PYEONGCHANG, Gangwon Province ― The lush green mountains of Daegwallyeong in Gangwon Province are the idyllic setting for the premier summer classical music event that the Great Mountains Music Festival and School, organized by the Gangwon Art and Culture Foundation, has become over the past decade.
Saturday evening’s gala concert was a vibrant testimony to how far the festival has come. The 1,300-seat Music Tent, built specifically with the annual music festival in mind, was packed with classical music aficionados as well as casual audience members and families with children on vacation who happened upon the concert.
Part of this year’s festival themed “Northern Lights,” taking place July 14 to Aug. 6 at Alpensia Resort in Pyeongchang and various venues in Gangwon Province, Great Mountains Music Festival and School (GMMFS) Orchestra was led by conductor Sasha Makila and the National Chorus of Korea.
Conductor Sasha Makila leads the GMMFS Orchestra and The National Chorus of Korea in a performance at Alpensia Music Tent in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province, Saturday. (GMMFS)
Jon Leif’s Iceland Folk Dances, Op. 11, Nos. 3 and 4 opened the evening on a joyous note. Based on themes from Icelandic folk songs, or “rimur,” the piece was a rousing start to an evening of Nordic music interspersed with more familiar pieces such as Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in D minor, perhaps better known in the form of J.S. Bach’s transcription for the harpsichord, and popular choruses from Verdi’s many operas.
“Gloria” by Francis Poulenc featured solo soprano Yu Hyun-ah singing the dramatic solo in the third movement. Premiered in 1961 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the 20th century French composer’s interpretation of the Roman Catholic “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” is a large-scale piece, majestic in sound yet one which also has some fun with the influence of jazz in the second movement.
Making world premiere at GMMFS was American composer Richard Danielpour’s “Songs of the Wandering Darvish,” commissioned for the 10th anniversary of GMMFS.
The 15-minute piece for large orchestra describes Darvish of Persian folklore, a man part poet, part mystic and part wandering beggar who wanders the Silk Road in search of wisdom. There is an obvious Eastern flavor to the piece, with its opening featuring a descending melody which suggests the Middle East. The piece commissioned three years ago required a large orchestra and chorus whose sound filled up the tent.
Sibelius’ Finlandia, Op. 26, a rousing symbol of Finnish nationalism popularly known for its “Finlandia Hymn,” was a fitting end to an evening that gave the audience something new, something old, something comforting and something challenging.
“I think it is important to introduce new works at the festival. Some of them are new, some are works that lay largely hidden, unknown,” cellist Chung Myung-wha, who, along with her sister, violinist Chung Kyung-wha, serves as GMMFS artistic director, told The Korea Herald on Sunday.
Cellist Chung Myung-wha, one of GMMFS artistic directors. (GMMFS)
“Orchestra members practicing the ‘Songs of the Wandering Darvish’ for the first time said they liked it very much. It is a modern piece but one that is easy for the audience to enjoy and appreciate,” Chung said.
Looking back on the past decade, Chung said that it was meaningful that a music festival of its high standard had continued in Korea for 10 years. The festival and music school was launched by violinist Kang Hyo, who modeled GMMFS on the Aspen Music Festival in the United States. Kang served as the artistic director of GMMFS for seven years.
“There are difficulties that are unique to Korea. Pyeongchang clinching the 2018 Winter Olympics could have worked to the festival’s disadvantage, as far as continued government funding is concerned,” Chung observed. “We continue to work to convince the government that we need to look 10-20 years ahead. Often Olympic towns become ghost towns once the games are over. It is important to continue this festival,” Chung said.
Looking ahead, Chung stressed the need for stable funding.
“Sometimes approval for the annual government funding gets delayed. Typically, artists must be booked two to three years ahead, so we just go ahead and get the best available artists first and then work on funding,” said Chung.
On her vision for the next decade, Chung emphasized musicianship: “The level of music should never go down. It should continue to be upgraded.”
For any festival, artist selection is important and Chung said the positive experience of the musicians and the environment conducive to immersion in music-making had been a boon for the festival.
“For any festival, artist selection is very important. Word-of-mouth and the experiences of musicians who have participated in the festival play a crucial role in recruiting artists,” Chung said.
By Kim Hoo-ran (email@example.com