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Kansas City Symphony's new concertmaster is ready for his turn as 'the Mahomes of the group'

Jun Iwasaki begins his official concertmaster duties when the Kansas City Symphony's 2022 season begins in mid-September. In the meantime, he's doing what he can to settle his family in their new Overland Park home.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
In May, the Kansas City Symphony announced its new concertmaster, violinist Jun Iwasaki. He officially joins the Symphony this month.

Violinist Jun Iwasaki officially starts as concertmaster for the Kansas City Symphony this month.

The Kansas City Symphony's new concertmaster, Jun Iwasaki, is set to formally step into his role at the ensemble's annual ball on Sept. 10.

But less than two weeks before his local debut, the violinist was still awaiting a truck delivery to his new, but empty, home in Overland Park, Kansas.

“There’s nothing in there," he said. "Everything is still in the truck, making its way over here. My wife, Paige, and I are busy setting up the house, getting ready for things to arrive.”

This kind of transition isn’t new to Iwasaki, who relocated to the Kansas City area from Tennessee, where he was concertmaster for the Nashville Symphony from 2011-22. Before that, he was concertmaster for the Oregon Symphony from 2007-11.

But this marks the first move he’s made with his wife and two young sons, Taiga and Kenta.

As concertmaster, Iwasaki is likely to become the most recognizable face among musicians in the Kansas City Symphony, and his leadership will be critical as the group continues to emerge from two years of pandemic restrictions that frequently affected live performances.

Music, Iwasaki said, has always been a part of his life — a family tradition. His mother is a pianist and his father is a cellist.

“It was just something that I thought was a normal thing to do, that people played music," he said. "They would come home and practice and have dinner and practice more, and so that's what I saw my parents do, day in, day out.”

Iwasaki started playing the violin at age 5. After winning competitions in high school, he realized he also wanted to pursue music as a career.

He graduated from Cleveland Institute of Music’s Concertmaster Academy and has appeared with orchestras across Europe and the United States.

Iwasaki said the first time he played with the Kansas City Symphony, he knew it would be a good fit.

“My attraction here was pretty immediate," he said. "The (orchestra's) level of commitment, and the audience was extremely enthusiastic about everything we were doing, and to see what (music director Michael Stern) has created over his time here with the brand new hall — and, you know, this was before I even got to know the city.”

“I really liked what was going on, both onstage and offstage," he added.

Iwasaki, who relocated to the Kansas City area from Nashville, said music runs in his family: Iwasaki's mother is a pianist and his father a cellist.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Iwasaki, who relocated to the Kansas City area from Nashville, said music runs in his family: both of his parents are professional classical musicians.

The term concertmaster, he said, hearkens back to an earlier era of musical performance.

“When orchestras were first starting to form, there were no conductors,” Iwasaki said. “Most often the lead violinist would be in charge of leading the group because they mostly play the melodic material and they’re easily visible from everyone else on the stage.”

Their role in a modern-day orchestra is a sort of go-between for the conductor and musicians, he said, “to help convey what the conductor wants the orchestra to do, without speaking.”

The concertmaster's best means of communicating is through body language and eye contact.

Already in tune with the prevailing interests of a "football town" like Kansas City, Iwasaki made an apt comparison.

“If the conductor is the coach,” Iwasaki said, “I would say the concertmaster role is like the quarterback position; kind of the captain on the field, rallying his team.”

“That’s the Mahomes of the group," he clarified with a laugh, "and he's helping lead the team to a successful concert.”

Building that kind of rapport “just takes trust," he said. "It takes time.”

In Iwasaki's first season with the Kansas City Symphony, which starts Sept. 16, local audiences will begin to find out if that parallel holds. If his tenure with the orchestra comes to resemble Mahomes' rise with the Chiefs, it will be music to Kansas City's ears.

The Kansas City Symphony's 2022-23 classical series begins at 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 16, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway Blvd., Kansas City, Missouri 64108. Find detailed ticketing information at KCSymphony.org.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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