Warm music to go with Winter Games
PYEONCHANG, Gangwon Province — Korea’s preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics in this mountainous province three hours west of Seoul seem to have gone on for longer that just about anyone can remember.
By starts and stops, the games, now less than a year away, are the result of dedicated efforts by regional officials, the central government and the country’s largest corporations, bent on raising Korea’s international profile.
Any Olympics anywhere takes some doing, but what is also significant is PyeongChang’s desire beyond the ski jumpers, speed skaters and curlers of the world to showcase Korean cultural pride. More than 15 years ago, largely in tandem with plans for the Olympics, PyeongChang encouraged and supported the creation of a music festival that has few rivals.
With its headquarters in the luxury ski resort of Alpensia, the PyeongChang Music Festival now both in winter and summer is hosted and directed by two of Korea’s leading international musicians, cellist Chung Myung-wha and her sister, the celebrated violinist Chung Kyung-wha. For years it has drawn major acts for performances in a cozy concert hall adjacent to the five-star Intercontinental Hotel, Holiday Inn and ski slopes.
The 2017 PyeongChang Winter Music Festival, taking place this week, is a warm-up for cultural events during the Olympics and features a double-barreled mix of classical music and jazz with performers from around the world.
The festival opened Wednesday night with a panoply of Korean and international music, both classical and jazz. Dignitaries from Gangwon Province and Seoul filled the auditorium to hear Chung Myung-wha accompany pansori legend Ahn Sook-sun, wearing a billowing green hanbok, pianist Son Yeol-eun and drummer Kye Youl-jun. To an ear accustomed to Western sounds, the three songs performed offered an eerie, avant-garde and staccato impression for which the audience gave a rousing ovation.
John Beasley, a renowned American jazz pianist, followed with a wide-ranging solo that captured the heart of modern jazz with complex riffs reminiscent of Bill Evans. Bob Sheppard on sax then joined Beasley for a winsome duet. Both men have long worked together, starting early in their careers with a band led by Freddie Hubbard, to whom Beasley gave gracious thanks.
What followed the intermission was a young, volcanic piano duo — Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, virtuosi who met at Julliard and who now tour the world presenting a torrent of genres. A rapturous “Ave Maria” by Shubert, a near honky-tonk rendition of “Let It Be” by the Beatles and a driving tango were among the works as the audience kept demanding they play on.
The performance (they almost sat in each other’s laps) was muscular with Ms. Roe’s long dark ponytail and sinuous arms flying around the dueling Steinways.
The concert series continues until Sunday with an array of music from Korea and the world. As remote and rural as PyeonChang can feel, the festival has had the power to draw a superb collection of musicians to a stunning recreational resort.
Coming up are eclectic performances of the music of Beethoven, Ravel, Schubert and the songs of George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.
In another year comes the big payoff for PyeongChang when tens of thousands of winter sports fans and music lovers will be treated to Korean hospitality.
Ticket prices for the winter music festival range from 30,000 won to 60,000 and up to 250,000 for prestige seating.
From left, cellist Chung Myung-wha, pianist Son Yeol-eum, Korean traditional vocalist Ahn Sook-sun and percussionist Jun Kye-youl perform “Three Sarang-gas for Pansori, Cello, Piano and Buk,” composed by Lim Jun-hee, during the opening concert of the 2017 PyeongChang Winter Music Festival at the Alpensia Concert Hall in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, Wednesday.