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Colorado Symphony Concertmaster’s Unexpected 25-year Journey

March 13, 2024

Colorado Symphony Concertmaster’s Unexpected 25-year Journey

Music can transport people to different places and new worlds. It has certainly done that and more for Yumi Hwang-Williams.

“Ultimately we become musicians because we love music and we want to express it and we want to share it,” Hwang-Williams said.

Hwang-Williams is the concertmaster for the Colorado Symphony—that means she is the first chair violinist and is responsible for everything from solos to being a figurehead and community liaison. 

She has crossed oceans from South Korea and traveled over mountains and across the country to get where she is now. She never thought the position would be part of her journey.

“I never asked for it,” Hwang-Williams said. “It’s like the violin landing on my lap. I never aspired to be a concertmaster. It just all sort of happened.”

It is a little more complicated than that, but she is right about the violin never being a part of her plans for the future. When she was 10, she was accepted into the Girard Academic Music Program, a public music magnet school where she arrived without a violin in hand.

“I had to sing to be accepted in the school,” Hwang-Williams said. “The violin only showed up because my mother heard there was a Korean violin teacher who runs the string program at that school and somehow they conspired and I had a violin land in my lap literally.”

She never asked for it, but it was kismet. Once she started playing the instrument, there was no looking back. Five years later she was accepted into the Curtis Institute of Music, then moved on to be the principal second violin for the Cincinnati Symphony, and has now been the Colorado Symphony’s Concertmaster since 2000. She has been in the leadership role for nearly 25 years.

“It feels very long when I actually think about all the things that have happened, but I feel like I blinked and now here I am,” Hwang-Williams said. “Having a position with a major orchestra—it’s really akin to winning a lottery for us.”

The longevity in this position is a win for a few reasons.

“When I started, perhaps being a female concertmaster and also of Asian descent that was quite rare,” Hwang-Williams said. “I think it takes a lot of bravery, and it takes discipline and it takes just getting up and saying, ‘You’re going to do this today.’”

A very special woman is the reason the violin came into her life. Hwang-Williams’ mother is so proud of her daughter, and she never misses a show.

“She’s incredibly proud of course, but mostly she just loves going to the concerts,” Hwang-Williams said. “I chauffer her to almost anything I’m playing.”

Hwang-Williams’ other musical partner is her violin.

“It’s a really personal attachment. I mean, it’s your voice,” Hwang-Williams said. “It’s like no one can take that away from me.”

The violin she currently plays was made in 1748 by G.B. Guadagnini, who is known as one of the best violin makers in history. Hwang-Williams said the instrument has been on loan to her for 10 years, and she said it has been a gift to play.

“The stories this violin could tell,” she said. “I wish it could talk to me.”

Hwang-Williams’ story is one she never expected, but also one she loves and never takes for granted.

“I try to have a really grateful heart,” she said. “I think it’s important to have that quality and it makes everything better when you look at it from a positive point of view.

“I’ve been incredibly lucky and I know I worked hard, but a lot of people work hard—I’ve been incredibly fortunate and I recognize it.”