Ensemble Ditto from left, cellist Patrick Jee, violinist Stefan Jackiw, violist Richard O'Neill, pianist Ji-Yong, violinist Johnny Lee and cellist Michael Nicolas / Courtesy of Credia
By Lee Hyo-won
Ensemble Ditto greets its third season with a festival featuring four concerts June 27-28 at Seoul Arts Center.
The chamber group comprised of up-and-coming artists has been something of a phenomenon in Korea, performing to sold-out audiences across the country.
``We're really excited about this festival and the response has been more than enthusiastic. I heard two of the concerts are already sold out and we are really fortunate,'' violist Richard Yongjae O'Neill, who doubles as the event's artistic director, told reporters in Seoul, Tuesday.
The core members _ O'Neill, violinists Johnny Lee and Stefan Jackiw and cellist Patrick Jee _ are back, and are joined by cellist Michael Nicolas and pianist Ji-Yong, who replaces last year's Lim Dong-hyek. Guest artists, including violist Michael Chang, will also appear.
The festival opens at 2:30 p.m. on June 27 at Seoul Arts Center. The concert, titled ``Ditto Carnival,'' showcases works from the group's new album (``Ditto Carnival,'' Universal Music Korea) including Saint-Saens' ``Carnival of Animals'' and Tchaikovsky's ``The Nutcracker'' Suite, Op. 71a.
The Saint-Saens pieces, a series of short works evoking different animals, will be particularly interesting, said O'Neill, as it will be accompanied by Choi Jong-bum's video artwork, giving way to a ``visual interaction'' between the artists and the artwork.
Double bassist Daxun Zhang, who was part of Ensemble Ditto's 2008 season, and Jerry Jae-il Chae, principal clarinetist of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, will join Ditto members.
Later on at 8 p.m., Zhang will reappear for a contrabass rendition of Bizet's ``Carmen Fantasy.'' The evening show, titled ``Ditto Friends,'' also invites violinist Ryu Goto, who is know as the brother of Japanese virtuoso Midori, to perform in Korea for the first time with the TIMF (Tongyeong International Music Festival) Ensemble.
The following day, pianist Kim Tae-hyung, who recently appeared with Maestro Paik Kun-woo for a four-piano performance, will play Beethoven pieces, including Piano Concerto No. 5 ``Emperor'' opposite the Honna Tetsuji-led DITTO Orchestra.
At 8 p.m., Ditto will take the stage to perform chamber works under the theme ``Love Songs,'' including Schumann's Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 47. ``The theme was derived from the Schumann Piano Quartet. The third movement is one of the most beautiful, heart wrenching pieces in all of chamber music,'' said O'Neill.
Violinist Jackiw said that working with the chamber ensemble was not that different in terms of trying to give the most convincing interpretation of music, but there was a distinction regarding outreach.
``In the States, especially, chamber music is not as widely attended as symphonic concerts or operasíŽ. What's special about Ditto is that we play at Seoul Arts Center that attracts thousands of people and it's amazing that that many people are interested in chamber music,'' he said.
As much as Ditto is recognized for bringing non-classical music fans to halls, the unprecedented site of screaming, mostly young and female, fans, as well as the appearance of members in mainstream media, ranging from coffee advertisements to a cameo in a TV soap, has raised concern about their commercial, star-marketing appeal.
``We had many discussions about this,'' said O'Neill, emphasizing that he values ``the integrity of the music first and foremost.'' ``Classical music is for everybody and should not be separated from people, and Ensemble Ditto's mission has been `to be accessible to everyone,' and whatever we do we really maintain that concept,'' he said, adding that classical music ``is almost like a religion to me and I want to do as much as I can to share that.''
Newcomers Ji-Yong, Nicolas and Chang expressed great excitement in being part of the project, and Lee and Jee, who had been with Ditto for three years now, said they look forward to many more seasons in the years to come.