Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Chung sisters perform for flood victims

PYEONGCHANG, Gangwon Province — There is nothing quite as invisible, yet gripping, as music, and a chamber concert Friday tugged at listeners’ hearts with even more intensity as artists dedicated their music to flood victims.

“We dedicate this song to victims of the flooding and their families. Our hearts go out to them,” said violinist Chung Kyung-wha, who normally only communicates through her instrument onstage.

The newly appointed co-director of the Great Mountains International Music Festival & School (GMMFS) appeared onstage with her cellist sister and fellow festival director Myung-wha, in matching “hanbok-inspired” dresses by Lee Young-hee. The fiendishly talented American pianist Kevin Kenner joined them for an intimate session of Brahms.

The two sisters, who became famous with their brother Myung-whun as the Chung Trio, appeared in a chamber performance for the first time in six years together. As the concert was a highlight program not only at the festival itself but one of the most anticipated events of the season in the Korean classical music scene, the 630-seat Alpensia Hall was packed and many fans were turned away disappointed (even star pianist Lim Dong-hyek was unable to secure tickets).

Some 200 VIPs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Trade; Hong Ra-hee, director of the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art (who donated a Hamburg Steinway for the festival); Daewon Cultural Foundation Chairman Kim Ilgon; and actress Youn Yuh-jung (who last year appeared in a performance of Earl Kim’s “Dear Linda”) were spotted among the crowd.

The Piano Trio No. 1 in B-major, Op. 8 was marked by an exciting yet elegant interplay between the strings opposite the luminous, rollicking phrases of the piano. The scherzo in particular had the listener wanting to clap enthusiastically, but as is the case with the most absorbing performances, not a cough was heard between movements.

Brahms wrote the piece as a young man and revised it in his later years while suffering from cancer, making it a most apt work for the festival’s theme of “Illumination,” shedding light on how life experiences of joy and fury, sorrow and happiness, illness, frustration and resentment inspired musicians and how they harnessed these to artistic ends to produce profound masterpieces, said Myung-wha.

Kyung-wha, meanwhile, is no stranger to the trials of illness, having recently returned to the stage after years of nursing a hand injury.

“When my sister started playing, tears came to my eyes and I had to avert my gaze because I was afraid I might start sobbing before making my entrance,” the violinist told reporters at noon Saturday, after the trio performed for the GMMFS students that were unable to attend the sold-out concert.

“Soloists usually tend to appear in fancy concerti, and I always had to stubbornly insist on doing chamber projects for my manager to let me. But chamber music is essential for the growth of an artist,” she said, adding how grateful she was to her late mother, a “forward-looking” person who initiated the idea of launching a sibling chamber ensemble.

Myung-wha agreed, and added how it was possible for the Chung siblings to survive in the United States in the 1960s as young students because they had each other. Likewise, she said she was able to assume and carry out the festival’s directorship because of her younger sister.

When asked about restaging the magic of the Chung Trio, Kyug-wha said they are planning to hold a performance in the near future. “It’s just a question of where,” she said.

As for performing with Kenner, the sisters both said it was a great pleasure to work with an artist of such caliber. “He is a true musician... We were only able to rehearse for about six hours but the teamwork was great,” said Kyung-wha.

“Many guests and press came despite the heavy downpour. It’s our 8th edition of the festival, and following the opening performance (on Thursday) the Chung sisters showed, through the Friday performance, how the festival has evolved,” said Kim Dong-ho, President of Gangwon Art & Culture Foundation.

The GMMFS continues through Aug. 7, featuring performances not only at Alpensia, the main venue of the festival, but also outreach programs that travel to neighboring venues such as Woljeong Temple. Visit www.gmmfs.org for more information.

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