Wildly popular Ensemble Ditto back in spotlight

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Wildly popular Ensemble Ditto back in spotlight


The boys are back.

Nope, not the Backstreet Boys. In this case it’s the boys, er, men of Ensemble Ditto, a hugely popular chamber music group that’s done for the classical genre in Korea what the Backstreet Boys did for American pop.

The group, composed of six performers who have their own individual music careers, is reuniting for the third straight summer since its debut in 2007.

Led by Korea’s star violist Richard Yongjae O’Neill, Ensemble Ditto will headline a two-day, four-concert classical music festival this weekend. It’s a much bigger event than the lone performances the group held each of the past two years.

And fans certainly seem appreciative. Tickets to the festival’s opening and closing concerts - the ones in which Ensemble Ditto performs - sold out within two months.

“We’ve tried very hard to reach out to as many audiences as possible,” said O’Neill, who assumed the role of music director of the event. “So this year we’ll have a festival. We’ve expanded outside chamber music to family concerts, symphony concerts and concerto concerts.”

Along with leader O’Neill, violinists Johnny Lee and Stefan Pi Jackiw and cellist Patrick Jee, two new faces have joined Ensemble Ditto this year: cellist Michael Nicolas and pianist Ji-yong (who goes by his first name).

Nicolas said he feels at home with the group, as he has had a chance to meet the other members before. “We’ve known these guys for some time, so playing in Ditto is like doing what we’ve been doing before,” he said at a press conference last week to promote the festival.

Ji-yong said he’s had experience with chamber music, “but not as extreme and intense as this.”

The festival’s first concert, dubbed Ditto Carnival, showcases Saint-Saens’s “Carnival of the Animals,” among other classical works, performed by Ensemble Ditto. The second concert, Ditto Friends, features Japan’s violin prodigy Goto Ryu and Chinese-born Contrabassist Daxun Zhang, who was a Ensemble Ditto member last year. At the third concert, classical fans can hear Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major Op. 73 “Emporer” and his Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op.67, performed by rising pianist Kim Tae-hyung and the Ditto Orchestra.

Ensemble Ditto will again take the stage to wrap up the festival with the fourth and final concert dubbed “Love Songs,” featuring Schumann quartets.

As to the huge success Ditto has managed to achieve in just three years, the members expressed both surprise and cautious optimism.

“I think Ditto could last for generations, 10 to 20 years. It just keeps getting more fun and better,” cellist Jee said.

Ditto Festival features four concerts: at 2:30 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 2:30 and 8 p.m. the next day. Tickets start from 20,000 won. For more information, call 1577-5266 or visit www.dittofest.com or www.clubbalcony.com.

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