Music lovers take noteA decade ago, nobody thought Busan would become the Cannes of Asia. But since the launch of the Busan International Film Festival ― now one of Asia’s largest and most respected cinematic fests ― the city’s reputation has been completely changed.
Tongyeong, a tiny port town also in South Gyeongsang province, has similar ambitions, although its focus is music. Beginning Tuesday, it’s holding the second Tongyeong International Music Festival.
The 10-day event, which will include performances by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, Sarah Chang and Heinz Holliger, is being billed as “The Dream.” The title reflects the sentiments of Tongyeong’s 130,000 residents.
Music lovers certainly were impressed by last year’s festival. Critics raved about its content, which ranged from the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra to the Trio Toykeat, a Danish jazz band.
Classical music played throughout Tongyeong last year. Schubert and Brahms wafted from the loudspeakers attached to the city’s streetlights. Visitors were helped by the “golden wave,” a group of 150 volunteers, mostly local music students. About 30,000 people visited Tongyeong for the festival last year, and 50,000 are expected this year.
The success of last year’s festival came as a surprise to naysayers, considering that Tongyeong was best known as a fishing village.
“When we began, there was no infrastructure with which we could establish a music festival,” said Park Woo-jeong, the program director. No major performance halls. No rehearsal halls to accommodate large orchestras. Limited housing.
But everything fell into place. A colonial building that was used as the village office during the Japanese occupation became a small hall for fringe works. A moderately-sized auditorium in the Tongyeong Arts Center became the main performance venue. The festival took advantage of schools, chapels and outdoor stages around town. Most importantly, the festival turned its eyes to smaller bands and innovative spaces.
It helped that Tongyeong’s residents have long shared a love of the arts. The town has produced some of Korea’s most celebrated musicians and writers, including Park Gyeong-ri, the author of “Toji,” and Isang Yun, a composer known for his blend of Eastern and Western music.
A German journalist last year dubbed Tongyeong the “Salzburg of Asia,” a comparison that Tongyeong’s marketers have wisely picked up.
This year’s lineup is equally impressive. Opening the fest on Tuesday is Ensemble Modern, an innovative contemporary music group from Germany, led by Heinz Holliger conducting and performing on oboe. Ensemble Modern will perform again on Wednesday, as will the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, with Piotr Borkowski conducting.
On March 29, the St. Petersburg Capella, under the baton of Vladimir Chernucenko, will perform Russian sacred music and folk songs at nearby Chungmu Church.
Mr. Mehta, music director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the longest tenured music director of the New York Philharmonic, where he served from 1978 to 1991, will conduct the Vienna Philharmonic and the violinist Sarah Chang on April 2. Tickets for this closing event are sold out.
Opera is a new addition to the program. Isang Yun’s opera “Dreams” will have its posthumous premier at Tongyeong. Jazz and fringe music performances, have also expanded.
The festival’s organizers plan to capitalize on the city’s artistic diversity and unspoiled environment. The quality of Tongyeong’s water and beaches are excellent, and numerous small islands dot the coast.
“It was amazing to see the festival growing in a city so small as Tongyeong,” said Lee Sang-man, a veteran music critic in Seoul. “It’s very fortunate that the festival has earned so much acclaim so early in its history.”
Ensemble Modern is a contemporary ensemble from Germany noted for its genre-defying works of sound, visuals and video projection that aren’t confined to the concert hall.
The group has performed at art installations, for films, operas and video projects.
The ensemble has been working with the Frankfurt Opera since 1993 to stage a concert series called “Happy New Ears,” which presents the group’s interpretations of major contemporary compositions by John Cage, Steve Reich and Anton Webern.
The group refuses to appoint a conductor or music director so that it has the freedom to experiment with musical styles. Its choices for guest soloists and musical selections are based on each program’s or project’s concept. Ensemble Modern often commissions young composers to write for it.
The Tongyeong-born composer Yun Isang always wanted two of his operas, “Butterfly Widow” and “The Dream of Liu-Tung,” to be performed in tandem.
That never happened during his lifetime.
But their union will take place at the Tongyeong International Music Festival at 7 p.m. on April 1. The combined works are being staged as “Dream” by the Young Contemporary Opera of Vienna, the group that staged “Butterfly Widow” in Vienna last year, and by the National Opera Company of Korea, which will perform “The Dream of Liu-Tung.”
The “Dream of Liu-Tung,” which Mr. Yun composed in 1965, is about a man who frees himself from worldly desire through Confucius’s teaching.
“The Dream” is such a complicated work that the National Opera Company of Korea has rehearsed nine months for the festival, rather than its usual two or three. “Butterfly Widow” was completed in 1967 while Mr. Yun was in a jail.
A city in harmony with nature and music: Tongyeong seems to be the perfect place to get in touch with religion.
Which is why the Tongyeong International Music Festival is embracing “Music and Religion” from the East and the West.
The Hugo Wolf Quartet will perform Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Our Savior Jesus Christ on the Cross” at 7 p.m. on March 28 at the festival’s Main Hall.
The St. Petersburg Capella will perform Rachmaninoff’s “Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom” at 2 p.m. March 30 in Chungmu Church, downtown Tongyeong. The same performance will be also staged in at Myongdong Cathedral in downtown Seoul, at 8 p.m. on April 1 (02-774-3890).
Royal shrine music will be presented by the Court Music Performance Group of the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts at 2 p.m. March 27 in the Tongyeong festival’s Main Hall. The concert is meant to showcase the sacred side of Eastern religion.
