Pop pays, but is it worth the risks?

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Pop pays, but is it worth the risks?

Classical music artists face a tough choice when they are tempted to cross over into pop. It's not hard to put together some songs with popular appeal, but it may be seen as a sign that the artists are compromising their integrity. Kim Chee-yun, 31, a New York-based Korean violinist, recently made that choice.

Performing for many years as a classic violinist who loves Rachmaninov, Ms. Kim at first shunned the idea of crossing the pop Rubicon. But she says that because she considers herself an established violinist, she was confident that a crossover album wouldn't harm her image. Her latest album, "Chee-yun's Sentimental Memories," also known as "Kim Chee-yun's Propose," contains 15 tracks ranging from the love theme of the classic film "Cinema Paradiso" to Edith Piaf's "Hymn de l'Amour" (If You Love Me). Ms. Kim said the production process for her first stab at crossover was "democratic," and that she selected half of the songs herself. The album comes off as sophisticated, featuring deep and smooth violin performances.

The violin can sometimes get too tense and annoying, but Ms. Kim is acclaimed for playing the instrument at its smoothest. Encouraged by the success of the new album, Ms. Kim recently paid a visit to Seoul to perform. This week, she flies to Shanghai to perform with an orchestra behind her.

But Ms. Kim is perhaps more widely known as a shampoo model with a comely visage than as a classical violinist. She does not necessarily detest the image, but said she does not welcome it. She was asked to become a model after an advertising agency saw one of her more flattering publicity photographs. "It may be a good bonus to be remembered for good looks, but I am afraid it could ruin my image as an artist," she says. She does not forget to promote the shampoo, though, hastening to add that she actually uses the brand and it works.

Ms. Kim's first love was not the violin. As an energetic 6-year-old, she liked to sneak under the piano to better appreciate her oldest sister's practice sessions. "I loved the sound of the piano, and wasn't so interested in the violin," she says. Her other older sister was already learning the violin. Ms. Kim began with the piano, until the violin-playing sister abandoned the instrument to take up ballet, leaving the violin field open to her.

As a child, Ms. Kim says, she liked to attract attention, and she found out before long that she got the most notice when she played the violin and that she had a gift for the instrument. She moved to New York at age 10, and entered the Julliard School at 13.

Ms. Kim cemented her career by winning a number of music contests, including one, the Young Concert Artist International Concours, where she met her main patron, Barbara Katzander. Eventually signing on with a Japanese record label, Denon, Ms. Kim started actively cutting albums.

Married to a Korean-American, a surgeon in New York, Ms. Kim has a full schedule. She plays concerts year round. Her biggest coming shows include one at New York's Lincoln Center in December followed by a New Year's concert in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Will she be releasing any more crossover albums? At the risk of disappointing fans of her latest album, she says, "I'm a classical music artist."

by Chun Su-jin

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