Slant’d x The Lincoln Center Young Patrons: Interview with K-Factor Concertmaster, Doori Na
This summer, the Lincoln Center Young Patrons will bring K-Factor, a genre-bending orchestral concert that explores the radical innovations in Korean popular music over the past century, to New York’s cultural stage. To celebrate, Slant’d joined forces with the Lincoln Center Young Patrons to highlight the minds behind this innovative musical program.
For the second #badasians interview in this series, we sat down with concertmaster Doori Na to discuss his Korean American upbringing, what draws him to K-Factor, and the future of the classical music world.
Slant’d: How did you get to where you are today, and did you always know you wanted to be a musician?
Doori Na: I knew I wanted to be a violinist from a very young age. My mom always wanted me to play music (she wanted me to play the piano, which is very typical of many Asian parents), and she took me to a student recital where I saw someone playing the violin. I was instantly attracted to the sound of it. My mom recognized that, put me in violin lessons, and took me to see all the great soloists, like Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. Whenever I saw them perform, that became my goal—to be a musician.
That’s how I fell in love with the violin. It’s a mixture of the sweet sound of the instrument, and also the brilliance and virtuosity that you can put into it. In an orchestral setting, a violinist can also be a leader as the concertmaster—and the importance of that has always attracted me to the violin.
Slant’d: What is your cultural background, and how does it influence who you are today?
Doori Na: I was born and raised in San Francisco, and both of my parents are Korean. My Asian American identity is something I’ve been thinking about a lot more these days because it’s more prominent in the media. Growing up, I had the stereotypical Asian mom who wanted me to be successful and the absolute best at what I do, which is a lot of pressure. My teenage years were spent ignoring my heritage because I was mainly focused on fitting in. Because of my intense time at home focusing solely on the violin, I was only concerned about being as “normal” as I could be at school. Now, I’m realizing that my parents have sacrificed a lot and instilled that hard work in me, which has made me who I am today.
Someone who has inspired me to embrace my identity is Eddie Huang. When I first watched his shows on TV, I was confused by his overall demeanor and the way he spoke with a lot of slang—I wasn’t sure if he was putting on an act. Then I realized that it’s because that’s how he grew up, listening to rap albums and interacting with the people around him. His experience got me thinking about what I went through in my childhood, and taught me to embrace that unique way of growing up in America. Seeing Eddie’s experience was an impetus that challenged me to think about my identity—for the first time, I embraced how unique my Asian American upbringing was.
Slant’d: What draws you to K-Factor, and what role do you see Korean music playing in America?
Doori Na: I’m excited that K-Factor is a Korean-centered experience that has actually enabled me to learn more about Korean music myself. In a way, the music is similar to how I oftentimes view Korean people—as determined and focused on our goals as we are, we're also joyous people who are cheery and like to laugh a lot. To me, this spirit is embodied in K-pop music.
I remember learning about K-pop years ago, and I didn’t think it was cool back then—this was part of me not embracing my Asian American identity. Now that I’m giving it a listen (I also love K-rap), I’m amazed to see how expressive and well-produced K-pop is.
I’m proud of my culture for becoming more mainstream, and I’m even more excited for other people to have access to it. And this goes for Asians overall—it puts representation out there for all of us.
Slant’d: What do you think is next for Asian Americans in the musical world?
Doori Na: Asians and Asian Americans already have a huge presence in the classical music world. There’s a lot of competition and comparison, which I see especially in conservatories. It raises the bar and pushes the technique level up, but it also puts a lot of pressure on us to be the absolute best. I don’t see the next generation of Asian Americans pushing their children as much as our parents did, so I’m hoping we’ll have a happier classical music world with healthier-minded musicians. Enjoying your craft, rather than focusing on being the best at it, seems to be a healthier way of developing as an artist.
Witness Doori’s musical virtuosity and celebrate with fellow K-pop fans at K-Factor this Thursday, June 20 at 8:00 PM at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in New York. For more information and tickets, visit kfactor.org.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.