[Herald Interview] Korea's first female chief conductor leads Gyeonggi Philharmonic at TIMF

By 이우영

2016 TIMF opens with performance by Gyeonggi Philharmonic in ‘Good Friday Spell’

  • Published : Mar 27, 2016 - 16:45
  • Updated : Mar 28, 2016 - 10:43

TONGYEONG, South Gyeongsang Province -- This year’s annual Tongyeong International Music Festival opened its curtains Friday, celebrating its new theme, “Sounds of Tomorrow” with a performance by Korea’s first female-led orchestra.

Looking to showcase a mix of classic and modern compositions that are rarely heard nowadays, TIMF is holding performances daily until Thursday at the Tongyeong Concert Hall in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province.

Opening this year’s international festivities was the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra, making its TIMF debut performing Wagner’s “Good Friday Spell,” Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 with guest soloist Vilde Frang of Norway, and Strauss’ “A Hero’s Life,” Op. 40 under the baton of Sung Shi-yeon. 
Sung Shi-yeon conducts the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra in its opening night performance on Friday, kicking off the 2016 Tongyeong International Music Festival in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province. (TIMF)

Somewhat of a surprise pick to open one of the country’s largest classical music festivals, the Gyeonggi Philharmonic had had some big shoes to fill in a program filled with internationally respected artists and ensembles, including the legendary Philip Glass, Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa and Cuarteto Casals.

In an interview with The Korea Herald earlier this month, TIMF CEO Florian Riem said the decision to have the Gyeonggi Philharmonic as the festival’s opening performance was to both keep local musicians as much a part of the festival as possible, referring to the orchestra as being among the country’s top classical ensembles and “well deserving” of performing on opening night. 

“I am so honored that Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra was not only invited to perform at the Tongyeong International Music festival for the first time ever, but to perform on opening day -- it was such a proud moment for me,” said Sung, 39, during an interview after the orchestra’s performance Friday night. 

“Having the opportunity to perform tonight was not only a great honor and wonderful experience for myself and the orchestra, but through this international festival, it also gave us the chance to represent the local talent that we have in Korea and that, to me, is such a rewarding feeling” she added.

“Normally when I’m out on the stage I don’t feel so nervous, but this performance was different, I definitely felt a lot of pressure for us perform well on such an important night.”
Sung Shi-yeon conducts the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra in its opening night performance on Friday, kicking off the 2016 Tongyeong International Music Festival in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province. (TIMF)

In her still-early career, Sung has already received a number of prestigious awards including the top prize at the 2006 Sir Georg Solti International Conductors’ Competition in Frankfurt, Germany, becoming the first woman to receive the accolade.

Since winning the award, Sung quickly became recognized as one of the most exciting young conductors in the international scene. In 2007, Sung became the first woman to be named assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, working under James Levine. In the summer of 2010, she was appointed as associate conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, a post that was created especially for her.

Last year Sung etched herself into the history books by becoming the country’s first female to take the reigns of an orchestra, taking the podium as the Gyeonggi Philharmonic’s chief conductor.

“Even though the Gyeonggi Philharmonic is still in its infancy and our musicians are quite young, even Vilde Frang thought we were a youth orchestra,” Sung said with smile. “Yes we are young, especially when you compare us with the other big name ensembles (performing at TIMF), but I think we still have a lot to offer musically.”

“Our youth gives us vibrancy, and we have both that youthful wild side to our playing, but still having that a softer edge,” she continued. “I think the fact that I am a female conductor does help add to the softness of our music, but it’s the combination of all these unique characteristics that gives us the potential to become a great orchestra one day.”

Following the Gyeonggi Philharmonic’s opening night performance was inarguably one of the most anticipated performances of this year’s festival -- Philip Glass’ “La Belle et la Bete (The Beauty and the Beast),” which played to sold out crowds on both its Friday and Saturday night performances.  
A scene from of “La Belle et la Bete (Beauty and the Beast),” which was performed as part of the 2016 Tongyeong International Music Festival’s opening night Friday. (TIMF)

Glass, widely considered one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century, brought his radically inventive live music and film production to this year’s TIMF, following its staging at the LG Arts Center in Seoul last week.

The three-time Academy Award nominee revolutionized the cinematic world in the early 90s by replacing the audio from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 classic black-and-white film with live vocals and orchestral accompaniment, turning the movie into a more dynamic, live stage production piece. 

More than 20 years since the composer premiered his production in Italy in 1994, Glass’ rendition of “La Belle et la Bete” continues to be performed across the world.

Still to come at this year’s festival are performances by the Changwon Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, soprano Marisol Montalvo, local piano icon Paik Kun-woo as well as American jazz vocalist Stacey Kent.

Closing out this year’s TIMF will be a performance, the Tongyeong Festival Orchestra, will perform the works of Bruno Mantovani, Bela Bartok and local Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra composer-in-residence Unsuk Chin all under the baton of German conductor Christoph Eschenbach.

For more information on upcoming performances, visit www.timf.org.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)