Six Questions With Concert Pianist and Creative Collaborator, Annie Yim

Annie Yim | Photo courtesy of the artist

Born in Hong Kong, raised in Vancouver, and now based in London, performer Annie Yim brings her MusicArt project to Vancouver. Founded in 2015, MusicArt brings together music and the arts in innovative ways. She has worked with contemporary artists, dancers and poets, and performed in art galleries such as Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, and Ordovas, London. Her projects offer new interpretations to established works, classical and contemporary, and challenge the concert form itself, resulting in entirely new concert experiences.

For her upcoming concert at the Fox Cabaret on March 10th, presented by Music on Main, Annie performs The Poet Speaks: From Debussy to Pärt, a concert for solo piano and recorded voices. The performance combines pairings of music and poetry spanning two centuries. It includes Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina performed alongside Sunlight, a poem by British poet Zaffar Kunial, commissioned specifically for the project.

We recently caught up with Annie to find out a little more about how she went from classical pianist to forging her own path of creating dialogue across art forms, by collaborating and commissioning works from artists, dancers, poets, and beyond.

What is MusicArt? How did it begin and why?

My MusicArt projects bring together everything I love: music, collaborating with like-minded artists from across different art forms, creating something new, with a sense of surprise for the audience. The projects take the form of a concert, which I call conceptual concerts. Every project is different though they are all connected in some way. My first collaboration started in London, UK in 2015 when gallerist Katrin Bellinger at Colnaghi Gallery told me about her upcoming exhibition for the British artist Christopher Le Brun. Christopher was the President of the Royal Academy of Arts at the time and I had just heard his interview on the BBC discussing his love of music. The next thing I knew, I was visiting the artist’s studio, learning about his processes and the works in the exhibition. My whole music programme was conceived around the relationship between music and painting, including the premiere of a new work by my composer friend, Richard Birchall, in response to one of the exhibited works.

Describe one of your most memorable performance experiences?

Actually one of the most unusual performing experiences I have had, which also inspired me to start collaborating across art forms, was a collaboration during London Fashion Week in 2013 with the Canadian fashion designer Erdem. On this occasion, I chose a piece of music by Arvo Pärt (a composer also featured in my upcoming Vancouver concert) for piano and cello. It has a stark beauty that was complementary to Erdem’s monochrome collection. Some of his dresses even had poems sewn in.

What can we expect from your upcoming performance, The Poet Speaks?

The Poet Speaks: from Debussy to Pärt is for solo piano and recorded voices, including the voices of poets and composers I worked with on this project. Every piece of music is only a few minutes long, about the time it takes to read a short poem. They are linked together not only in a kind of chronological order, but also aesthetically. In the middle of the concert I have American composer John Cage’s 4’33”, a piece in which the performer does not play the instrument. I have performed this piece in various venues and contexts, and it never ceases to surprise and inspire, not least because the audience plays such a major role in this piece.

Your musical-poetry pairings span the greats—Baudelaire, Bertrand, Ginsberg—to contemporary, likely less known poets, like Zaffar Kunial. Can you expand on your choice in pairing one musical work with your choice of poem?

There are fascinating stories behind each connection. Some of these are pre-existing pairings: I love the story of how Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg first met by chance in a book store in New York in 1988 and they decided then and there that they would collaborate on Ginsberg’s anti-war poem Wichita Vortex Sutra, for which Glass wrote the piano music. Friendship is also a main theme. I personally invited a couple of poets I know to create responses to some of the music I find particularly moving or poetic. The poems were then recorded for live performance. I believe this kind of cross-disciplinary dialogue really engages the listener in a special way, and makes you curious to listen as if you are listening for the first time.

Who is your dream collaborator/collaborators (living or not)? Is there a dream location where you’d love to perform?

My dream collaborators have an innate affinity and deep appreciation for music. I love to learn about how music informs their practice, or just how it moves them personally. It made me realise how much different art forms have in common when it comes to artistic expression and that there really is no boundary. I would love to create a performance installation in an outdoor space, somewhere in the mountains or on a lake.

You grew up in Vancouver and have family here – what are some of your favourite places?

I always come back to Kitsilano beach for the most memorable sunsets.

The Poet Speaks will be performed in Berkeley on March 5th as part of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute’s Harmonic Series, taking place in a historic church, then comes to Vancouver on March 10th, as part of Music on Main’s A Month of Tuesdays series at The Fox Cabaret.


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