Problems Amplified by "A Very Special Meeting"The stage microphone at the Seoul Arts Center's Concert Hall may be an eyesore, but it serves a purpose, a purpose that usually does not include amplifing sound during live performances. The microphones are there mostly for televised broadcast, radio sessions or recording a live concert.
Problems arise when the microphones are connected to speakers during classical music concerts. The quality of live classical music performances is most pure when it not amplified. The worst case scenario is when a singer who uses a microphone performs with an orchestra that does not.
Last Wednesday at the Seoul Arts Center, the Korean Symphony inaugurated its season as the center's resident orchestra with "A Very Special Meeting" (Ajoo Tukbyulhan Mannam). Performers included conductor Kim Bong, English vocalist Youn Suk-hwa, guitarist Lee Byong-woo, violinist Kim Nam-youn and pianist Kim Dae-joon. The vocalist and the guitarist each used a microphone.
Amplifying classical guitar solos does not do the guitar justice. Its low subtle whispers are best heard in an intimate setting. If a classical guitar piece is performed in a larger venue, the hall should seat a maximum audience of 1,000. The Concert Hall, which seats 2,600 people, is one of Seoul's largest concert venues.
One alternative for the Seoul Arts Center is to host amplified performances elsewhere. The Concert Hall is not the only venue at the Arts Center. There are also the Towol Theater and the Open Stage. The Concert Hall was built for classical music, specifically for instruments that can project their sound in a large setting.
Often the driving force behind big concerts is money. Thus instruments that should be heard in small venues are amplified and played in less than desirable settings.
The Seoul Arts Center is not a novice bungling its way through the classical music industry. Nor did money alone prompt the center to hold a concert that is difficult for sound engineers. The real reason why the Seoul Arts Center chose to hold "A Very Special Meeting" at the Concert Hall begins with a government inspection.
Moongwang, a government committee that annually reviews cultural events, criticized Seoul Arts Center for not using the Concert Hall to its full capacity. The committee explained that art centers have an obligation to spread popular culture.
What the committee failed to take into account was the Sydney Olympics. Both domestic and international symphonies are avoiding performing, arguing that now is not the right season.
by critic Lee Jang-jik