A daily dose of Mozart: Classical music as the matineeAt exactly 10:30 a.m., the horde of middle-aged women pushed its way into the Gunpo Culture & Art Center in Gunpo, Gyeonggi province. They had come to to sit in on a performance of the Gunpo Prime Philharmonic’s “Martinee Classic” program, conducted by Kim Doc-ki.
The concert began with a sound of a solo cello performance of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.” That was followed by a 20-minute intermission that gave the women a chance to chat, eat muffins and drink coffee.
“I came with 10 other people in our church choir,” said Mun Hye-ok, 38, from Gunpo. “We see each other every week, but it’s more pleasant when we’re all together in a concert hall.”
Such is the attraction of classical music matinees, an increasingly popular way for music-lovers to spend their time. Though every program is different, most are based on the first regular matinee in Korea, the “11 O’clock Concert” program at the Seoul Arts Center, in Seocho-dong.
The arts center offered its first classical matinee on Sept. 9, 2004. Concert halls around the nation quickly took up the idea, with morning shows starting last year in Daejeon, then Bucheon and Anyang, Gyeonggi province. So far this year, they’ve been joined by concert halls in Busan, Ulsan, Gunpo, Seongnam and Gimhae, South Gyeongsang province.
All seats have the same price, although different theaters have different prices, from 5,000 won ($5.20) to 20,000 won. Conductors and performers also usually provide commentaries about the day’s repertoire.
That repertoire, incidentally, rotates every day according to a fixed monthly schedule, part of a year-long program. Known as “calendar marketing,” the programs are prepared well in advance to mitigate the difficulty of arranging programs and booking performers. Both the Goyang Sport Complex & Park and the Cheongju Arts Center tried matinee performances a few times this year but had to postpone a full launch until next year, and Seongsan Arts Hall will not start offering matinees until September, in large part due to those problems.
The explosive popularity of the concerts was made possible by support from regional governments and concert halls. The biggest draw is the price, which is far cheaper for matinees than for evening performances. Giving all the seats the same price also assured that few to no seats would be left empty. The popularity is easy to observe: There are always long queues of women waiting to reserve tickets for upcoming matinees.
The commentaries and lectures also exert a certain appeal. Most music lectures have been aimed at teenagers on field trips; Kim Yong-bae, the CEO of the Seoul Arts Center, turned that around by giving his own commentary on pieces intended for middle-aged concertgoers. Those lectures were later jazzed up by integrating multimedia-assisted educational programs.
The Seoul Arts Center program features a wide range of classical composers, with Mozart being the most frequently performed ― seven of its 19 performances have featured Mozart, though music by a total of 36 composers have been performed.
Mun Byeong-ho, the owner of Yejeon Record shop in Seoul Arts Center, said that after the concert, many audience members buy CDs of the music they just heard.
“We’re very grateful that concerts were held in the morning,” Ms. Kim said. “It’s nearly impossible for housewives like us to go to evening concerts.”
“We drove together to come here. We left at 9:30 in the morning, and it took only 40 minutes to get here. We had enough time to drink a cup of coffee and read pamphlets about the performance,” Ms. Lee said.
“Before there were these 11 o’clock concerts, we used to meet in a restaurant, had lunch and chat before we went home. Going to concerts like this, we have more interesting things to talk about. I feel like we’re more cultured,” Ms. Jo said.
The 11 O’clock Concert did not originally intend to target housewives, but the producers quickly found that over 80 percent of the audience members were women between the ages of 30 to 50.
by Lee Jang-jik