A wave of calmness passed over pianist Honggi Kim, 30, as he stepped onto the stage of the PepsiCo Recital Hall, preparing for his audition for the world-renowned Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Through his posture and self-assured request for a different stool, it was clear that this wasn’t his first professional competition. 

“When I was 6, I started to learn piano,” Kim said. “Since middle school, I’ve played in other competitions, and amongst them, decided I would play the piano as a professional.”

If you go…

Location: PepsiCo Recital Hall at TCU

Admittance: The screening auditions are free and open to the public ages 10 and up; no tickets are required.

Arrive early: There will be no late seating.

Schedule: Performances take place March 6-8 and March 10-12. You can find the full schedule here.

An internationally recognized pianist, Kim pursued music at the Seoul Arts High School and Korea National University of Arts. He later graduated from the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München in Germany and is now studying at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Frankfurt.

The South Korean pianist won Korea’s Isang Yun International Music Competition in 2013 and earned top prizes at both the Geneva International Music Competition and China International Piano Competition, so he’s familiar with performing well under pressure. 

But this also isn’t his first time auditioning for the Cliburn. 

In the most recent competition in 2017, Kim glided through screening auditions in Hamburg, Germany — where he currently resides. His fortune continued at Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall, where he sailed through two rounds and ended the competition as a semifinalist.

Now that he’s back in the Lone Star State, Kim hopes he can scale higher this time. But he admitted to some nerves about performing in front of crowds again after the pandemic halted many live performances.

“During study, there are many class concerts and opportunities to play in an audience like this, but then with this pandemic, there were (few) opportunities to play for others,” Kim said. “That’s why I was kind of nervous.”

But his composure masked any nerves he might have been feeling. 

YouTube video

Dozens sat in the crowd watching as he quickly swept his fingers across the grand piano, effortlessly playing four carefully curated pieces for his audition. 

Upon completion of his first composition — Scarlatti’s Sonata in G Major, K. 13 — a viewer near the front row, clearly impressed, said “Whew.”

He seamlessly transitioned into Scarlatti’s Sonata in G Major, K. 455, Chopin’s Rondo in C Minor, op. 1 and Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody” No. 9.As he exited the stage with a bow and heard applause from the audience, it was evident that he was proud of his performance — which he said he prepared for by practicing between three to six hours daily.

Now that the audition is over, before he heads home, he has other big plans: “I’d like to find some nice place to eat some barbecue.”

On March 17 Kim will find out if more barbecue and another trip to Texas are in his future.

Brandi Addison is a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Magazine, and Green Source DFW. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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