Making great music, and enjoying it too

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Making great music, and enjoying it too

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The Vienna Boys Choir will give a series of New Year concerts across Korea. Provided by the organizer.

“We are not alone in the world, and all regions have something to offer.”

This is one of the major principles taught to the children of the famed Vienna Boys Choir, according to Andy Icochea in a recent interview with the JoongAng Daily.

Icochea is choirmaster of the Schubert Choir, part of the Vienna Boys Choir. With about 100 boys aged between 10 and 14, the Vienna Boys Choir is divided into four subgroups, all named after famous Austrian composers: Bruckner, Haydn, Mozart and Schubert.

It’s easy to assume that the choir consists of just Austrian boys, considering its centuries-old history (and name), but the boys actually come from various racial and cultural backgrounds, a perfect manifestation of the principle pointed out by Icochea.

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Choirmaster Andy Icochea Icochea By Lee Eun-joo

In the case of the Schubert Choir, which arrived in Seoul last Wednesday for New Year concerts, the 24 boys come from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia, Japan, the Philippines, and Australia, among others. Such diversity is the secret behind the choir’s versatile repertoire.

The Vienna Boys Choir holds about 300 concerts around the world. In addition to their classical repertoire, they also seek to present fresh material tailored to the country they’re performing in.

In Spain last year, the Schubert Choir performed a song by a famous Spanish composer, and in Japan, they sang a song that was originally a poem written by the Empress of Japan.

For their Korea concert, they’ve practiced the classic folk tune “Arirang.”

“The pronunciation was challenging, but we had local people helping us with that,” Icochea said. “I could hear traces of light in darkness in the song. Such ambiguity can also be found in songs from elsewhere.”

Icochea, who is embarking on his fourth year with one of the world’s best boys’ choirs, emphasizes the importance of enjoying the process of making music with the boys.

“We try to enjoy music, but at the same time we try to enjoy the process as much as we can. The process can be pretty multifaceted, of course. There is hard work to it, strictness to it, but there is also a playful, loose atmosphere.”

Icochea at times adopts unconventional techniques that may make some wonder. He says he sometimes lets the boys sing words that don’t really make sense in order to learn what does. At other times he lets the boys just run around to regain energy after long flights and jet lag.

Another thing Icochea stresses is the special rapport with each of the boys.

“My work with them is supposed to be strictly music-related, but I find it pretty positive to connect with the children, develop a bond. It helps me to understand why they behave a certain way which in the end benefits us in many aspects.”

Since its creation in 1498 as a choir attached to the Austrian court, the Vienna Boys Choir has produced some of the world’s greatest musicians, including Franz Schubert, Joseph Haydn and Felix Mottl. Today, as a private artistic institution, it provides education from kindergarten to middle school, including musical training, academic lessons as well as physical education.

“If you look closely at the repertoire, you’ll see that it tells a story,” Icochea said about the upcoming Korea concert. “They are stories of the spiritual background of Christianity. And when they don’t belong to that realm, they are stories about a musician’s take on the various aspects of life.”


By Kim Hyung-eun Staff Reporter [hkim@joongang.co.kr]



The Vienna Boys Choir performs at 8 p.m. on Jan. 15 at Seongnam Arts Center, at 8 p.m. on Jan. 21 at Seoul Arts Center, and at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 22 at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are 20,000 won ($14.90) to 100,000 won. You can reserve tickets through the organizer at www.clubbalcony.com or 1577-5266.

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