Back To Top

Invitation to the world of salon music

Small venues signal a return to the days of private audiences

It is said that Frederic Chopin loved to play at small venues for small audiences, and meaningful musical interactions for Chopin usually happened at salons.

Though more than two centuries have passed and large concert halls now dominate the classical music scene, there are musicians who perform in intimate salon settings for the sheer joy it brings. 

Salon de Musique is located in Buam-dong, in the northern part of Seoul. (Salon de Musique)
Salon de Musique is located in Buam-dong, in the northern part of Seoul. (Salon de Musique)

Going against the conventional grammar of classical music -- formal attire, absolute stillness and silence -- salons allow the audience to sit back and relax while enjoying the essence of the music.

Salon de Musique, nestled in a northern Seoul neighborhood, is a space for talented young musicians to share their music in just such an intimate manner.

The salon looks out on the neighborhood of Buam-dong through a large window that takes up an entire wall. When the sun goes down and darkness falls on the city, the salon lights up, recalling the 19th-century salons where Chopin shared music with his devotees.

“Having been a musician myself, I understand how hard it is for young artists to find a stage to play at,” flutist Lee Jung-hye told The Korea Herald in an interview at the salon, which she owns.

“Often, when students return from studying abroad, they have to rent a concert hall to hold recitals to build up a portfolio -- to be given an opportunity to go onstage. It is a strange system, you have to spend money to play,” Lee said.

Lee opened up the salon to give talented young artists a chance to perform on their own terms. The artists decide on the program.

The recitals do not have a fixed price of admission. Each artist decides how much to charge for a performance but ticket prices usually hover around 30,000 won ($24), according to Lee. The artist is given the proceeds from the ticket sales after operational costs are deducted. The venue can accommodate up to 20 people.

While the artists have full control over the program, they are required to explain it to the audience. Some artists are comfortable with the idea of speaking in front of an audience, but others are not, according to Lee.

“These recitals are for both classical music aficionados and beginners,” Lee said, mentioning that the audience is welcome to bring wine or other drinks.

While Salon de Musique hosts some 15 performances a month, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced it to shut down temporarily with no reopening date set as of yet. It has branches in Yeonnam-dong, Seongsu-dong and Gangnam, though the branches only hold special performances.

Music of different genres is performed at the Positive Zero Lounge in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul. The jazz lounge has attracted hipsters across the city since it opened in 2018. 

Singer-songwriter Choyoung performs at the Positive Zero Lounge in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul, Friday. (Im Eun-byel/The Korea Herald)
Singer-songwriter Choyoung performs at the Positive Zero Lounge in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul, Friday. (Im Eun-byel/The Korea Herald)

Though it is situated in the basement of an office building with no signage, the lounge is packed when performances are staged.

The owner, who studied vocal music at university, opened the Positive Zero Lounge to create an “art lounge that pays modern homage to salon culture.”

Established jazz musician Song In-seop, the lounge’s music director, invites local jazz musicians who have released albums in South Korea. Performances are held Wednesday to Sunday and range from jam sessions and jazz-inspired music to pop music.

Guests pay 11,000 won per person, apart from drinks.

Despite the COVID-19 scare, the lounge is staying open. When The Korea Herald visited the Positive Zero Lounge on Friday, the house was packed with couples and friends enjoying jazz music with wine or cocktails.

“Due to the recent spread of COVID-19, I have not been able to go onstage for more than a month. It is nice to grab the microphone here today,” singer-songwriter Choyoung said as she started her performance.

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
MOST POPULAR