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Seoul International Music Festival to be held with ‘Amusement Park’ theme

Seoul International Music Festival artistic director Ryu Jae-joon (SIMF)
Seoul International Music Festival artistic director Ryu Jae-joon (SIMF)

The 13th Seoul International Music Festival will be held from Oct. 23 to 30 with the theme “Amusement Park.”

The festival will take place across Seoul, including the Seoul Arts Center and the Lotte Concert Hall.

During the press conference held on Wednesday in Gangnam, SIMF artistic director Ryu Jae-joon explained that the theme of the festival was decided when the pandemic just broke out last year.

“We selected our theme last year, thinking that things would be back to normal by the time we hold this festival. But as everyone is well aware, we are still in the middle of it. So we decided to focus on holding a festival that looks into what we took for granted and also reflects our ideals and hopes on how things should have been,” Ryu said.

Ryu’s new work, Symphony No. 2, titled “Ring Ring Ring,” will be presented for the first time at the opening concert.

“Festival orchestras usually don’t have much time for practice. But we spent a lot of time practicing,” Ryu said. “My symphony’s topic is the COVID-19 pandemic. I created it based on Shakespeare’s sonnets written while (he was) isolated due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Shakespeare’s work shows fear of the pandemic.”

Soprano Im Sun-hae, who will be performing at the concert, expressed her excitement on taking part in the festival.

“I am very excited and also afraid to premiere a song by a composer who is alive,” Im said.

Ryu added that the title, “Ring Ring Ring,” came from his nephews.

“My nephews came over to my house on weekdays and I asked them why they didn’t go to school. They told me that schools were closed due to the pandemic. I felt bad for them so I decided to include the theme of school bells,” he said.

The festival will also feature three chamber music performances -- “From Deep Forest,” “Water of Brook” and “Mysterious Amusement Park” -- that present works by Schumann, Debussy, Brahms and Strauss.

Another performance that Ryu highlighted was the festival’s closing recital, “Merry-Go-Round,” featuring 12 cellists.

“It is not easy to bring together 12 world-class cellists,” he said.

Renowned cellists, including Kim Min-ji, Song Young, Arto Noras, Dmitry Kouzov and Maja Bogdanovic, will perform Bach-Ryu Jea-joon’s Concertante for 12 cellos, and Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires specially arranged by James Barralet for 12 cellos.

“The 12 cellos are like a small orchestra. They can make the most stable sound,” cellist Kim Min-ji said.

The cellists will take turns onstage like a merry-go-round, presenting Klengel’s Hymnus fur 12 Celli, Op. 57, Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 for cellos and soprano, and more. Soprano Lee Myung-joo will joint the cellists onstage.

Toward the end of the press conference, the artistic director also talked about a special eco-friendly campaign that it is being held during this year’s festival.

“This year we are not creating any program booklets,” Ryu said. “From conducting our past festival, we have learned that a lot of booklets end up being thrown away. The audience can find out about our program by scanning QR codes at the performance venues instead. Also Seoul Arts Center will present our program using a projector.”

Ryu explained how efforts to protect the environment play an important role in the realm of classical music.

“Classical music is like a time machine. We cannot make instruments that used to exist in the past anymore due to the change in wood texture. Classical music is inseparable from the environment,” he said.

By Song Seung-hyun (