Things ain't what they used to be in the classical music biz--unless you go for gimmicks. Take Charlotte Church, the 13-year-old Welsh "opera singer" whose debut CD, a gooey gulletful of sugar-frosted hymns and folk songs, is being flogged by Sony Classical as if it were the second coming of Callas. Or the Eroica Trio, an ensemble of hard-bodies famed for their collective willingness to undrape their cleavage on album covers.
South Korean pianist Hae-Jung Kim, by contrast, is making it the old-fashioned way: nepotism.
Kim's father, Un Yong Kim, is vice chairman of the now-notorious International Olympic Committee.
"In city after city seeking to host the Olympics," Marc Fisher reported in The Post in February, "Hae-Jung Kim has appeared as a soloist. In Nagano, in Atlanta, in Berlin, in Melbourne, in Salt Lake City, the young pianist got to play with some of the world's top orchestras. The idea, said Shane Maloney, an organizer of the Melbourne bid, was that 'her father would appreciate the extent to which Melbourne liked the cultural work of his daughter.' "
Could it be that Hae-Jung Kim is a world-class artist who got those gigs solely because she deserved them? The answer came Sunday, when she gave her New York recital debut at Lincoln Center, having previously published an ad in the New York Times that read as follows:
"Me: youthful female concert pianist . . . loves to wear couture dresses, perform, graciously bow to rapturous applause . . . and receive rave reviews!
"You: age . . . gender . . . race . . . all are of no concern: all that matters is that you love to listen! If this is music to your ears, meet me at Alice Tully Hall."
Unable to resist so winsome an invitation, I ponied up $35 and met Kim at Alice Tully Hall with 200-odd presumably innocent bystanders (the hall seats 1,096), some of whom may well have paid for their tickets though I doubt that was true of the three gum-chewing teeny-boppers in platform shoes sitting next to me. Needless to say, I was prepared for something mind-bogglingly awful--David Helfgott in a kimono, perhaps--but what actually took place, undistinguished though it was, certainly could have been a lot worse.
The program was as respectable as a Junior League tea: Bach's E Minor Toccata; the Mozart B-flat Sonata, K. 570; Ginastera's First Sonata; and Rachmaninoff's "Corelli Variations." As for Kim's playing, it was big-boned, rather proper, deadly serious and technically adequate (except in the Rachmaninoff, which was a few feet over her head). She is, in short, competent enough, though all too clearly lacking the strong individuality and infallible fingers without which no aspiring young pianist can possibly hope to claw her way past the slavering pack of prodigies who are scratching desperately at the doors of the world's concert halls.
But then, there are other ways to get ahead, and it appears that Hae-Jung Kim has discovered some of them. Indeed, I would be inclined to say that if her father continues to play his cards shrewdly, the best is yet to come. Perhaps Vice President Gore is looking for an official campaign pianist? I bet she'd sell a lot of tickets that way--and not at a paltry $35 a pop, either.