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Jumping Korea

For A Brighter Future for the Korean Wave in Classical Music
As is well known, the Korean Wave has been gaining popularity over the years in such parts of the world as Southeast Asia, Europe and South America. Recently, Korean classical music has been added to the Korean Wave's repertoire. After winning prestigious competitions, Korean classical music performers are on the rise on the international stage. In this regard, this article seeks to examine the current status of this new trend and the ways it might be further developed.
 
When  it comes to the Korean Wave, most people think of Korean TV dramas, movies and K-Pop. But the term 'Korean Wave' also applies to classical music performed by Korean artists. At the 2011 14th Tchaikovsky Music Competition, Korea produced the largest number of winners among participating nations: Seo Sun-yeong(1st prize in the female vocal category); Park Jong-min(1st prize in the male vocal category); Sohn Yeol-eum(2nd prize in the piano category); Cho Sung-jin(3rd prize in piano); Lee Ji-hye(3rd prize in violin) and other.  
In the Queen Elizabeth Music Contest, one of the 3 most prestigious classical music competitions in the world, Korean soprano Hong Hye-ran won the grand-prix award in 2011, and violinist Shin Hyeon-soo the prize for third place in 2012. In 2011's the Markneukirchen competition in Germany, double bassist Seong Min-jae won 3rd place.
Their achievements deserve all the more attention since the above performers were trained solely in Korea. With this new development, the Korean press came up with a new term, 'Korean Wave in Classical Music'.
The Korean artists' performances have drawn more attention in Europe where classical music has flourished for more than 5 centuries. Thus it is truly remarkable that artists from a country whose classical music history is barely a century old is sweeping major European musical contests. 
  
 Korean Artists' Secret of Success
Then what are the secrets behind these successes? At this point, it would be germane to mention a documentary titled 'The Mystery of Music Korea' by Belgian producer and director Thierry Loreau. 
The documentary first mentions the Korean education system as one of the possible reasons. Most of the aforementioned Korean artists were trained at Korea National University of Arts, an arts-oriented institution established by the Korean government in 1992. In the past, musically gifted youngsters were usually sent abroad to study in Europe and America, at great financial cost. But after the university's establishment, it became possible for Korean music students to receive quality classical music education and training without leaving the country.  
But since the West abounds in prestigious musical institutions surpassing the standard of their Korean counterpart, Mr. Loreau next points to the passionate zeal of Korean parents for their children's musical education and the spartan training methods employed. It is already well known the great sacrifices that Korean parents are willing to make for their children's education. 
From their zealous parents, students learn 'obedience', 'passion' and the 'spirit of competitiveness'. Then the students go on to learn how to excel and gain distinction through the most rigorous training programs and never-ending practice and rehearsals. 
In a sense, it's ironic that such passionate commitment and enthusiasm of parents and students, which was once regarded as unproductive and even harmful, is considered to be a major contributing factor in the rise of Korean classical music artists. While also mentioning economic prosperity and the rise in musical standards in Korea, the documentary devotes a lot of time focusing on the virtues of patience and the spirit of obedience which have been inculcated in Korean classical music artists.   
Unfortunately, their successes have little impact on Korea's classical music market
If we look at these achievements abroad, sincere congratulations and tributes are in order. Their successes can be considered to be on a par with those of the world figure skating champion Kim Yuna, another proud product of Korea.
But in commercial terms, it is doubtful whether the success of these Korean artists can be truly referred to as the 'Korean Wave in Classical Music', as the press would like to have it presented. The significance of the Korean Wave is found in the fact that its contents have a ready international market. In this regard, Kim Yuna's success can't be regarded as part of the 'Korean Wave' despite her immense her personal achievements on the international stage.
Likewise, the successes of Korean classical artists tend to remain at a personal level and have not acted as a catalyst to invigorate Korea's domestic classical music market or spread the Korean way of education or entice foreign students to come to Korea for their musical training.
It's an unfortunate reality that even those who have won major honors in foreign musical contests have had difficulty in securing work positions. In its current condition, Korea's classical music market is also unprofitable due to the limited size of the audience. It would seem that, unfortunately, Korean artists winning top prizes abroad and the growth of the domestic classical music market are two separate and unrelated matters.
This is the reason why the stellar achievements of the Korean classical artists are not sufficient to justify the term 'Korean Wave in Classical Music'. But this does not in any way detract from the success and value of the artists' hard work.
The important thing is to take advantage of the success of Korean artists to bring about growth in the classical music market in Korea, which in turn will provide the solid basis for the birth and spread of the real 'Korean Wave in Classical Music' in other countries.   

 

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