A modest super-talent

24-year old tenor Beomjin Kim, winner of the first prize for men in the 2015 Mirjam Helin International Singing Competition, held his listeners spellbound with a charming voice that lent itself with graceful ease to a whole gamut of emotions.

His delivery had a child-like, effortless quality and the enjoyment he derived from living his part was obvious. Seldom does one encounter such a phenomenal tenor, yet this talented Korean came to classical music almost by accident. “I’ve got two older brothers. No one else in my family sings, but we always listened to classical music a lot at home,” he says.

As a teenager, Kim was interested not so much in classical music as in Korean pop, which he both listened to and sang. Then in high-school, at the age of 18, his teacher noticed he had a good voice and suggested classical. “I was very lucky because I got into the best Korean university to study classical voice. I also happened to get an extremely good teacher, and we just clicked.”

Mastering a cast-iron technique and making rapid progress have called for untiring hard work; nothing has come free. “You can play an instrument for hours on end, but you can’t go on singing indefinitely. I sing for an hour each day. I don’t take any days off. Singing is not stressful for me, but not singing is,” he laughs. “I practise in the mornings and in the afternoons I do sport with my friends. I play football and tennis, and I swim, and that helps my breathing technique as well!”

Kim has a strict work ethic, but he is also aware that he has talent and what this involves, and he tries to preserve a natural approach to singing. “I try to practise in a natural way and to observe how my voice is developing.” You can tell this from listening to him: even in the back row of the hall you can sense his spontaneity, his unforced voice and his love of singing.

In the competition he was in his element as the romantic hero of an Italian opera. Some of his favourite roles are Rodolfo in La bohème, whose timid love aria he sang in the Final, Nemorino in L’elisir d'amore and Alfredo in La traviata. “I love these characters. I can relate to them and they strike me as familiar. I particularly like serenades,” he shyly confesses. “Before a performance, I try to get right inside the character. I imagine what sort of life he leads and how it would feel to be in his shoes. But I hope to do all sorts of roles.”

So how did Kim come to be competing in Helsinki? He knew some fellow-Koreans had excelled in the Mirjam Helin Competition and decided to find out more. It was then that he noticed the competition was due this very year. Despite his lack of years, he already has experience of big international competitions. Even so, a competition is always nerve-racking, he says. “I was terribly surprised when I won,” he admits, bewildered and happy. He speaks of the competition in glowing terms, especially as even the outdoor temperature had dropped to ideal by the end of the Final. “The organisation has been fantastic and the people here are all so kind.” He and his wife also enjoyed seeing something of Helsinki and its people.

The competition as a whole was a tremendous learning experience. “It had a broad repertoire and there were lots of rules concerning it, so I learnt a lot preparing for it. Singing in the big Helsinki Music Centre concert hall was a great experience. The acoustics were not as I expected. The hall was really big, yet my voice carried well. Singing there was a pleasure.”

Asked about the future, the modest rising star says he intends to keep his feet firmly on the ground. “I’ve got some engagements lined up in Korea, and I don’t want to think too far ahead. I might try to go and study in Europe next year. But first I want to do my next solo gigs as well as I possibly can.”

Text: Auli Särkiö
Translation: Susan Sinisalo
Photos: Heikki Tuuli