A rhapsodic homecoming for Isang Yun
The organizer was the eminent Ludger Engels, who shocked fashionistas in 2013 when he collaborated with Vivienne Westwood on Semele Walk, a runway show set to Baroque opera. For his latest trick, the German virtuoso arranged a performance of Monteverdi’s “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria,” an Italian opera based on Homer’s “Odyssey,” combining Baroque and traditional Korean music.
The result is an unexpectedly beautiful harmony between two seemingly opposed styles of music.
The world premiere of Engels’ “Returning Home” on Friday at the Black Box, which abuts the Tongyeong Concert Hall, opened this year’s Tongyeong International Music Festival, one of the country’s largest events for Western classical music. The stage was a runway, and the sold-out audience was seated on either side, facing each other. In between them were two groups of artists, one in dark costume holding Baroque instruments and the other in hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) holding traditional Korean instruments. On stage, they switched between Baroque music and gagok, a genre of Korean vocal music that combines emotional and poetic lyrics with instrumental accompaniment.
Engels chose to open the festival with “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria,” which translates to “The Return of Ulysses to His Homeland,” because this year marks the return of Korean composer Isang Yun (1917-95) to his hometown of Tongyeong.
Yun was an advocate for Korean reunification and spent his early life opposing the Japanese during World War II. After the war, he traveled to Europe to study music. While living in Berlin during the 1960s, he came in contact with North Koreans, and his interactions with them led the South Korean secret service to believe he was a spy.
Upon the request of his wife Lee Su-ja, Berlin decided to return Yun’s ashes to Korea this year. On Friday, a repatriation ceremony took place on a cliff overlooking the sea next to the Tongyeong Concert Hall. A group of conservatives protested the ceremony, saying a “commie should not be buried in Tongyeong.”
“It’s a pity to see an acclaimed composer receive such harsh treatment from his own people,” said Marie Lehmann, an attendee from Germany. “But I’m certain that with time, more and more Koreans will come to appreciate his music and acknowledge his brilliance.”
The Tongyeong International Music Festival runs through Sunday.
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [firstname.lastname@example.org]