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‘It is my job to translate Western music’

Conductor Gum Nanse hints at creation of new music festival in Manhattan

“There is no musician like me in Korea,” claimed conductor Gum Nanse.

“Musicians rarely think about what they could do for society. They are obsessed about becoming a professor or conducting a big-name orchestra. But those are not my goals. I am special because I am always up to a new challenge. I created things from nothing,” Gum told The Korea Herald on Wednesday.

Gum is currently the CEO and Artistic Director of the Euro-Asian Corporation, which owns the Eurasian Philharmonic Orchestra, and also is the conductor of the Incheon Philharmonic Orchestra. But more than that, he has established quite a reputation for conducting usual performances, as part of efforts to introduce Western classical music to the public.

Some of his unique activities include the “concert with explanation” with which he has entertained audiences with the stories behind the music since 1993; the Korea Young Dream Orchestra composed of youngsters from farming and fishing families; and also the Korea United College Orchestra composed of university students not majoring in music, which will hold its second concert on Feb. 5 at the Seoul Arts Center.

“Many think only what they do at Seoul Arts Center is music. Well, they do music there too, but what we can do right in this very room is also music,” said the 64-year-old conductor. 

Gum Nanse speaks to The Korea Herald on Wednesday at the Hotel Shilla in Jangchung-dong, central Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Gum Nanse speaks to The Korea Herald on Wednesday at the Hotel Shilla in Jangchung-dong, central Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

“Art has no meaning if there is no audience. What I envy most about the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is their full audience each time, all dressed in proper attire. Koreans tend to think that we have developed much in the music field if we have a few brilliant musicians, but that is not right. Music should be part of people’s everyday lives.”

But his efforts are not aimed at “popularizing” classical music, as many think, said Gum, but informing the public about the “good stuff” so precious to him.

“If there is a really good Tolstoy novel and I am good at Russian, my job is not to brag about my Russian but to translate it into Korean so that Koreans can read it and empathize with it. What I do is to help those who are not familiar with classical music forget wrong information, and bring changes,” he said.

The Korea Young Dream Orchestra, for example, which is established in 20 different rural cities including Damyang in South Jeolla Province and Hamyang in South Gyeongsang Province with support from the Korea Racing Authority, has brought many positive changes to the members who are mostly kids from underprivileged families.

“Musicians should not think that we have nothing to do with classroom violence. Through KYDO, kids learned how to communicate through music and understand others. That is my job and what I want to do,” he said.

Boosting chamber music is another thing Gum keeps in mind. Jeju Music Isle Festival in which Gum conducts an internationally acclaimed chamber orchestra each time, will celebrate its eighth year at the upcoming show next month. It will be held from Feb. 10 to 18 at the Hotel Shilla in Jeju.

“I thought of the festival first because there were not many decent concerts in Jeju Island but also because I was worried that the Korean public was eating an unbalanced diet. The root of Western classical music is chamber music. But while a few thousand come to orchestra concerts, no one seems to listen to chamber music. Just think what would happen if everyone only enjoys a single sport, like golf,” said Gum.

The newest project he is working on is a music festival that will open in May in the heart of Manhattan, New York. He did not reveal much about it, except that he will be directing a sensational festival.

“For now, I can only say that it will be something you have never seen. It is my newest challenge,” said Gum.

By Park Min-young