The Korean Musical Mystery

South Koreans in International Competitions

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Program notes

The number of young South-Korean talents participating in international competitions has increased significantly over the past decade. This documentary tries to explain this evolution and to understand this "musical Korean mystery".

For the past 15 years, South Korea has been increasingly present in the field of Western classical music. The Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium is a good example. In 1995, there was not a single Korean candidate in the first round. In 2011, there were 22, and for the first time that year, a Korean singer won the prestigious competition. The same trend can be seen in all 55 big international music competitions. Never before, throughout the history of music, has such an artistic phenomenon been observed.

What is going on in this country? Why the sudden infatuation with a music so different from that of Far Eastern culture? This film intends to answer these and many other questions by going to the heart of Korean society.

The interest for Western music was born at the same time as the Korea National University of Arts in Seoul (KARTS), founded in 1993. Most of the finalists for international competitions come from there. Korea's sudden wealth, the working rigour of the Koreans, their spirit of competition, their thirst for knowledge, their huge capacity for concentration, drawn from their food and methods of relaxation and meditation, go some way to answering our questions.

Once they have mastered technique and finished their musical studies in Korea, most of the young musicians leave for Germany to master the European soul. Some German universities have as many as 40% Korean students. Despite the radical uprooting and change in their way of life, the Koreans become the best in their discipline.

The film will begin with a sequence filmed in Seoul in Korea, then go to Munich, to the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München. We will go backstage at the Queen Elisabeth Competition and garner the views of enlightened Korean musicians already well established in the professional international musical life to complete our survey of this enigmatic artistic phenomenon.

Picture: the Korean singer Hong Haeran, First Prize of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in the singing category.

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