The Korea Herald


A season for symphonies

Orchestra Festival brings 18 groups to Seoul Arts Center

By Korea Herald

Published : March 27, 2014 - 20:16

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In Korea, spring is high season for orchestras.

Around this time of the year for the past 25 years, about 20 orchestras from all over the country have traveled to Seoul to participate in a nearly three-week relay concert, celebrating blossoming flowers with great symphonic works by Brahms, Beethoven and many others.

“Orchestra Festival,” in its 26th year now, will open on April 1 at Seoul Arts Center.

“This year, a total of 18 orchestras will be performing. They are selected by our advisors, who are mostly senior figures in the Korean classical music scene,” said Park Young-mi, a SAC official organizing the festival. “All of them deserve recognition and are worth being represented in the festival.” 
KBS Orchestra and its conductor Yoel Levi will open this year’s Orchestra Festival with an all-Beethoven concert on April 1. (Seoul Arts Center) KBS Orchestra and its conductor Yoel Levi will open this year’s Orchestra Festival with an all-Beethoven concert on April 1. (Seoul Arts Center)

This is how the festival works.

From April 1 through April 18, the 18 ensembles will take the stage ― the main concert hall of the SAC ― one by one, presenting a program that they think best shows their musical ability. Ticket prices are fixed at 40,000 won for R Section and 10,000 won for B Section. There are some discounts on package purchases.

At times in the past, organizers tried to link the performances with one single theme, but they don’t anymore. For instance, in the previous festival, they asked participating orchestras to try new works or rarely performed pieces.

“Because it involves nearly 20 orchestras, it is hard to align all the programs along one overriding theme such as one composer,” Park said. “This year’s theme, if any, is ‘get the best out of your orchestra.’” 
A poster for the Orchestra Festival A poster for the Orchestra Festival

The festival started in 1989, a year after the opening of the concert hall at the SAC. Back then, Korea’s classical music scene was completely different from that of today. The SAC had a hard time filling its concert halls, with a shallow audience base and a few local orchestras capable of pulling off a decent two-hour concert.

The festival served as a catalyst in the improvement of orchestras, particularly in local areas, bringing them to the center stage, and in doing so, helping them grow in their own distinctive styles.

“Thirty-eight Korean orchestras have participated in the festival at least once so far,” Park said, adding that there are about 50 orchestras in Korea.

“We take pride in the fact that over the years many local orchestras have grown by leaps and bounds. Some of them perform overseas.”

Now, the SAC is looking to take a step ahead, adding international twists to the event.

“Going forward, we would like to invite foreign orchestras, maybe some from Asia, and attract some international attention,” Park said.

In a move in that direction, the SAC signed a deal last year with the highly acclaimed Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Brussels to bring its winners to the festival.

Under the deal, the 2013 winner and pianist Boris Giltburg will join Suwon Philharmonic Orchestra on April 17 to play Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18.

Here are other highlights of this year’s Orchestra Festival:

― The KBS Orchestra, led by conductor Yoel Levi, will open the festival on April 1 with a program composed of three great works of Beethoven: “The Creatures of Prometheus” Overture; Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 ― with violinist Choi Ye-eun as soloist ― and Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 “Eroica.”

― Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra will take the stage on April 9, with Scott Yoo holding the baton. It will present a program of Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Overture, Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 73 and Schostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93. Clarinetist Jerry Jae-il Chae will appear as soloist.

― Suwon Philharmonic Orchestra will perform on April 17, directed by conductor Kim Dae-jin and joined by Queen Elisabeth competition winner Giltburg. Its repertoire consists of Korean composer Lee Young-jo’s “Glory of Dawning for Orchestra,” Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43.

― Wrapping up the festival will be Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra, playing two works of Brahms and Korean composer Paik Byung-dong. It will start with Paik’s “Describing Seasons” for Soprano and Orchestra, Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 with violinist Baek Ju-young, and conclude with Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90. It will be the last concert that the orchestra stages with its outgoing conductor Lim Hun-joung.

For more information on programs and tickets, visit or call (02) 580-1300.

By Lee Sun-young (