. ‘No, no!’ I said to my mum. ‘I want to learn the cello,’ I told her.” It was a fortuitous decision for it led to the unlocking of her hidden genius.

    Today Miss Lim plays with a force that mere mortals can only dimly perceive. Like Du Pré, Maisky, Ma and others, she belongs to a breed of cellists who have a natural rapport with their instrument. When she plays the cello, it is no longer a cello: it is a harp, a piano, a horn, or the whole crashing orchestra together. It is music in spirit and in flesh. When she presses her fingers down on the fingerboard and wields the bow affecting delicate, glancing blows upon the strings below glissando, col legno, breathes in and out in double-stops, or – as directed by the music – sul tasto, the black dots fly off the written page and into a rarefied realm where the music resides and evokes the blithe spirits of the composers who wrote them. She is in her natural element.

    The international career that has blossomed for Hee-Young Lim has also brought her international renown, but it is one that she handles with circumspection. While I am talking to her from across continents and she is aware that it will result in this feature, I get the impression that she would rather be playing her instrument… or teaching, as I find out in short order. She did, after all, send me a quick note telling me that she had an online class at a time shortly after the one I suggested we speak. “I have to prepare for my students,” she wrote. The task of teaching is one she takes seriously and enjoys enormously – almost as much as she does playing her instrument.

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