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Miah Im Discusses Her Life as Head of Music Staff at LA Opera

Posted on: December 7, 2018

As LA Opera’s Head of Music Staff, Miah Im wears many hats during the course of any given day. This fall, she was the associate conductor for Satyagraha and a rehearsal pianist for Hansel and Gretel.

Do you come from a musical family?

My father taught himself to play the violin. My brother played the piano. When I was young I learned to play the piano and violin, and I took singing lessons when I was a teenager. My dad convinced me to take accordion lessons as well.

How did you come to be part of the LA Opera team?

I have James Conlon to thank for much of my career path. I met him at the Aspen Music Festival in 2000 when I was still a student; I was the chorus master for Rigoletto and he saw my work. I later moved to New York to work as a coach at the Juilliard School. By chance, I was assigned to his production of The Emperor of Atlantis that went all over: New York, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles.

James then started bringing me to the Ravinia Music Festival, where he was music director. When he came to LA Opera, he asked if I would be interested in coming here. I really wanted to take the position but was moving to London, so it wasn’t the right time for me. Later, when I came back to the U.S., I asked him if there were an opportunity for me to work in Los Angeles. I’ve been coming out here since 2009. I started out playing one or two shows a year and became head of music staff in 2016.

Tell us about your duties as head of music staff.

I act as assistant or associate conductor, I’m often the prompter and I conduct backstage as needed. I take notes during performances and during tech week and I interact with orchestral musicians if there’s anything I can facilitate. I also coach and work with our young artists.

I make pianist assignments and listen to chorus auditions and pianist auditions for the young artist program. And I make sure the budget for the music staff doesn’t go into the red.

What exactly does an associate conductor do?

The associate conductor is the conductor’s right hand. One of my most important roles is to take over when the conductor isn’t available for rehearsals. I’ll often sit in the house to check for balance, or directly behind the conductor to take notes for the singers and orchestra. I also work closely with the orchestra librarian to make any changes the maestro wants to make.

What is the most memorable moment from your work in Los Angeles?

Akhnaten was one of the best experiences of my operatic career. We started every rehearsal sitting or standing in a circle, which the director referred to as a check in. We’d each talk about how we were feeling that day, where we were emotionally. Through that process, we became incredibly close to one another. This group connection allowed us to create something truly special and memorable. We were all in pursuit of the same thing: magic. And I learned to juggle!

What is your musical guilty pleasure?

I was born in the wrong era. I wish I’d been a teenager in the fifties or sixties. I’ve been listening to a lot of music from the seventies. I love big band music. Currently on repeat is Sammy Davis, Jr., and Carmen McRae. But I listen to everything.