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What Really Goes on …? (October issue)

by Mary Matz


Think “Dvořák,” and “Korea” probably does not spring to mind in the same moment.

But there are several surprising connections between the Czech Republic and Korea, Korean and Czech music, and the increasing number of enthusiastic students and visitors hopping halfway across the globe to learn about both musical cultures.

Director Choi Young Chul, co-founder of the International Antonín Dvořák Composition Competition, held in Prague, and founder of Seouloratorio Choir and Orchestra and Dvořák Academy, Korea, explains more.

Opus Osm: Director Choi, please tell us a few words about the training which Korean students have in Czech classical music. Is it a new topic for them? Do all students learn a bit about Czech music? And are more Czech students learning about Korean music?

Director Choi: Korean students are exposed to Czech national music early on. However, the study of traditional Czech music is limited to dances or a few folk songs by Czech composers. Recently, a small number of schools have begun teaching classes on Czech songs and language.

I don’t believe that Czech students have any real opportunity to come into contact with Korean music. Dvořák Academy and I are forming plans to gradually expand Czech students’ understanding of traditional Korean music through hands-on experience with traditional instruments and folk songs.

Sun-Mi Kim in an excerpt from Dvořák’s Te Deum

Opus Osm: What kinds of opportunities for exchanges between Korean and Czech musicians exist today? What would you like to see in the future?

Director Choi: It is still limited, but there is exchange going on in terms of choirs and symphonies, as well as opera and individual performers. Though there are still no clear support policies, exchange is occurring between a few businesses and individuals. In the near future, I expect that more active exchange will occur, following industrially supported wide-scale cultural exchange and governmental support programs.

Opus Osm: Is there a special relationship (historical or contemporary) between Koreans and Czechs?

Director Choi: Official diplomatic relations between Korea and the Czech Republic were only established 20 years ago. However, the direct participation of Czechoslovakian troops in the Korean independence movement over 90 years ago could be said to have been the start of a friendly relationship between the two nations.

Since the establishment of official relations, diplomatic and economic exchange has occurred actively, while cultural and educational exchange has been gradually gaining momentum as well.

For the past few years now, the Korea-Czech friendship foundation and the Czech-Korea friendship foundation have been standing at the forefront of advancing friendly relations between our two nations.

* Watch soprano Sun-Mi Kim, baritone Toshimi Mori, the Seouloratorio Choir, Vox Pragae Choir, and the Karlovy Vary Orchestra under the direction of Young-Chul Choi in a short excerpt Aug 2 from Dvořák’s Te Deum. Click on “Too” in the top menu bar.

Opus Osm: Would you kindly give a few ideas of how Czech (and international) readers can find Korean classical music and learn about Korean musicians — your recommendations?

Director Choi: It requires both the effort of civilians in addition to governmental support. Performance exchanges, exhibitions, seminars, workshops, and translated materials can be of assistance.

Ultimately, the establishment of a Korean Cultural Foundation in the Czech Republic should be considered to support such activities. The establishment of a Korean Music Department at a Czech musical institution would also be a great possibility to consider.

In addition, multi-faceted efforts are needed so that the Czech readers are provided with an opportunity to come into contact with traditional Korean music. If such goals are presented to the Korean Cultural Administration or some international exchange foundation (Korea Foundation) I believe they will actively cooperate. oo

The Author of This Article Comments: Music connections between Korea and the Czech Republic are something I had never thought of before. What are your experiences? Do you see some additional connections between the two cultures? Please post your comments here.

Photo Credits: Charles Bridge, Zuzana Pernicová; video, Miroslav Setnička.

One Comment

  1. Lynne DeMichele
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    I have known only less than a dozen Koreans or Czechs, but I’ve been struck by both cultures’ devotion to the arts, especially music. My own country could certainly learn something about national support for the arts. Here in the US it seems dance companies, orchestras and opera companies have to plead for funding all the time, when the arts ought to be a national priority!

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