Fringe performances by amateur and professional musicians will be staged in the festival house throughout the festival.
Last year, there were 34 fringe events, such as performances by rock bands, choirs, on-line music clubs and students.
The fringe events are separate from the official program, but are meaningful in the larger context of the classical music festival.
They expand the Tongyeong International Music Festival’s horizons in unexpected ways.
This year, organizers expect jazz to be performed by some internationally known groups, as well alternative rock and the staging of traditional shamanist dances.
In many ways, everything about the Tongyeong International Music Festival is owed to one man ― Isang Yun. Tongyeong is the birthplace of the late Mr. Yun, where he developed his taste for modern music.
Heinz Holliger, a German oboist who will be performing at the opening concert, was a good friend of Mr. Yun, and staged some of Mr. Yun’s earliest concertos for the oboe.
The Buddhist oratorio “Om mani padme hum,” which is characterized by its stolid, mournful tune, is one of Mr. Yun’s first compositions to meet with broad acceptance in Europe.
Like most avant-garde Asian artists of the modernist period ― such as Paik Nam-june and Yoko Ono ― Mr. Yun earned recognition in his homeland only after he was appreciated abroad. In fact, it was an international group of musicians who protested for Mr. Yun’s release when he was imprisoned in 1967, accused of being a communist spy.
One of Mr. Yun’s main achievements was reinterpreting the Korean traditional music form pansori for the classical chamber orchestra. He also wrote explicitly political works, calling for the reconciliation of the Korean Peninsula.
Mr. Yun moved to Berlin in 1969 after serving a two-year sentence in Korea for breaking the National Security Law. Upon his arrival in Germany, he taught composition at the University of Music and Drama, Hanover, and became a professor in 1973. Mr. Yun became a German citizen in 1971, dying in Berlin in 1995.
Mr. Yun’s musical accomplishments were overshadowed by his political ideals, and only recently has his music been reappraised in Korea, mostly by the musicians who organized the Tongyeong festival.
Before the festival, Tongyeong was better known for oysters than music and literature. Tongyeong provides 70 percent of South Korea’s rock oysters, and exports to Japan, Southeast Asia and the United States. The oysters are huge, about 10 centimeters (4 inches) long.
Tongyeong residents typically eat oysters raw, with slices of seaweed and chili sauce, or they steam them on top of rice mixed with dates, mushrooms and chestnuts.
There will be a Tongyeong Oyster Festival during the Tongyeong International Music Festival.
To get a taste of the regional recipes, check out Hyangtojip (055-645-4808), a restaurant specializing in oyster dishes. Its menu includes oyster rice, oyster porridge, oyster hot pot, oyster omelets, spicy oysters with steamed vegetables, oyster stew and broiled oysters. A combination dish with five selections costs 20,000 won ($16) a person, and is available with a minimum of four orders. Reservations are recommended.
For other seafood dishes, try Seoul Sikdang in Hangnam-dong (052-642-6893) or Hodong Sikdang (055-645-3138) across from Chungmu Beach Hotel.
For something more adventurous, go to Ddungbohalmae Gimbap (055-645-2619), translated as “fat granny’s rice roll.” It has been in operation since 1943 in Jungang-dong, downtown Tong-yeong, and offers one item, chungmu gimbap, finger-sized rolls of a plain gimbap served with radish kimchi and spicy squid on the side. Homemade sesame oil is used for for dipping.
Oyster auctions are typically held from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Mondays to Thursdays at the Tongyong Fisheries and Oyster Cooperative in Dongho-dong. Call (0557-645-4513) to confirm the schedule.
To see the entire program in English, go to www.timf.org or call (02) 6303-5700, (055) 645-2137.
Tickets for the closing concert range from 20,000 won to 50,000 won ($16-$40); the final concert 80,000 to 150,000 won (the final concert is officially sold out, but organizers say more seats may become available).
A “Big 3 Pass,” which includes an opening concert, a final concert and a ticket to see the International Sejong Soloists, costs 150,000 won.
There are also two-day and three-day passes, and a package that includes accommodations at Chungmu Marina Hotel. For affordable stays, group accommodations are also available.
Tickets can be purchased at www.ticketlink.co.kr or www.infoart.com. Students rates are available.
Accommodations: Chungmu Marina Hotel (055-646-7001), Tongyeong Tourist Hotel (055-644-4411), Chungmu Tourist Hotel (055-645-2091), Beach Hotel (055-642-8181), Rivera Motel (055-643-3079). Cheaper motels are available near the bus terminal.
Transportation: Traveling from Seoul, it’s best to catch a bus at the Seoul Express Bus Terminal. Buses to Tongyeong take 4 1/2 hours. The one-way trip from Seoul to Tongyeong costs 24,800 won. Buses are scheduled to run every hour.
To fly from Seoul, book a flight to Sacheon Airport in Jinju and then catch a limousine bus at the terminal to downtown Tongyeong. The traveling time is 2 1/2 hours.
For airline reservations call Asiana (1588-8000) or Korean (1588-2001). A one-way ticket from Seoul to Jinju costs 65,000 won on Mondays through Thursdays. The weekend price is 69,500 won.
Shuttle buses will run from Chungmu Marina Hotel to performing halls during the festival. In addition, Tongyeong is so small that a taxi ride across town takes less than an hour and costs less than 10,000 won.
For sightseeing, check out the National Marine Park and Hansan Island. The island has Eunjudang, a house where the Admiral Yi Sun-shin prepared for war against the Japanese during the 18th century.
For more info, see the city’s Web site at www.gnty.net.
by Park Soo-mee