Flutist Jasmine Choi, a native of Korea, is an active soloist, chamber musician, and full-time orchestral musician. She has been critically acclaimed on international stages for her rich tone, technical brilliance, superb musicianship, and charismatic stage presence. At the age of 22, she was appointed Associate Principal Flute of the Cincinnati Symphony under the music director Paavo Jarvi and became the first Korean woodwind player to hold a post with a major orchestra in the United States.
Nominated by Symphony magazine as one of “America’s Emerging Artists” in 2006, 2007, and 2008, Jasmine was winner of Astral Artists’ 2004 which presented her on its “Rising Stars” series at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.
Recent performances include solo recitals at Wigmore Hall in London, Konzerthaus Schubert Saal in Vienna, the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, and Hoam Art Hall and Kumho Art Hall in Seoul. She has also performed as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Salzburg Mozarteum, Czech Philharmonic, Seoul Philharmonic, and KBS Symphony, among many others.
She has also appeared as soloist in the Musikverein Golden Hall in Vienna, Konzerthaus Mozart Saal in Vienna, Dvorak and Smetana Halls in Prague, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, and in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, and has performed the concertos of Devienne, Haydn, Ibert, Jolivet, Liebermann, Mercadante, Mozart, Nielsen, Reinecke, Vivaldi, as well as Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2, Bizet-Borne’s Carmen Fantasy, her arrangements of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, among others.
Born in Seoul, South Korea in 1983, Jasmine Choi began her musical studies on the violin and piano at an early age. She began playing the flute at the age of nine, and one year later gave her first public performance with the Chongju Chamber Orchestra in Haydn’s Concerto in D Major. Her professional solo career in Korea began at the age of fourteen, and she has been appearing as soloist in Korea numerous times every year. Her live performances and recordings are frequently broadcast in Korea on national television and radio.
An exclusive Sony Classical artist in Korea, her recording Jasmine Choi Plays Mozart, which includes the Concertos in D Major and C Major (with harpist Xavier de Maistre), was released as part of a celebration of Mozart’s 250th Anniversary. Sony Korea is releasing two more recordings of Jasmine Choi in 2011.
At 16, Jasmine Choi came to the United States when she was accepted to study at the Curtis Institute of Music on a full-scholarship. The legendary Julius Baker has called her “a huge sensation,” and she studied with him for four years until his death in 2003. Jasmine Choi holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Curtis Institute of Music and a Master of Music degree from the Juilliard School where she studied with Jeffrey Khaner. Upon her graduation, she continued her studying by working with Thomas Robertello.
Adventurous in expanding the repertoire for flute, Jasmine Choi performs her own arrangements of the violin concertos of Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky, as well as numerous violin and cello sonatas. Also active on the contemporary classical music scene, her commissions include works by Korean-American composers Solbong Kim and James Ra, and she frequently performs the works of Isang Yun.
Jasmine Choi has served as a member of both the Astral Winds (woodwind quintet) and Trio Morisot (flute, viola, harp). An avid chamber musician who performs regularly with members of the Cincinnati Symphony, she has attended the Marlboro Music, Pacific Music Festival, Sarasota Music Festival, National Orchestral Institute, and Carnegie Hall’s Professional Workshop under Michael Tilson Thomas.
(This interview was conducted in October 2011 by Cheryl Lim)
How did you come about to play the flute?
I came from a very musical family and there were always musicians at home. When I was little, I thought everyone in the world was a musician! So when I started playing the piano and violin from the early age, music was such a natural thing; I just enjoyed playing (in other words, I wasn’t serious about music, I never practiced, and so on).
But then when I was in the 3rd grade, there was this homework that I had to prepare a song with a recorder and I fell in love with it. Even after the homework was over, I just kept playing all the tunes i knew all day.
Just then, I heard a girl upstairs playing the flute and I thought I wanted to play the flute too!So, I asked my parents if I could have a flute – they gave in and the flute became my best friend ever since.
How were your musical experiences like in the schools you were in, ie. Curtis and Juilliard?
I would say those two schools were very different. I feel that I was extremely fortunate to be able to experience both aspects from those two schools.
Curtis is more of a conservative school, with an intimate and soulful approach to music. Playing in the chamber music groups and the orchestra are crucial part of the curriculum at Curtis which eventually helps one become a “true” musician; one who can blend in extremely well with other musicians, not just individually. Since they had very few students, the teacher-student ratio was very low and everyone was like a real family.
When I went on to Juilliard for my graduate degree, I was a bit overwhelmed by the unfamiliar envoronment. In my point of view, they were more aggressive, outgoing, and flamboyant – in other words, very modernized and open to changes.
Which teachers and / or performers have inspired you the most?
It was my great honour to be able to study with the late Julius Baker in his last four years. I was his last student, and he was not only my flute teacher, but also like a warm grandfather to me. He would invite me over breakfast every week right before my lesson at 8am, and he would tell all those magnificent stories to me of his great past. I have learned so much just by listening to his stories and advice, as well as his wonderful playing and his recordings.
One of my favorite quotes of him is “the best teacher is yourself, after all.” He really wanted every one of his student shine in their own way, with their own personal color.
What instrument models and brands do you use?
I’ve been playing on a Brannen with the Lafin headjoint. It’s already been about 15 years, and still going strong!
How do you manage such a busy lifestyle as both orchestral flutist and solo recitalist?
It’s all about the time management, I’d say. Unlike the school days, I have little time for myself to for such practice. I have to plan my day very well so as to get a decent amount of practice time. No matter how many years you’ve played the instrument, we all have to practice everyday! I sometimes have to learn my music in the airplane, in spite of all the weird stares from other passengers!
What are your current favourite pieces of music? What other kinds of music do you enjoy?
I’m so into Bach and Mozart especially these days. I love Mahler so much as well, but not many pieces were written for the flute. I play all sorts of Bach everyday before I start practicing. It just calms me down and makes me want to keep playing and playing. What an inspiration, Mr. Bach. I also enjoy playing other genres too – such as jazz, pop, and Korean traditional music.
Any advice for flutists who are preparing for recitals, competitions and / or auditions?
Not only for flutists. I think we, musicians in general, all need a lot of patience when preparing something. We should not be afraid of playing lots of repetitions when something doesn’t work right away, and we should also practice wisely. Don’t just play the notes for hours – we need to constantly think why it should be this way, why it doesn’t work, how the phrase goes, where the right intonations are, and so on. Being a musician is such a multi-tasking activity- we need the physical, emotional, and mental aspects all working at the same time.
What are your hobbies and interests?
I do a lot of reading and cooking when I have some free days. Since I travel so much, when it comes to free days, I would just stay home all day and cook a lot, read a lot in between then invite friends over and share the meals. 🙂 Life is very good, after all!