Chang puts orchestra first at festival

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Chang puts orchestra first at festival

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Chang Han-na

Some Koreans, when they picture Chang Han-na, still imagine her holding a beautiful cello. But these days, the former child prodigy is much more likely to be holding a conductor’s baton.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already been seven years since the 30-year-old Chang made her debut as a conductor. Despite being a young Asian woman, Chang has already landed a music director position at the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, where she officially starts in September.

Prior to moving to Qatar, Chang will kick off her annual festival, “Chang Han-na’s Absolute Classic,” which she has been organizing with the Seongnam Arts Center since 2009. The music events are held on three consecutive Saturdays, beginning Aug. 17. Chang selects about 100 participants each year, all through auditions “with no ties to teachers or schools.” They practice eight to 10 hours a day for about a month, getting ready to play for the festival. As artistic director of the festival, Chang invites famous musicians to accompany her temporary orchestras, including pianist Cho Seong-jin and guitarist Chang Dae-gun in 2010, Lorin Maazel in 2011 and her cello teacher Mischa Maisky for last year’s festival.

“The hero of the Absolute Classic is not me but the members of the orchestra,” said Chang. “Every year, new members get selected through an audition. They gather together during the scorching hot summer in Seongnam and practice even until midnight. It’s their passion and spirit that has allowed this festival to come this far.”

Chang said she wanted this year’s festival to focus on the meaning of the orchestra, its members and its significance.

“It’s unique the way the Absolute Classic selects its new orchestra members each year,” said Chang. “Some of them try out for consecutive years and some come back after studying abroad. Whatever their story is, they come for the music, not because of any ties to teachers or schools. They meet up every day for a month, practice day and night and give their best and then after the festival, they break up. So the only motive and the only goal has to be the music because the month of preparation is extremely intense.

“The participants often tell me that getting to perform at the festival allowed them to realize why they wanted to start in music in the first place. Some say they were agonizing whether to carry on doing music, but then realized that they want to continue with music through the Absolute Classic. Every time I hear such comments, I know in my heart that the Absolute Classic must continue for them and continue to be a festival that exists only for the music and for the musicians.”

As this year’s theme centers on “Orchestra,” the repertoire, according to Chang, “will allow the audience to examine the various aspects of an orchestra.

“If you look at the program, there’s Debussy, Schumann, Stravinsky, Ravel, Strauss, Mahler, Dvorak and Respighi. From their works, we can see how orchestras have matured today.”

The young maestro also pointed out that she chose pieces in the program - such as Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” and Stravinsky’s “Firebird” - because the “titles are somewhat familiar to people’s ears, which means they are famous orchestra pieces, but they may have had a lack of opportunity to listen to them.”

With the new position in Qatar, leading the six-year-old orchestra, Chang will have a whole new array of challenges ahead of her, such as trying to create a musical identity.

“Orchestras are great and very interesting at the same time because whatever piece of music they play, they have to be able to express the personality of the composer, of the piece and make the sounds the composer seeks. Let’s say an orchestra plays a Debussy piece and a Beethoven piece. The two can’t sound the same,” said Chang. “But an orchestra must have its own identity at the same time, its own personality so that people can instantly recognize that ‘Ah, this is Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra,’ like we recognize the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra or the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra today. Having its own identity but being able to express a composer’s personality fully, that’s how I define a good orchestra and that’s one of my goals for the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra.”

By YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]



This year’s festival will kick off on Thursday at 7 p.m. with “Absolute Day,” when Chang holds a free talk. The Absolute Classic Orchestra will hold three concerts, on Aug. 17, 24 and 31. Before each concert, Chang will give a pre-concert talk for about 30 minutes, explaining the music the orchestra will be playing. Tickets range from 10,000 won to 50,000 won ($9-$45). For more information, call (031) 783-8000 or visit www.snart.or.kr.
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