Unprecedented Challenge to Mahler

Article excerpt

Last August, Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra played Gustav Mahler (1860~1911)'s fourth symphony at the Seoul Arts Center.

After seven curtain calls, the audience was still in their seats.

Conductor Im rose to the platform and presented an orchestral score, Mozart's ``Ave Verum Corpus,'' as an encore. It was an unexpected bonus for the audience. Although the audience's morale was still high even after the eighth and ninth curtain calls, Im headed out and the lighting was turned on, prompting a collective sigh.

Im Hon-jung, 48, director of the Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra and professor of Seoul National University's composition department, has taken on the challenge of covering all of Mahler's nine symphonies. Started in 1999, the endeavor is due to come to a finale with the performance of the eighth symphony, ``1,000 People Symphony,`` on May 5, 2002 on the eve of the 2002 World Cup opening ceremony.

Mahler's symphonies feature long and sophisticated forms, program musical characteristics, and lots of instruments. Mahler included vocal music in his symphonies as well as extended variations of forms and themes, based on pieces by Beethoven, Liszt, Berlioz, and Burckner. In addition, he deepened program musical characteristics and orchestral effect extended in the late Romanticism period, bringing extended and advanced harmonic scale to symphonies and taking the top position among symphonies of the late Romanticism period.

Almost all of the world's famous orchestras have challenged Mahler's symphonies at least once. Bucheon Philharmonic's attempt is special in that it marks the first time that a Korean orchestra has embarked on the daunting voyage to cover all of Mahler's symphonies.

``There is no special reason. We perform masterpieces for the same reason we climb mountains -- because they are there. Every time I finish one, I feel like a load has been taken off my back. Isn't this an artist's duty?'' Im said.

He believes that artists must be creative, and effort and pain are unavoidable obstacles that must be overcome to reach this goal, Im stressed.

``I started preparing for these concerts a few years ago, and I'm still preparing, even now. My orchestra rehearsed Mahler's second symphony 17 times.''

At the same time, he revealed his dissatisfaction with the Korean classical music world.

``It is the same as with all social ills. There are so many musicians who expect a sudden rise to stardom.

``Let's think about this. There are only few openings for soloists. But in music colleges, students spend most of their time practicing solos. They don't have many chances to become a member of an orchestra. Then, nearing graduation, they flock to orchestra auditions.''

Im is known as somewhat of a ``ruthless'' conductor for his tough drill- sergeant style of running his orchestra. …