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[Herald Interview] Yoon Hankyeol aims to be validated by fellow conductors

By Park Ga-young

Published : March 7, 2024 - 16:22

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Conductor and composer Yoon Hankyeol speaks during an interview at the Seoul Arts Center on Monday. (KNSO) Conductor and composer Yoon Hankyeol speaks during an interview at the Seoul Arts Center on Monday. (KNSO)

After winning the Herbert von Karajan Young Conductors Award at the Salzburger Festspiele in Salzburg, Austria in August 2023, conductor Yoon Hankyeol said he felt a sense of relief that he no longer needed to participate in such competitions.

“Fortunately, it wasn’t the case for the Karajan competition, but more often than not, there are occasions where the performance is influenced by the judges, audience members, or those present in the room, rather than fully showcasing oneself,” Yoon said during an interview Monday at the Seoul Arts Center, arriving for his first concert in Korea after the win.

Yoon is set to take the stage with the Korean National Symphony Orchestra on March 9, in a performance of Ravel’s Two Piano Concertos, performed with French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, as well as Stravinsky's "The Firebird Suite" and "Pulcinella."

"It's great that I don't have to participate in competitions anymore," he said.

With the win, Yoon will make his official debut at the Salzburger Festspiele in August this year, conducting the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, which he said is more important than winning the competition.

As he prepares for his official debut conducting the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, he said he has made a mistake, which will make the debut even more special.

“I was asked to add a contemporary piece and I suggested I would compose one,” the 30-year-old conductor, who is also a prize-winning composer, said.

“I’m composing a piece for the first time in three years, and I’m repeating writing and rewriting and waiting for inspiration to come," he added.

Yoon studied composition in his teenage years. His journey into composition began at a piano studio, a popular extracurricular activity for children in Korea. Instead of practicing the piano, he would play his own creations and his piano teacher encouraged him to study composition.

After moving to Germany, he studied composition, conducting and piano at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich.

It was in 2018 that he decided to focus on conducting.

"While pursuing my dream of composing was causing me distress, I found a happier life through the piano or conducting," he said.

At that time, he competed in two highly prestigious composition competitions, making it to the finals both times. However, he did not achieve the ultimate result he was hoping for.

"After the second attempt, my sense of purpose diminished a bit. So, I thought maybe I should focus more on the piano or conducting, which I loved," he recalled.

Composing entails an arduous process. "Brilliant ideas would occur to me in the morning, but by evening, I'd struggle to recall them. I'd jot down what I thought was great, only to find it disappointing the next day. Despite this being part of the process, the lack of visible results was frustrating."

"Just one movement (in conducting) and you hear the sound immediately, which gives you instant feedback, and I think that's great," he said.

He thanked the KNSO for giving him a chance. He won second prize and the audience prize at KNSO's International Conducting Competition in 2021.

“For young conductors, a chance to bring their music on the stage is a precious and rare opportunity. I really appreciate those opportunities as I gained many opportunities after the competition," he said.

Mentioning that he admires great technique, Yoon said he wants to be a conductor who is validated by his fellow conductors.

"Conductors are evaluated on many factors -- personality, charisma and so on. Among them, I'd like to be a conductor good at technique," Yoon added.