As the Toronto Symphony Orchestra wraps up its Valentine’s concert this weekend, we caught up with one of the many couples who have found love within the orchestra. Principal clarinet Joaquin Valdepeñas met violinist Mi Hyon Kim during the Banff music festival, but it was while they were both working at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra that they fell in love.
How they met
We first met at the Banff music festival where I was a visiting artist. One of my clarinet students brought her roommate, Mi Hyon, to my chamber music coaching and that is when we first noticed each other, but it wasn’t until a year later when Mi Hyon moved to Toronto and she started working with the Toronto Symphony that she asked me out for dinner. I am sorry to say I asked for a rain check as my mother was visiting me from California but we connected soon thereafter.
The first date
Our first date was at Korea House, a Korean restaurant on Bloor Street. I had never eaten Korean food, I was most impressed. Korean food is now an important part of our lives.
A few months after our first dinner, the Toronto Symphony went on a three-week European tour and that is when Mi Hyon and I started spending all of our time together. There were many memorable moments in cities like Paris, Brussels, Bruges and cities in Germany. Our courtship was unique in that we were working together most of the time and even today, we spend our lunch breaks together.
After one year and a half of dating, one evening after a night out I drove Mi Hyon home, before she got out of the car she boldly asked, “So where is this relationship going?” I was shocked but also flattered at the same time. This led to a three-hour conversation inside my car that even included how many kids we wanted to have. It was then that we decided to move in together and then get married.
We were married at St. Andrew’s Church on King Street on Dec. 23, 1998. We picked this time of year as we knew that it would be easier for our families to travel to Toronto around the Christmas holidays. We took many wedding pictures on the campus of the University of Toronto where I teach. Of course it was very cold, but also sunny. We stayed in Toronto for Christmas with our families and left for our honeymoon on Boxing Day — destination Cancun. We have gone back to Cancun many times since.
We have two sons. Josué, 28, is a cellist and associate principal in the Calgary Philharmonic and Alejandro, 24, is a violinist who just graduated with a masters degree from Rice University in Houston, Texas.
Balancing careers and marriage
We always had one date night a week on Friday nights to our favourite Japanese restaurant which was called Asuka in Yorkville. Unfortunately it doesn’t exist anymore, and we lost contact with our favourite sushi chef, Sato san. This is basically how we made our own time that was separate from our careers early in our relationship and this tradition continued on for many years even after we had kids.
As with most musicians, we loved food. Soon after we moved in together, to my delight, I discovered that my wife was a terrific cook, especially with Korean food. If we are preparing traditional food and we are having guests, we will cook together. For myself, I am a painter, something I started in high school and continued in University in California. To this day I have several large paintings decorating our walls, often I am working on a canvas and Mi Hyon is in the kitchen. We see colour very different and I often ask for her advice — her concept of colour is very concrete and mine is always with the idea of figuring out all the colours that go into a particular tint.
We have been in the Yonge and Lawrence area for many years and we are currently in a condo. Condo life is new to us but we are loving it.
Secret of success
Very simply, we never stay mad with each other. If we may go to bed upset, in the morning we wake up as if nothing happened. Also we have a very similar concept of values and since we are both the babies in our families, we like to spoil each other.
Life after retirement
We live in Aspen, Colorado during the summer months but we have many friends in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It would be a great place for a second home. We also plant to travel and see family in California and Mexico. For myself, I will still continue my other musical activities — teaching and conducting at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music and continuing to perform with my Amici Chamber Ensemble and also the ARC Ensemble. We are very close with our sons so wherever they eventually settle, we will become frequent visitors. Mi Hyon keeps talking about a dog, this discussion is ongoing.