[Viewpoint] Friendship, not supportOn May 3, on a clear Sunday afternoon, musicians and friends met in the garden of the residence of former president Yun Bo-seon in Anguk-dong, central Seoul.
The Salon Concert for Friends was part of the fourth annual Seoul Spring Festival. The concert was named for “friends” not “supporters” because the attendees were not only sponsors of the festival but also fans of classical music.
On the evening of May 7, the sounds of Korean and Western instruments collided and embraced, ultimately producing an unlikely unity when the Seoul Spring Festival opened at the Sejong Chamber Hall in Seoul with a premiere of Kim Sol-bong’s “Sundial Chronicles.”
With the young composer on the piano and Kang Dong-seok on the violin, they played pieces by Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert.
In addition, cellist Yang Seong-won and clarinetist Chae Jae-il performed, while Kim Ji-hyun played the gayageum, a Korean traditional string instrument, and Kim Deok-su played the janggu, a Korean drum.
The performance proved that music is all about harmony.
Seoul Spring Festival, which continues through May 18, was born to succeed, a celebration buoyed by the support of friends.
To distinguish it from festivals that rely on a government budget or a few big sponsors, each concert during the festival is sponsored by individuals who care.
The performers are top-notch, and the concerts are so flawless that I thought the festival deserves a bigger venue than the 470-seat Sejong Chamber Hall at the downtown Sejong Center for the Performing Arts.
Meanwhile, the three-day Jeonju Daesaseup Festival is scheduled to open on May 26 in the traditionally artistic city of Jeonju, North Jeolla.
However, just 15 days before the start, the festival of traditional music and dance is caught between life and death.
The story begins with MBC’s decision to drop the festival due to low ratings and a worsening financial situation. The broadcaster has been co-hosting Jeonju Daesaseup Festival with the city of Jeonju since 1983 and broadcasts the event live nationwide.
The festival began as a mounted archery contest during the time of King Sukjong (1661?1720). In 1732, the eighth year of King Yeongjo’s reign, a competition in pansori, traditional Korean musical drama, and other genres were added.
The festival was stopped during Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), but in 1975, the people revived it.
However, the festival that the citizens have resurrected after such a very long hiatus, nearly 60 years, turned into an insipid event hosted by the government and the broadcasting network.
The city of Jeonju contributes 120 million won ($96,000) every year to the Daesaseup Festival Preservation Committee for the event, and MBC invested 150 million won to cover the costs of stage setting, management, the competitions and broadcasting.
Yet despite the financial input, there seemed little effort to include more people and accommodate the changes over the years.
Of course, it was the chance for the pansori artists to rise in the world, but low ratings and financial pressures scared off MBC and the Jeonju Daesaseup Festival fell into chaos.
Jeonju or the Ministry of Culture has to step up to save the only festival and competition in traditional music and arts in Korea.
However, the festival itself has to evolve from its dependency on city budgets and the broadcasting station’s sponsorship.
The people of Jeonju need to come forward first. The supporters, or friends, need to reinvent the pansori competition into a festival for all the people.
Only then can Jeonju and the festival be saved, and the spirit of traditional Korean music live on.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong