For Detroit Symphony Orchestra concertmaster, Yoonshin Song, her relationship with the violin wasn’t love at first bowing.
“I loved the piano more than the violin,” Song laughed. “But somehow my brother kept going with the piano, which he hated. Luckily, he’s out of it now.”
And luckily for Song she learned to love the violin, and make a career out of playing the string instrument. Song, who lives in Birmingham, has been the DSO’s concertmaster since 2012, after taking the audition, which was recommended to her by James Bruno, whose violin she was playing on loan while at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
As concertmaster — the first chair of the first violin section — Song serves as a bridge from the conductor to the orchestra. She has to have a good ensemble with the principal players and transfer what the conductor says to the orchestra through her gestures. She also has to speak sometimes.
While she’s led for smaller orchestras, the DSO is a much bigger group than any she’s done before, which has its perks, like producing an amazing sound. As concertmaster she also has more chances to play.
“It gives me more opportunities rather than being a section member in terms of having more recitals and more chamber music opportunities,” Song said. “I enjoy performing more.”
When she isn’t performing, or teaching an orchestra repertoire class at the University of Michigan and private lessons, Song said she likes being in Birmingham, where she enjoys walking around and to the park across the street from her apartment.
“Sometimes you need to see some greens,” she laughed.
Song has gotten to see greens all over Korea, Europe, and the U.S. with her playing.
Growing up in Seoul, South Korea, Song’s mom – a classical music lover who watches the DSO shows in South Korea via their webcast – was the reason she started playing in the first place, around five. Then, things took off quickly.
Song made her solo debut at only 11 with the Seoul Philharmonic and as a teenager participated in a violin international course in England. Then she came to the U.S., where she earned her master’s degree and Graduate Diploma from the New England Conservatory, having studied under Donald Weilerstein. Soon after she was off to New York, where she studied with Robert Mann and Glenn Dicterow while completing the Artist Diploma and Professional Study programs at the Manhattan School of Music.
But it’s that time she was studying in England, which took place in a castle, where she had her, “I could do this forever” moment with the violin.
“I heard some music coming from nowhere and went downstairs and people were playing,” she said, adding that she spoke no English then. “When I saw them I went, ‘OK, this is something I’ve never seen in my country.’”
Having welcomed her to play with them – the group had been sitting around sight-reading chamber music – they played until the wee hours of the morning.
Her hours now with the DSO don’t go quite as late but the community has been just as welcoming.
“I think it’s a blessing that I could have a job which I actually want to do,” she said. “It’s very special that I can make people feel differently or just make them forget their worries for two hours. And still, I love doing it. And I get paid. I think that’s pretty cool.”
Photo: J. Singleton