I met Professor Kim Seok gu, who is currently the conductor of the Opus Ensemble Orchestra. He is living his life passionately as a conductor, leaving his life of 10 years as a bassoonist. At Chungnam National University, he is also a professor of foreign cultural studies "Understanding Music." If you have any questions after reading this article, or if you want to get some advice on life, you can visit him yourself.
1. Please introduce yourself.
I am Kim Seok gu, currently the conductor of the Opus Ensemble Orchestra. After graduating from Chungnam National University College of Music, I played the bassoon for 10 years in an orchestra called the Philharmonic Orchestra in Gyeonggi Province, and for many reasons, I studied again in Rome and Milan in Italy and decided to become a conductor. So, I started a private orchestra called Opus Ensemble in 2005, and I am currently its conductor. I am also a professor of cultural music at Chungnam National University and a conductor of the Daejeon Arts High School Orchestra. In addition to orchestral music, I conduct many operas such as Le Nozze di Figaro, La Traviata, La Boheme, Don Pascal, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and La Serv.
2. Why did you decide to become a conductor after playing the bassoon for 10 years?
I played a lot of theatrical music such as opera and ballet while I was a bassoonist in the Philharmonic Orchestra in Gyeonggi Province. Through these experiences, I developed a special affection for the genre of opera. Because of my special love for opera, I wanted to study opera. My first thought was to become a director, but I decided to conduct because I thought that being a director was too unrelated to my major. As I commuted from Suwon, I felt limited in terms of my physical strength, wondering whether I would be able to play the bassoon when I was older. I had a bigger vision for the future, so I was completely awakened by the thought of being a conductor. As soon as I had this dream of being a conductor, I went abroad to study in Italy and returned to Daejeon to participate in a small opera.
3. I think you have a special love of opera. What makes opera so special?
Opera is dramatic music that tells a story. Singers use a libretto to tell the story. Sound-only orchestral music requires the audience to use their imagination to interpret and accept the music, whereas opera includes lyrics, so listeners are more responsive when the music is played. And beautiful opera music can only be produced by combining singing, acting, stage production, the sounds of each instrument in the orchestra, and the conductor's ability. The music that so many people make is beautiful. It's very hard as a conductor, but I can't tell you how much joy I feel working on a puzzle and then putting it on stage in front of an audience. Also, an opera that I want to recommend to those of you who are new to opera is La Boheme by Puccini. It's my favorite opera. You'll enjoy the love story of three musicians, one poet, and one heart-rending lover.
4. What makes conducting so charming?
The conductor is the last person who completes the music. The conductor's instrument is called an orchestra. I'm really happy to make the best music with my instrument, the orchestra. They say music is like drugs. Orchestral instruments and an ensemble are difficult to manage because everything needs to be synthesized, but when an orchestra plays my music in front of audience, I can't give up command because of the joy that comes when the performance ends successfully. I'm sick of it, but the music is my music, and it's my life. It's one of the things that makes me feel alive, and no matter how hard it is, when I hold the baton, it's fun and I feel energetic.
5. What difficulties do you face in your career as a conductor and how do you overcome them?
The hardest part is when an orchestra's ability doesn't meet my expectations. I have to make the best music somehow. Let’s say my expectation is 100 percent. However, it's really hard when an orchestra can only handle about 50 or 60 percent of what I expect from them. Every time, I think of Gustaf Mahler saying, “There is no bad conductor, but there is also no bad orchestra,” I have to look at my own people who I believe in. I don't think a conductor who fails to get the best results on the pretext of an orchestra's ability is a real artist. I think it's up to the conductor to fix the problems by himself. And before you become a conductor, you are in the position at the head of an organization, which places a burden on you. The orchestra members are my family in a way. There's a lot of responsibility because there's also a lot of business to do such as building orchestras, planning performances, and coordinating people. I think it's more of a burden because it's a private organization. As an artist, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to lead an orchestra as a director.
6. You have conducted many works and experienced many situations. Do you have any memorable experiences?
In the 10th year of the Opus Ensemble Orchestra, I conducted a full-length performance of Deborgs' New World Symphony. That was when MERS broke out and I had to choose whether to go ahead with the performance or not. I was so worried about what to do at that time. When I look back on it now, I have happy memories of the successful performance. I have also directed the works of Mussorgsky's exhibition. I once conducted Romeo and Juliet composed by Gunho, and I am so happy to have the honor of conducting songs that I love as a permanent conductor. In fact, it's very hard to pick my most memorable artistic moment. When you select music, tune instruments, and perform music in front of a large audience, it is a very happy and most impressive moment. Such moments are always memorable because they are prepared for music, whether it is hard work or pleasure.
7. As a professor at Chungnam National University, what is the most important thing when teaching students?
I have been teaching the cultural studies for five years at Chungdae. I think it is important for me not just to communicate music theory to students, but to encourage them to perform, to go to concerts, and to listen to classical music. So I am going to add listening as an evaluation criterion to make them more motivated. In addition, we are planning to conduct a concert in the classroom for students who cannot afford to go to concerts. In this way, I would like to share the music I love with my students by giving them a chance to experience music. I want to create a class that will serve as a concert guide when students visit a concert hall.
8. How can we better understand classical music?
When you listen to orchestral music, don't listen to the entire orchestra from the beginning. It's better to understand the attractiveness of each instrument in the orchestra. After understanding each instrument such as the violin, and the trumpet, you can listen to orchestral music. You can understand music much more in that way than just simply listening to it, and you can also have fun. Additionally, you like idols a lot these days, right? If you like idols, you're going to love their music, too. Like that, if you choose your favorite musician and like the subject, you will naturally like classical music. There are many young musicians these days. Choosing someone like the pianist Cho Sung-jin or the world-class violinist Clara-Jumi Kang can be one way to approach classical music. Also, when listening to opera music, it is important to understand the plot first, just like knowing the synopsis before watching a movie. Also, it's a good idea to choose an opera that is new to you but easy to understand because there are few characters. Too many characters and complicated content can tire a beginner. Finally, it's fun to take a friend with you and watch a performance.
9. What are your future plans?
The plan in front of us is to go on a business trip in September this year to Uzbekistan in the name of international cultural exchange. Uzbekistan's Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism has invited the Opus Ensemble to its National Academy of Music in the capital city of Tashkent. I think we'll be performing in collaboration with Russian musicians. The official name is the Uzbekistan International Cultural Exchange Concert, and it is a very exciting overseas schedule.
Furthermore, we're planning to hold a regular concert starting this winter. Come if you have time. Personally, my goal is to be a permanent conductor of a major orchestra. Running a private orchestra has limitations regarding the music that can be performed, and what I want to do. So, I want to be a conductor of a major orchestra.
10. Finally, is there anything that you want to say to your students (or our readers)?
Everyone has a major, but I think it's good to have another one that you like. The world is changing so fast that we can't know what will happen tomorrow. When I gave up playing the bassoon, which I had majored in and played for 10 years, to study again, I felt that having only one major was not a good thing. You also have to have the tenacity to move toward your goal. I also had a lot of difficulties when I switched from being a performer to a conductor. But I didn't give up my dream because of those difficulties. “Why not?” We must not forget this question. It's obviously related to your efforts and there's nothing you can't achieve with hard work. Don't be distracted, be a person with a purpose. There's nothing you can't do if you have a good friend on your side, have good experiences, listen to good words, and keep moving toward your goals. Don't give in to the world, be a winner.
Seon ah Lee, CUB Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
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