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2017-10-29 17:18
A composer of Isang Yun’s (1917-1995) stature deserves a jubilant centennial. But there has not been much going on to mark the occasion, except for some concerts and an annual competition in his name in his birthplace of Tongyeong, which began Saturday.

As part of the centennial celebrations, the renowned soprano Sumi Jo held a recital there Saturday, presenting two songs by the composer.

Yun is one of Korea’s first classical music composers to come to global prominence. He studied at the Paris Conservatory and settled in Germany. The prolific composer, who was lauded for his operas, symphonies, concertos, chamber music and works for solo instruments, is known among Koreans more for his political misfortunes during the military dictatorship of Park Chung-hee during the 1960s. He was jailed for visiting Pyongyang in 1963, but released after pressure from the international artistic community led by Herbert von Karajan, the legendary music director of the Berliner Philharmoniker. Yun was never able to return to Korea and died a German citizen.

Some Koreans still associate him with North Korea and do not support his music. One should think about how rational it is to shun an artist’s work because of his or her personal past or political inclination.

It is unfortunate that Yun’s music is still rarely performed in Korea, although world-renowned musicians, including the oboist Heinz Holliger and violinist Midori, have chosen to perform his music here. Midori performed Yun’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in a 2004 recital.

The Yun centennial gained some media attention when first lady Kim Jung-sook, who is a trained classical singer, paid tribute to him during a visit to Germany with President Moon Jae-in in July. President Moon wrote a Facebook message to mark the composer’s birthday Sept. 17, saying “I hope that someday, his music will be rediscovered and enjoyed in the land he loved.”

The centennial is a good occasion to get to know the composer’s music better, without prejudice against his personal life.


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