Beethoven Virus Still Goes On
Classical Music Getting Closer to General Public
By Chung Ah-young
Jung Eun-chae, 49, was an ordinary housewife and mother of an 18-year-old daughter before she became a member of an amateur orchestra.
``I was depressed and lethargic after my daughter grew up. I thought my duty had been done. Then, I began wondering who am I and what do I live for?'' said Jung.
She suddenly remembered her old hobby of playing the violin 20 years ago and decided to pick it up again.
``It was hard to resume playing an instrument I quit after my high school days. But I decided to spend time for myself in practicing the instrument, and my husband fully supported me receiving private lessons,'' she said.
Jung and other ordinary people have recently become members of an ensemble, which was created and organized by the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, Dec. 5.
A total of 31 people were selected for the Sejong Nanum Ensemble, which is composed of amateurs ranging from an ordinary housewife to a dentist, a teacher and a technical mechanic.
They have different professions but have something in common ― a passion for music just as in the recent hit drama, ``Beethoven Virus.''
The drama, which aired from Sept. 10 to Nov. 12, created a passion for classical music with its explosive popularity ― the first drama to depict the lives of classical musicians and an orchestra in Korea.
The drama portrays a talented yet extremely harsh maestro conductor Kang, fondly called ``Kang Mae'' played by Kim Myung-min and his attempt to lead an orchestra made up of amateurs.
The popularity of the drama was founded not only in the rare subject, but also on the reflection of individual members' humble hopes and dreams through the orchestra, and the classical music pieces arranged as easy and simple renditions.
``Now my confidence is back and I am very excited about the performance, as if I were a freshman like my daughter who will enter university soon. Although I am older than the other members and I have to practice much more than they do, I am anticipating a second life,'' said Jung.
``The drama's popularity might be temporary but the essence of the beauty of classical music continuously appeals to the public. Nowadays, classical music is getting easier and friendlier,'' she said.
The formation of the orchestra was coincidental to the drama's popularity in October and also the rising interest in classical music which used to be regarded as an affectation of the upper class.
According to the center, 285 people applied for the auditions, much higher than expected. The center originally planned to select only 20 members for the ensemble, but because of the large number of applicants, it picked out an additional members, making the group larger than an ensemble but smaller than an orchestra.
The mini-orchestra consists of 26 regular members and five semi-regular members ― 10 violinists, three violists, four cellists, one double bassist, three flutists, four clarinetists and one oboist. The semi-regular members are two trumpeters, two saxophonists and one percussionist.
Yoo Nam-kyu, conductor and judge for the orchestra audition, said it was designed to hire ordinary citizens, not professional musicians.
``The levels of their musical ability vary from advanced to beginner level. But we've focused on their musical enthusiasm and the willingness to be in harmony with other members rather than the performing skills, through interviews,'' said Yoo.
Compared to his experience as a conductor leading professional orchestras, he felt difficulty in coordinating the various skill levels members, but their passion was much greater than that of any professional, inspiring him to teach them with fervor.
``They really enjoy practicing; their enthusiasm is strong. They are easily engrossed in playing their instruments,'' he said.
Concerning the recent boom in classical music, Yoo said that as a classical musician, he welcomes the trend in which more and more people are enjoying the music.
``The drama apparently prompted the general public to get interested in the music. But I am worried that it doesn't represent the real classical scene. It's apparently good for widening the scope of the fan base. I hope this kind of ensemble or orchestra, or whatever, will spring up more through the emergence of the Sejong Ensemble,'' he said.
The ensemble is now rehearsing Mozart's Divertimento No.1 K.136, Piano Concerto No.23 K.488, Symphony No.29 K.201 and Brahms' Hungarian Dance No.5.
Their official debut is in February and they will take part in a music camp hosted by Chang Hyung-jun, a professor of Seoul National University and other activities organized by the center, especially charity events.
The boom in classical music may have been prompted by the drama, but was actually the culmination of local appearances by numerous classical stars such as Finnish conductor Esa Pekka Salonen with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela who all visited Korea one after another in late 2008.
The popularity has immediately led to the success of the classical albums such as the ``Beethoven Virus _ The Classis Vol. 1,'' a drama compilation album ― some 100,000 copies have been sold since it was released in early October.
The genre is also getting much closer to the general audience through star marketing strategy such as using actor Kim Myung-min and figure skater Kim Yuna.
Actor Kim's ``Classic Maestro'' was the compilation album released by EMI, which includes masterpieces recommended by him.
``Fairy on Ice'' is gaining popularity with 10,000 copies of the album which includes major works used by the skater in her performances, two weeks after its release.
The trend is not only happening in Korea, but also worldwide through even more innovative ways. YouTube is offering musicians around the globe the opportunity to join a symphony orchestra via video through the world's first collaborative online orchestra.
Applicants are required to submit a video of their performance of the ``Internet Symphony Eroica,'' created by Academy Music Award-winning composer Tan Dun for this occasion. The deadline for submission is Jan. 28.
The 80 selected members for the orchestra will be able to perform alongside world-renowned conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, learn from Chinese composer Tan Dun and many members of the London Symphony Orchestra, and consult with pianist Lang Lang.
All video entries will be combined into the first-ever collaborative virtual performance, and people around the world will select their favorites to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall in April 2009.
There is no restriction on nationality, age or type of instrument for the project. Fusion genres combining traditional classical musical instruments can be available for the orchestra if it fits the music, according to YouTube.
Cosmetics company Amore Pacific and production company CREDIA are participating as local sponsors and partners for the event.