More musicians from the region find leading positions
Korean violinist Cho Yun-chin is the concertmaster of Philharmoniker Hamburg. She formerly played for the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the world’s oldest symphony orchestra founded in 1781. / Korea Times file
By Do Je-hae
Korean violinist Cho Yun-chin was a principal violinist at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the world’s oldest symphony orchestra founded in 1781.
When the orchestra came to Korea in March, she drew local media attention for being one of the few Asian players to ever join the prestigious institution.
Playing for an orchestra once led by the genius composer and pianist Felix Mendelssohn is a definite sign that you have made it as an orchestra player. But in a surprise move, Cho recently moved to the Philharmoniker Hamburg, based in the Hamburg State Opera, because she was offered the concertmaster position.
Asian presence at some of the world’s foremost orchestras is constantly increasing, as a natural outcome of an “Asian wave” at top music schools and prestigious competitions in United States and in Europe.
More concertmasters are Asian, as in the case of Berliner Philharmoniker, the Chicago Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera, among others.
This mostly has to do with Asia’s burgeoning economic prowess and focus on achievement in Asian culture, Chicago Symphony concertmaster Robert Chen analyzed.
“Asian economies are now able to support this kind of education and Asians play world-class instruments,” Chen said in a previous interview with The Korea Times.
It is uncommon for a violinist in his or her 20s of any nationality to start an orchestra career as concertmaster. But musicians like Cho, 28, and other Koreans are auditioning for concertmaster positions early in their careers and are winning them, too.
Violinist Park Ji-youn, 26, recently joined as concertmaster the “Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire (ONPL),” a French symphony orchestra based in Angers and Nantes, France.
The position of a concertmaster, who serves as a link between the music director and the players, requires a high degree of intellectual and musical insight, technical facility, and more importantly, leadership. This is why concertmasters are considered the most skilled and seasoned players in the orchestra.
Orchestra over solo career
More Asian classical musicians are choosing orchestras or chamber music jobs over solo careers.
Japanese violinist Daishin Kashimoto, for example, had been considered one of the finest soloists of his generation before he joined the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2010. He showed promise from an early age, having won both the International Fritz Kreisler Violin Competition in Vienna and the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud International Competition in 1996.
A Japanese national born in London in 1979, Kashimoto has already been recognized internationally by performing under renowned Maestros such as Seiji Ozawa, Lorin Maazel, Yuri Temirkanov, Vladimir Fedoseev and Evgeny Svetlanov, to name just a few.
After competing with a Chinese musician in the final audition, Kashimoto was finally chosen to become one of the orchestra’s three concertmasters.
The Berliner Philharmoniker, which will present a program of Bruckner and Mahler in Seoul this month, has had a close association with Japanese musicians. Its former concertmaster Toru Yasunaga joined the orchestra in 1977 and served as concertmaster from 1983 until his retirement in 2009. The orchestra’s principal violist Naoko Shimizu is also Japanese.
Korean violinist Oh Joo-young is another star soloist who chose to devote himself to a world-class orchestra. He is the latest Korean addition to the New York Philharmonic, which already has nine other Korean musicians in the string section. Assistant concertmaster Michelle Kim is from Korea as well.
Some local orchestra players have successfully switched jobs for positions in Europe. Kim Jung-min, former Seoul Philharmonic principal violinist, now plays for the London Philharmonic based at the Royal Festival Hall.
There are now more Asian players outside the string section in the world’s top orchestras as well.
Jasmine Choi is the first Korean flutist to join a major U.S. orchestra. She joined the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra led by Estonian-American conductor Paavo Jarvi. Maestro Jarvi appointed her associate principal flute in 2006, when Choi was only 22.
At 16, Choi went to the United States when she was accepted to study at the Curtis Institute of Music on a full-scholarship. The legendary Julius Baker has called her “a huge sensation,” and she studied with him for four years until his death in 2003.
Bassoon player Sung Kwon-you, 24, joined the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin in 2010.