July 27 – August 2, 2012Vol. 14, No. 8

Meet the Artistic Director of the Atlantic Music Festival

Solbong Kim

by Gregor Smith

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

Leonard Bernstein, the iconoclastic and quintessentially American composer and conductor, uttered these famous words in the wake of the assassination of President Kennedy, nearly a half a century ago. Bernstein believed that music and musicians can be force for good in a violent and chaotic world. This vision is shared by Solbong Kim, a talented but modest, young composer, and it inspired him to found the Atlantic Music Festival four years ago.

Born in 1981 on Long Island, Kim was raised in South Korea. Although he comes from a musical family, his parents encouraged him to do what he wanted, rather than pressuring him to become a musician. As it turns out, music was his calling. He started playing piano as a young boy and then decided at age 9 that he wanted to be a composer. He returned to the United States as a high school freshman, attending the pre-college program at Julliard and later getting a Bachelor of Music degree from Curtis Institute.

Kim first came to public attention in 2000, when his "Music for Orchestra," which he had composed while studying at Julliard, won the grand prize over 3,000 other submissions to the World of Expression Awards, a contest sponsored by the Bertelsmann Group. Since then, he has composed works large and small, ranging from his 5½-minute "Rooftop Fantasy" for solo violin to his hour-long War Requiem, a 2007 work for orchestra, adult chorus, children's chorus, and soloists.

Kim has been artistic director of the Atlantic Music Festival since its founding. He conceived the festival in 2008 and serendipitously came upon Colby College as the location. He had been considering college campuses throughout the northeastern United States. A friend who had taught at the New England Music Camp in Sidney directed him to Colby.

This year's festival began on Monday, July 9, and will run through Saturday, August 4. Altogether, the 2012 festival has brought 115 young musicians, mostly in their mid-twenties, and 35 faculty to Colby to study, to rehearse, and to perform. Since the festival's first Thursday, there have been public performances almost every night and on weekend afternoons too — please visit www.atlanticmusicfestival.org for a full schedule. Admission to all performances is free.

The Bernstein quote has been the festival's epigraph from the beginning. Even so, Kim and the other festival organizers are still searching for the meaning of Bernstein's words, but feel that the journey to understanding is more important than the destination. "We were actually in a search mode for the past four years," he says, but "that's the kind of spirit we want to maintain, never be satisfied, but keep on searching."

This year, the "reply" has taken the form of the "I Am Four Years Old" campaign. At this year's concerts, the festival is soliciting donations for UNICEF's Achieving Zero Campaign, which seeks to eliminate preventable deaths of children under 5. As a result of UNICEF's efforts in over 150 developing countries, early childhood mortality has dropped from an estimated 33,000 deaths per day in 1991 to 21,000 in 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available. While that is a huge improvement, that number is still to high. The AMF hopes that its music will inspire audiences to give generously to this cause, and Kim expects such charitable campaigns to be an ongoing feature of the festival.

From year to year, the festival has evolved considerably and Kim anticipates that it will continue to do so. His most immediate goals are to expand the orchestra and increase public awareness of the festival. Right now, however, his focus is "on getting the music right." He also is considering ways to collaborate with Maine International Film Festival, which overlaps with the AMF, and possibly lengthening the festival to five or six weeks.