Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Seoul Phil to Take on Beethoven - and Un-suk Chin

From TMCnet.com:
Korea Times Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge By Bae Keun-min January 09, 2006

Chin Un-suk and Beethoven

The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra has embarked on a plan to become the world's top orchestra by presenting the ``Beethoven Cycle,'' the first of many planned offerings.The orchestra is scheduled to perform all of the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven throughout the year. The Beethoven Cycle, supported by the Hana Financial Group, will begin Friday at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, featuring symphonies No. 1 through 3.

In a press conference yesterday, Maestro Chung Myung-whun revealed the Seoul Phil's projects for his first year as the music director of the orchestra, including the Beethoven project.``The Beethoven symphonies are the first and the last symphonies for a large orchestra,'' Chung said. ``Starting with the symphonies and practicing and performing the pieces constantly, the orchestra will show how much it develops.''The 51-year-old conductor said a leading orchestra needs to focus not only on nurturing its musical capability but also contributing to society through music and other projects.``At the last Beethoven Cycle concert in late December, I hope to perform with North Koreans, or at least having them as chorus members,'' Chung said. ``I want to create projects, in which we perform for poor North Korean children.

''The orchestra has become the nation's first to have a composer in residence. ``It is a great pleasure to work with maestro Chung,'' said Chin Un-suk, composer in residence for the orchestra. ``I will pay more attention to introducing contemporary pieces, many of which will be premiered in Asia, than presenting my own works. I hope people will change their preconception that contemporary numbers are difficult and boring.''The 44-year-old Chin _ whom Maestro Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philharmonic in 1999 named as one of the five composers to lead the orchestra into the 21st century _ will be in charge of education programs as well as concert programs. She is expected to modernize the programs to include contemporary scores.This year, she will hold three concerts in April and October, in which representative pieces in the 20th century will be performed with her explanations about the pieces.``I plan to compose a piece for the orchestra to premiere after I wrap up the opera I am working on now,'' Chin said. ``Maestro Chung constantly asks me to give him a piece as soon as possible.''Chin, who studied musical composition under Gyorgy Ligeti in Hamburg, emerged in the international music community in 1985, when she won the International Gaudeamus Music Week, renowned musical composition competiton, while a student at Seoul National University. She embellished her reputation by winning the 2004 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, often called ``the Nobel Prize in music,'' for her Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.

Besides the Beethoven Cycle, the orchestra has prepared a variety of programs this year, featuring Shostakovich and Mozart numbers. What is noteworthy is the orchestra plans to meet the audiences up-close and personal during concerts at district offices in Seoul. Eleven concerts have been scheduled, eight of which will be led by Chung.The number of concerts will increase to over 100 a year from the previous average of 60. Chung will conduct at least one quarter of the concerts.Financial independence is another objective for the orchestra and several measures will be taken including mobilizing organizations such as the supporters' association, according to Lee Pal-seung, president of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.``The orchestra has been dependent on the Seoul city government for more than 90 percent of its annual budget. We are trying to make money for over 20 percent of the budget to lower our dependence ratio to about 70-80 percent this year,'' said Lee, who worked in the finance industry for 37 years, including heading Woori Investment & Securities.In six months, since its transformation to a foundation orchestra, the orchestra has made 600 million won in profits from 64 concerts, soaring from the previous annual average of 200 million won. ``We aim to reach 2 billion won this year,'' Lee said.The Seoul government has set aside 11 billion won to support the orchestra this year, up from 9 billion won last year. Of the expected 13 billion won expenses in 2006, some 2 billion won will come from the earnings of the Seoul Philharmonic, Lee said.However, Lee said the orchestra needs a larger budget to achieve its plan to become the world's leading orchestra. ``In the end, we need to multiply the budget by three or four times to reach 30 to 40 billion won, similar to the New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic,'' Lee said.To enhance its re-launch, the orchestra held two auditions, changing one third of its staff musicians, and pulling down the average age of its musicians from 44 to 36. However, it still lacks 27 members to reach the 106-regular-staff level Chung believes is necessary to become a top world orchestra. The orchestra plans to hold auditions in New York next month.

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