Katherine Kyu Hyeon Lim, ”Starling”
By Vanessa Ague · June 01, 2023

Katherine Kyu Hyeon Lim finds freedom and joy in improvising with friends. It’s something she’s come to only recently—the New York–based violinist spent her childhood training as a classical musician in Europe, eventually moving to Manhattan to study at The Juilliard School. But one day in 2019, she met up with some pals and jammed, embracing the winding roads her melodies took. Since that day, Lim has become part of a variety of improvising groups, like her violin-piano duo Impromptuo and her orchestra Muzosynth, finding her voice along the way. Starling, her debut album, builds on those projects, featuring her pals saxophonist Alfredo Colón and trombonist Kalia Vandever. Together, they sculpt poignant and warm vignettes, playing off of their individual voices while highlighting Lim’s versatile playing.

The music ventures from buoyant meditations to frenetic explorations across Starling’s nine tracks, following the ups and downs of each artist’s shapeshifting solos. Each piece emphasizes the group’s unity and trust in each other—the artists let their sound grow through communication, adapting to each other’s motions. On opener “Sitting with it,” Lim plays a lush, ascending violin melody while Vandever slips her trombone in between; each melody fades into a bed of pillowy resonance. On “Taste & Touch,” the group picks up the pace, layering blistering trills and scratchy tremolos between Vandever’s rich trombone playing. Elsewhere, solo tracks take the music in new directions. “Passing By” features gentle, wafting reveries reminiscent of Vandever’s We Fell In Turn, while “Quick Flight,” a short interlude, puts a spotlight on Colón’s fleeting saxophone riffs.

Throughout, Lim’s violin navigates the music through its twists and turns. Starling highlights her capability in a variety of styles: “Drawing Out,” the eeriest track on the record, builds around squealing, fast-paced passages that jump from string to string. Elsewhere, her playing takes on a softer and sweeter tone, acting as the glue that holds the sprawling music together, like on “As It All Goes By.” Here, her violin takes a back seat to a soaring saxophone and trombone duet, but her looping, bright melody imbues the track with hope and vibrancy. Starling is, at its heart, a testament to her agility on the violin and a powerful statement that shows her willingness to explore her instrument. In the process, Lim celebrates her own voice—derived from the classical tradition and borne through deep connections.

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