Korean composer scores big in Brussels

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Korean composer scores big in Brussels


Queen Elizabeth Concours composition laureate Cho Eun-ha. Provided by the artist

Cho Eun-hwa recently became the first Korean and the first woman to win the grand prize for composition in the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition of Belgium. Her composition was one of 158 scores entered and was played Saturday by the 12 finalists in the violin competition.

“I never expected to become the first Korean and the first woman to win the grand prize,” said the startled the 35-year-old composer over the phone from Brussels. “While studying at the Academy of Music Hanns Eisler [Berlin], I composed a violin concerto for the purpose of applying for a scholarship. It so happened that the Competition was accepting violin concertos so I submitted my piece,” she said.

The 14-minute piece, titled “Agens,” which means to act upon, received wide acclaim for its organized progression and distinct sound. Cho explained that the title comes from the process a conductor goes through to transfer the created music to a sheet and analyze it.

Cho wasn’t set on becoming a composer. She began taking piano lessons when she was four years old and applied but failed to gain entrance to an arts and music high school. It was only during her time at Seoul National University’s School of Music that she redirected her focus to composition, eventually receiving a masters degree from the school. Later, she went to Germany on a study abroad program and won two prestigious awards for her work, the Hanns Eisler Prize and the Weimar Award.

“I didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight and performing on stage, but absolutely felt the need to stay involved in music,” explained Cho.

Now that she has completed her studies in Germany, she is preparing for another challenge. “I could lead a secure life in Korea as a composer,” said Cho.

But rather than settle into a sure thing, she has chosen Paris, France, as her next destination.

Having been accepted for La Cite Internationale des Arts, an artist-in-residence program funded by the French government, she plans to devote her time and energy to composing music.

The only other Korean to come close to receiving a top prize at the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition was violinist Bae Ik-hwan in 1985.

By Kim Ho-jeong [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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