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[Herald Interview] Young composer-conductor excited about Seoul-Paris premiere

For composer-conductor Choi Jae-hyuck, this June is a time of anticipation.
The winner of the 72nd Concours de Geneve Composition Prize, Choi grabbed the attention of the classical music scene for conducting Stockhausen’s “Gruppen” at the 2018 Lucerne Festival with maestros Simon Rattle and Ducan Ward.
Composer-conductor Choi Jae-hyuck (Courtesy of the artist)
Composer-conductor Choi Jae-hyuck (Courtesy of the artist)

June 28 will be a big day for the 24-year-old musician. His works will be put onstage across continents, in Paris and Seoul.

Ensemble InterContemporain, a renowned contemporary music ensemble, will perform the world premiere of his composition “Dust in Light,” completed this March.

“It is a really difficult composition,” Choi said during a press event held Thursday in southern Seoul.

“I asked the members if it would be too difficult for them and they told me, ‘Don’t worry. Composers should not worry about matters like that. Composers should write with vast imagination and we will do our best.’”

The same day, at the Seoul Arts Center, Ensemble Ditto, a classical music ensemble, will also go on stage with Choi’s music.

Violist Richard Yongjae O’Neill and cellist James Kim will present Choi’s solo pieces for violin and cello, “Self in Mind 1” and “Self in Mind 3,” respectively. The Ditto Chamber Orchestra will also present “Dust of Light.”

“‘In Dust of Light,’ I put together all the elements that I thought were successful in my previous solo compositions,” he said. “It is a really difficult piece containing all the elements of contemporary music.” 

Composer-conductor Choi Jae-hyuck (Courtesy of the artist)
Composer-conductor Choi Jae-hyuck (Courtesy of the artist)

The young musician has another exciting event planned for June. On June 22, Ensemble Blank, which Choi leads as the artistic director, is to put on a recital at a lounge in southern Seoul.

“Emsemble Blank was formed in 2015 with friends from Juilliard. It is a really young contemporary music ensemble,” he said. “It is more about playing with music and the audience, rather than putting on a performance.”

The recital will be held twice, in the afternoon and evening. The 3 p.m. performance, “Siesta,” will feature comfortable bean bags for the audience to nap on.

“Honestly, I sometimes doze off at concert halls. I can’t help it,” Choi revealed.

“It is simply uncomfortable to sit through a concert at a concert hall for two hours. In France or Germany, it is not unusual to watch contemporary music recitals at places other than concert halls.”

Though arranging the schedule for the ensemble takes significant effort, Choi is sure he is up to the challenge.

“I was not sure at first. But the performers tell me they are having so much fun. If circumstances allow, I am thinking about developing the ensemble into a more professional one.”

Age is an issue for Choi. Though he is in the spotlight because he is so young, sometimes his age is an obstacle -- especially in pursuing a career as a conductor.

In April, Choi made his Korean debut as a conductor, taking the baton for the Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra.

“The orchestra members were my parents’ age. Even if a conductor with much experience came, they would have been skeptical. But since I am so young, the skepticism was much stronger,” Choi recounted.

“I tried my best to be humble and polite during rehearsals. Things got better with time. But abroad, it is much easier. There is less prejudice and more freedom. The orchestra members think that they should help a young conductor like me.”

By Im Eun-byel (