Min Kym is a violinist, a musical prodigy and a perfectionist who has perfect pitch. To her, a bicycle ring is an E flat; the squeak of the door is C major. Born in South Korea, reared in Britain, she was playing Massenet’s Meditation at 8½ and memorising a concerto every week by the time she was in her teens. Heralded as one of the greatest violinists of her generation, she studied with American great Ruggiero Ricci and performed for Russian-Icelandic pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment,” she says, trying to recall how she was drawn to her instrument as a child, “but I knew right away that holding a violin, playing a violin, was not simply for me, but it was me.”
This carefully orchestrated life (the practice, the travelling, the concerts, the record deals, the future stardom) dramatically unravelled in a Pret a Manger cafe at London’s Euston Station one day in 2010, when her Stradivarius, one of only 449 in the world, was stolen.
Kym was just 21 and following the theft, in a rare trauma that left her “torn asunder”, she stopped playing and listening to music, cut her waist-length hair to a severe bob, and began wearing deliberately plain clothes, reducing herself to a “minimum”.
“It’s Gone! It’s Gone! It’s Gone! But more than that. I’ve Gone, too,” she writes in her memoir Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung.
In her account of her life and the trauma that suddenly invaded it, Kym recounts a remarkable story of love and loss. There is the decadelong relationship between her and the 1696 violin that she describes as “love at first sight”.
“Pick a Strad up, play that first note, and it surges through you. You feel possessed, limitless. You are holding immortality.”
There is, too, the longer relationship between her and music. Her memoir is also a gripping thriller that contains a hint of scandal, as well as entitlement, money, villains (the man and two teenagers who stole the Strad, the “controlling” boyfriend, Matt) and a secret.
Kym bought her violin, known now as the Euston Strad, for just under £450,000 by remortgaging her flat and part-exchanging it with a Bergonzi.
She describes knowing “every curve of that violin, and it knew me. There was a memory of that wood as well as in my fingers.” She talks of its imperfections and having “to coax out the brilliance that lay within its damaged frame”.
Kym exhibits some damage and “imperfections” of her own: ones brought on by the long shadow of the Korean war, by the cuckoo-nest oddity of growing up as a prodigy, by the possessive relationship of teacher and player, and
Violinist Min Kym describes knowing ‘every curve of that violin, and it knew me’