Surrounded by a beautiful display of work at the Lehigh University Art Gallery (LUAG) in Zoellner Arts Center, Jee Hyun Lim of the music department performed a lunchtime recital on March 7.
Lim, an experienced vocalist who has been teaching at Lehigh since 2013, performed classical art songs with her accompanist, David Holkeboer, a collaborative pianist with whom she has a long-standing musical relationship. The performance was inspired by the works on display in the exhibition: “The Teaching Museum: Selections from the Permanent Collection” and was affiliated with professor Linda Ganus Albulescu’s Music and Creative Arts course.
Although Lim hasn’t done an art and music collaboration in the past, she has been performing around the world for almost 30 years. She sang abroad in both England and Ireland for 12 consecutive years.
Lim jumped at the opportunity to combine her passions for art and music into one performance.
“This was my first time ever doing something like this,” Lim said. “I love art, and when I’m not rehearsing, I’m usually at a museum.”
Lim said she initially thought there was no way they would be able to find a painting from the LUAG collection that would portray the songs she wanted to sing. However, after studying the meaning and story behind the songs and paintings, the pairings worked perfectly.
For instance, “Knoxville, Summer of 1915” by Samuel Barber flowed beautifully with Charles Burchfield’s “Summer Benediction.” Additionally, “Le repos en Egypt” by Ottorino Respighi paired wonderfully with Rembrandt van Rijn’s “The flight to Egypt.”
“Sometimes, I would go to the New York Library for four hours, decide on one composer, pick songs and make my own copy,” Lim said. “I remember in one of my copies was (‘Le repos en Egypt’), and I remembered that maybe I can make a connection with (‘The flight to Egypt’). It’s exactly what happens when they go in there, as they are talking of a sphinx, a light coming from this little baby and it illuminates.”
Almost every song was new to her and she had just one month to learn and memorize the music that corresponded to nearly 20 paintings in the LUAG collection.
“It took me like a month and a half to actually get down to the program itself, and then I only had a month to learn all this music and memorize it,” Lim said.
It was difficult to closely match the art to the music, however Lim was mesmerized by the stories behind the paintings, particularly with the summer works of 1953 by Charles Burchfield and “The Flight to Egypt” by Rembrandt van Rijn.
Holkeboer is an accomplished pianist in the field of opera and art song who accompanied Lim during this performance.
“We’ve done many auditions and a few concerts over the years, so when we decided to collaborate, I was very excited about it,” Holkeboer said. “She is a wonderful artist.”
Holkeboer has known Lim for about 20 years. He said she is a valued client of his and that they have a wonderful musical relationship together.
He also did a concert with Lim at the Zoellner Arts Center three years ago.
“My overall experience at Lehigh was very positive,” he said. “I’ve known a couple of the staff members for many years. It was wonderful to see Linda Ganus again, and it was delightful to meet Ellen Lewis, the department coordinator. We discovered that we have several mutual friends.”
Holkeboer said everyone was positive and encouraging. He said linking art with song was a wonderful idea and he was very pleased to be part of it.
He was captivated by the art in the gallery, emphasizing how beautiful the space was with the paintings and the incredible piano.
Many audience members were inspired and moved by the performance, including Jillian Cowles, ’20, a material science and engineering major with a music minor.
Cowles, who is a Choral Arts Scholar and is heavily involved in the music program, said she was particularly inspired by her professor’s expression during the performance.
“I think that was one of the things that was most surprising because each piece of art and music includes unique expressions,” Cowles said. “They are all different, someone can be sad or happy, but being able to express that through music and to connect that to art is something I haven’t experienced before. It was amazing.”
For Lim, being able to deeply inspire her students is a fantastic feeling. She said she was excited about this collaboration, and the effect it had on the audience only served to enhance the rewards of the experience for her.
Editor’s note: The article has been updated to fix a quote.