PICTURED: Acclaimed classical guitarist Jiyeon (Jiji) Kim will perform as part of New West Symphony’s “A Tour of Mexico” online concert May 23. Photo courtesy Jiji Kim

by Mike Nelson

Now and then, parents actually do know best.

Take Jiyeon (Jiji) Kim’s folks, who — when their 8-year-old daughter decided she wanted to be an electric guitarist like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix — steered her away from the Fender Stratocaster and toward an acoustic classical guitar, telling her, “This one is on sale, and if you play classical guitar for a year, we’ll buy you an electric.”

“They tricked me,” says Kim, laughing at the memory. “They never bought me the electric. I don’t think they wanted loud amps in the house. But after a year had gone by, it didn’t matter because I’d fallen in love with classical guitar.”

So much so that today, at age 28, Jiji Kim is an internationally acclaimed classical guitarist, both on acoustic and electric, with an affinity for adventurous, diverse music, from traditional and contemporary classical to free improvisation. 

On May 23, Kim will perform with New West Symphony in “A Tour of Mexico,” the latest in “Global Sounds, Local Cultures,” NWS’ season of internationally-themed virtual concerts. Kim will play Manuel Ponce’s legendary “Concierto de Sur,”  composed in 1941 and dedicated to Ponce’s friend, the famed guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia. 

Kim’s participation (filmed in late April for the online event) was facilitated by her mentor, Grammy-winning classical guitarist Jason Vieaux, with whom the Seoul-born Kim first studied at age 14 at the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music in Ohio and later at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. 

“Jason asked me if I knew ‘Concierto de Sur,’ that his good friend Sasha (Alexander Gurevich, New West’s general manager) was looking for a guitarist who can play that piece,” Kim says. “They reached out, we connected, and it happened. And, especially coming out of COVID, it was mindblowing, very emotional to be on the stage again — like breathing life.”

While some may regard a South Korean-born musician’s participation in a concert spotlighting the music of Mexico as unusual, to Kim it makes all the sense in the world.

“Music is such a universal language, and we can all relate to it,” she says. “When I play pieces by different composers from all over the world, I feel empathy; I want to embody the piece. And I have a great time with Ponce’s music; I have always loved his harmonic language. So this collaboration with New West means everything.”

Other composers featured in “A Tour of Mexico” include Arturo Marquez, Fernando Arroyo Lascurain, Silvestre Revueltas, Gabriela Ortiz, José Enrique González-Medina and the traditional “El Son de la Negra.” Harpist Maria Casale and Mariachi Divas will also perform with NWS, conducted by Michael Christie.

“This was my first time performing with New West, and it was really great fun,” says Kim. “Michael is an amazing musician and artist, so easy to work with, and I enjoyed connecting with old friends during my time here. This past year has been so challenging, and I’m so grateful to have had this chance to be part of something so unique and creative.”


“A Tour of Mexico” takes place online May 20-23, with the finale concert on Sunday, May 23, at 3 p.m. To purchase an all-access passport ($25) or for more information, call 805-497-5880 or visit newwestsymphony.org/2020-21-virtual-season/tour-of-mexico/