In­stru­men­tal mo­ment

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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’

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