Youth symphony dares to do Mahler

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Youth symphony dares to do Mahler


GWACHEON, Gyeonggi province ― It was as if Gustav Mahler, the Austrian composer who died in 1911, was being held captive in the basement of Gwacheon Citizen’s Hall.
On a Friday night, the sounds of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor “Resurrection,” wafted out from windows and rumbled the concrete foundation. The 60 or so members of the Gwacheon City Youth Symphony Orchestra were in full swing, practicing for their coming concert in July under the baton of Park Jin-wook, 38.
“Even though the orchestra is an amateur group whose members are mostly college students, I’m confident of success,” Mr. Park said. He explained that he decided to take on Mahler’s music because the young musicians would find it challenging: The piece requires both enormous orchestration and delicate chamber music, making it very difficult to perform.
“A few years ago, I was very impressed by a Mahler youth orchestra in Germany,” he said. “Even though it’s difficult, the most important thing is having the confidence to do it. This challenge satisfies our member’s musical desires as well as helps us gel as a team.”
Originally launched as a private orchestra Gwacheon City Youth Symphony Orchestra will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year. Five years later, the Gwacheon city government recognized the group and made it the city orchestra. The players are not paid a salary, bu are considered “semi-professional” in the sense that they are likely to go on to careers in music. When the orchestra began, its members were mostly elementary, middle school and high school students. But after the orchestra started auditioning its members and offering them scholarships, a great number of college and music-school students joined the group.
Kim Hyeong-jun, 20, the first violinist, is the only one who is not going to a music college ― he’s a law student. He joined the orchestra when he was the sixth grade, and never missed a practice session, even when he was a junior in high school (typically, the busiest year for Korea’s highschool students).
There are four city youth symphony orchestras in Korea ― Seoul, Busan, Gwacheon and Ulsan. One in Seoul was established in 1984, Busan’s in 1994 and Ulsan’s in 2001. Only the orchestras in Seoul and Gwacheon have permanent conductors. Gwacheon City Youth Symphony Orchestra has an annual budget of about 500 million won ($520,000); it gives about 2 million won in scholarships to its 110 members, and holds 13 concerts a year. During the summer, its members also attend a camp training session.
“We hold auditions twice a year. The competition rate is two to one for string instruments and five to one for wind instruments,” Mr. Park said. To him, those ratios are far too low. “I’m distressed, because young students are not very interested in playing in orchestras. That’s probably because most classical music schools educate students to be soloists.”

by Lee Jang-jik

The Gwacheon City Youth Symphony Orchestra will play Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor “Resurrection,” and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major K.218 at Seoul Arts Center on July 12. In the “Resurrection,” soprano Lee Hyeon-jeong, mezzo soprano Jang Hyeon-joo, the Gwacheon City Women’s Choir, the Gwacheon City Children’s Choir and Seoul Theological University Choir will join. For more information, call (02) 507-4009.
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