Judy Kang, violinist (born 13 July 1979 in Toronto, ON). A child prodigy who has become a world-renowned musician, Judy Kang began violin lessons at age four and made her orchestral debut when she was 10. She studied at the Curtis Institute, Julliard and the Manhattan School of Music, and has given acclaimed performances with major orchestras, composers and conductors around the world. A versatile performer with a strong interest in improvisation, she transitions easily between classical and contemporary pop music — she was the violinist for Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball world tour (2010–11) — as well as indie rock, hip hop, jazz and electronica.
Early Years and Education
According to her family, the night before Kang was born her grandmother dreamed of a young girl holding a violin. Kang’s mother enrolled her daughter in Suzuki method violin lessons at age four, and Kang reportedly learned and memorized a piece at her first lesson. By the end of her first year of playing, she was performing in solo recitals and winning competitions.
She moved with her single mother to Edmonton, where James Keene, former concertmaster of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, was among her teachers. At 10, she made her first orchestral appearance with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. In its review of the performance, the Ottawa Citizen said, "If there was a star tonight, it was Judy Kang. Blessed with a gift for the violin that is exceptional, she moves about the instrument at her disposal with an ease that is awe-inspiring."
At age 11 she entered the Curtis Institute of Music on a full scholarship. She studied with Aaron Rosand and Rafael Druian, and graduated with a Bachelor of Music at 17, making her the youngest graduate in the school’s history. In 2000, she graduated with a master’s degree in music from Julliard, where she studied with Robert Mann; in 2005, she earned an artist diploma from the Manhattan School of Music, where her teacher was Sylvia Rosenberg.
In 2005, Kang performed Anthèmes 2, scored for violin and electronics at the Manhattan School's IRCAM residency with French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez. She also won an international competition to play on a European tour with Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. She has performed as soloist with many orchestras in Canada, the US, Europe and Asia under such conductors as Bramwell Tovey, Mario Bernardi, Boris Brott and Jean-François Rivest. She has given recitals in London's Wigmore Hall, New York's Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, Tokyo's Suntory Hall, the Seoul Arts Center in South Korea and the Schubert Hall in Vienna. She has performed at chamber music festivals, including Marlboro, Manchester (Vermont), Ravinia (Chicago), Banff Centre for the Arts, Aspen, Orford Arts Centre and the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. Her repertoire includes works by Arvo Part and Canadian composers André Prévost, Harry Somers and Michael Matthews, who has written pieces specifically for her.
Kang has also excelled in the world of contemporary pop music. She played with N’Sync at the MTV Video Music Awards, appeared in a music video with Lenny Kravitz and was personally selected by pop artist Lady Gaga to play electric violin on her Monster Ball world tour. Kang continued to squeeze in classical performances during the tour, including a performance on the Brahms Concerto at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Of her performance with the Korean Symphony at Carnegie Hall, the New York Times wrote, “Judy Kang, a Canadian violinist and most likely the only musician to have worked with both Pierre Boulez and Lady Gaga, was featured in Brahms’s Violin Concerto. Ms. Kang, who drew whoops from the audience before playing a single note, offered a lean, focused sound, pinpoint intonation and expressively molded phrasing. Every line seemed to mean something personal in what amounted to an amorous serenade.”
Ensembles and Side Projects
Kang was a founding member of the ensemble Made In Canada, a quartet formed at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 2006, with whom she played until 2011. In 2007, she joined FutureInREverse (F.I.R.E.), an innovative New York group specializing in multi-media and cross-genre projects, and in 2009 she began her own experimental electronic/ambient band, The Simple Machines.
As a member of the renowned string ensemble Sejong, she toured Asia and the US, and performed at the opening of the Great Mountains International Music Festival & School in South Korea, where she also coached chamber music. She has also produced and arranged the work of a variety of artists, including American jazz/soul singer Antoniette Costa.
Kang is an ambassador for the aid and development organization World Vision, as well as a mentor and artist for Young Audiences, the largest non-profit arts-in-education organization in the US. She also participates in music outreach programs that take her to public schools, daycares, hospitals and nursing homes.
In 1997, 2006 and 2009, Kang was awarded the loan of a 1689 Baumgartner Stradivari violin worth $4 million through the Canada Council’s Musical Instrument Bank Competition. She was also awarded the use of a 1747 Palmason Januarius Gagliano violin in 2003. In 2005, she received the Sylva Gelber Foundation Award from the Canada Council as the most talented musician under 30.
A version of this entry originally appeared in theEncyclopedia of Music in Canada.
Grand Prize, CBC Radio National Competition for Young Performers (1997)
Best Interpretation, CBC Radio National Competition for Young Performers (1997)
Finalist, Musical Instrument Bank National Competition, Canada Council for the Arts (1997)
Finalist, Musical Instrument Bank National Competition, Canada Council for the Arts (2003)
Fourth Prize – Violin, Carl Nielsen International Competition (2004)
Sylva Gelber Foundation Award, Canada Council for the Arts (2005)
Finalist, Musical Instrument Bank National Competition, Canada Council for the Arts (2006)
Finalist, Musical Instrument Bank National Competition, Canada Council for the Arts (2009)
Duo (2004). CBC Radio-Canada Chaîne Culturelle RIC 2 9955 (Judy Kang, violin; Benjamin Loeb, piano).
Jean Sibelius, Judy Kang (violin), with the Orchestre Symphonique de Laval, conducted by Jean-François Rivest (1999). Disques Richelieu RIC 2 9956.
Christmas in Times Square (2009). TSC Music Studios.