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With 10-year-old classic festival as catalyst, Gyechon evolves into art village

April 17, 2024 - 18:16 By Park Ga-young
Gyechon Classic Festival in 2023 (Chung Mong-koo Foundation)

When the Gyechon Music Festival was being considered over a decade ago, residents of the village Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province, expressed a preference for popular music genres like trot, rather than classical music -- or at least a mix of the two.

Ten years on, no one is talking about a pop music festival. Rather, the village hopes to solidify its identity as an art village, with the rare outdoor classic music festival as the catalyst, according to Lee Dong-yeun, director of the festival and professor at the Korea National University of Arts.

Together with the Chung Mong-koo Foundation, KNUA, also known as K-Arts, is the organizer of the annual event.

In 2022, interest in the festival surged unexpectedly when pianist Lim Yunchan performed at the festival just two months after his win at The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, drawing 10,000 spectators to a village with a population of 2,000.

Lim’s performance was planned ahead of the competition, as the organizer decided to put the foundation’s scholarship recipients on stage.

The launch of the festival is creating synergy with what began as the community's efforts to prevent the closure of Gyechon Elementary School in 2009 amid a shrinking rural population. The school formed Gyechon Starlight Orchestra, involving all students. In 2012, Gyechon Middle School also established an orchestra to cater to graduates of the elementary school.

In 2015, Chung Mong-koo Foundation and Korea National University of Arts joined forces to offer orchestral education and a festival in Gyechon.

Jung Chan-yool (left), Gyechon Elementary School student and member of Gyechon Starlight Orchestra, and former member Hong Jong-seok participate in a press conference held at OnDream Society in Myeongdong, Jung-gu, Seoul Wednesday. (Chung Mong-koo Foundation)

Hong Jong-seok, a 22-year-old college student, got involved in the middle school orchestra and now studies contrabass in college.

“When the first festival began, I was in the first year of middle school, and in the course of 10 years, the scale of the festival grew, and the village became more beautiful,” Hong said.

Jung Chan-yool, 12, his sister and mother moved to Gyechon from Seoul three years ago to avoid crowding amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It was supposed to be six months of sanctuary but they decided to stay longer, as Jung and his sister enjoyed their participation in the orchestra as a violinist and clarinetist, respectively.

“Recently, my father suggested moving to the city, but I expressed my determination to join the Gyechon Starlight Orchestra and enroll in Gyechon Middle School,” Jung said.

The 10th edition, set to return from May 26 to 28, gathers pianists Cho and Kim and Baik Kun-woo, Lee Jin-sang and singers Samuel Yoon and Park So-young.

Baik will kick off the festival on May 31 with Gyechon Starlight Orchestra, for which the current members and alumni will join.

On June 1, three concerts are scheduled from 3 p.m. to midnight, featuring bass baritone Samuel Yoon and soprano Park So-young, pianist Lee Jin-sang with the KNUA Orchestra conducted by Chung Chi-yong and more.

On June 2, Cho Seong-jin will take the stage with fellow pianist Kim Sun-wook, but this time with Kim as the conductor and artistic director of Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra, marking the first time the two will perform on stage together as pianist and conductor.

The 10th edition of the festival will take place from May 31 to June 2. The ticketing for the free event opened Wednesday on Naver’s reservation service and will be up until April 30. For ticketing, applicants must submit a short answer on why they want to participate in the festival. The organizer will announce the winners on May 2. Last year, there were three applicants for every available spot.