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'K-classical league' needed to create healthy classical music scene

Feb. 26, 2024 - 18:48 By Park Ga-young
(From left) Pianist Kim Dae-jin, president of the Korea National University of Arts; Chang Hyoung-joon, pianist and president of the Seoul Arts Center; and bass-baritone and Seoul National University professor Samuel Youn participate in a forum, discussing how to foster classical music talent in the country, on Friday at Ondream Society in Myeongdong, Jung-gu, Seoul. The forum was organized by the Chung Mong-Koo Foundation. (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald)

South Korea has become a heaven for classical music prodigies but for sustainable growth, a '"K-classical league" would be more conducive, according to classical music experts during a forum on Friday.

Hosted by the Hyundai Motor Chung Mong-Koo Foundation, which has been supporting talented young musicians since 2009, the forum dealt with various issues concerning fostering classical music talent.

“Because now South Korea has become a heaven for prodigies, they are trying to insert prodigies into performances and it seems like an environment where professional performers or mid-level performers can emerge is gradually drifting away,” Kim Dae-jin, president of the Korea National University of Arts, said.

“All those excellent students became that way through individual talent. It seems like we haven't created a very healthy music scene through the system. Rather, it feels like we've become a powerhouse because of one or two star players,” Kim, who has taught many of today's well-known pianists, including Son Yeol-eum, Kim Sun-wook, Moon Ji-young and Park Jae-hon, said.

Kim cited what Guus Hiddink, who led the Korean national football team to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, urged in order for Korea to become a global football powerhouse: upgrading the K-League.

Kim emphasized a "K-classical league" is necessary to create a healthy environment for classical musicians.

“We are currently so enthusiastic about prodigies that we may not realize it, but ultimately, it is absolutely necessary," Kim said.

Bass-baritone Samuel Youn, who teaches at Seoul National University, agreed that Korea's music scene is too skewed to call it a holistic environment.

For young talents to flourish, Chang Hyoung-joon, pianist and president of the Seoul Arts Center, emphasized the importance of providing stage experience, arguing for the need to discover performers who have not yet joined the ranks and providing them with performance opportunities.

Violinist Wee Jae-won, a recipient of a foundation sponsorship, said, "Collaborating with other musicians, which was challenging at a young age, became the most valuable asset." Pianist Kim Song-hyeon, another sponsorship recipient, also recalled, "As a pianist with limited ensemble opportunities, it was a precious experience."

Friday's forum also touched upon why support of talent in arts and culture is necessary.

Noh Seung-rim, a professor of public administration specializing in the arts, introduced the ideas of economist John Maynard Keynes. According to Noh, Keynes recognized the intrinsic value of arts and culture to civilization and the role of economic activities as tools that should support and promote arts and culture within society.

“Understanding the uniqueness of the art market is crucial. It's formed not by the logic of the capital market. It has the characteristics of a public good. In this arena, the 'winner takes all' dynamic prevails, leaving many struggling without support. The economic value of artists' labor is challenging to quantify," Noh explained, underscoring the critical need for both public and private backing of arts and culture.

The Hyundai Motor Chung Mong-Koo Foundation was founded in 2007 by Chung Mong-koo, the honorary chairman of Hyundai Motor Group, with a mission to contribute to the well-being of society and humankind by supporting the next generation.

Among the many young artists the foundation has supported are: pianists Lim Yun-chan and Kim Song-hyeon, cellists Han Jae-min and Lee Geun-yup and violinist Wee Jae-won.