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Beyond Boundaries: Sung-won Yang's Vision for Music in Pyeongchang

As the curtains fell on August 5th, bringing the latest edition of Music in Pyeongchang to a close, the festival's remarkable 20-year journey came full circle. Guided by the vision of renowned cellist Sung-won Yang, the festival's newly appointed artistic director for 2023, this year's edition showcased a dedication that truly shines. With the festival's roots spanning two decades, Yang's unwavering commitment to preserving its legacy while propelling it into the future is nothing short of inspiring. With a profound respect for tradition and an astute eye for innovation, Sung-won Yang has set the stage for an even more remarkable chapter in the history of Music in Pyeongchang.


Cellist and Artistic Director Sung-won Yang at Music in Pyeongchang 2023

(c) Music in PyeongChang 2023


Gen de Art: What was your vision for Music in Pyeongchang, considering its 20-year history?

Yang: This year marks our 20th anniversary, a momentous occasion that signifies the festival's remarkable growth since its inception in 2004. With Music in Pyeongchang emerging as one of Korea's most esteemed cultural festivals, my vision was clear: to ensure that our identity remained firmly rooted in the past while reaching out to a more diverse audience. We aimed to welcome the world to Gangwon and share the talents of Pyeongchang's artists on the global stage. This led us to organize concerts in various small cities of Gangwon Province and establish partnerships with prestigious festivals in Italy and Canada.


Internally, I've emphasized messages of peace, harmony, and nature. Ukrainian musicians, who fled their country, played touching concerts. We united Japanese and Korean cellists on stage to symbolize harmony. These messages are woven into the music, creating a humane and beautiful experience for our audience.


Gen de Art: Can you tell us about the innovative additions you've introduced to the festival?

Yang: As part of our efforts to deepen the festival's connection with its audience, we've created "Live from Pyeongchang," a soundtrack that captures the essence of our concerts. Excerpts from each performance will be compiled into CDs that will be distributed widely among our sponsors and cultural foundation partners, ensuring that the festival's impact extends beyond its duration. Additionally, our commitment to fostering harmony and unity has led us to invite Ukrainian musicians who have faced hardships, creating an emotional connection between their performances and our audience.


Gen de Art: Can you talk about your process in deciding the theme of "Nature" for this year's festival?

Yang: In an era dominated by concerns about global warming, I felt it was crucial for our concerts to have a direct connection with nature. Our concerts include pieces inspired by nature to create awareness. I strive for our audience to feel the beauty of nature and the urgency to protect it. Sustainability and nature preservation are crucial themes. While not explicitly conveyed, these messages resonate through the music. Our interpretations reveal the past's philosophies and ways of living, guiding us towards a better future.


Gen de Art: How do you view the role of classical music in the modern world?

Yang: Classical music has witnessed unprecedented growth and popularity across the globe. Yet, it's essential that this genre conveys more than just melodies; it should encapsulate the philosophies and lifestyles of bygone eras. By understanding the historical contexts that shaped composers like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, we gain insights into their music's true essence. Classical music provides a lens through which we can better understand the past, paving the way for a brighter future.


Gen de Art: You mentioned the importance of reinterpreting classical pieces. How does technology play a role in this?

Yang: Technology, including AI, holds both risks and opportunities. Incorporating new technology can breathe new life into symphonic pieces and opera staging, presenting novel interpretations while staying anchored to their core messages. As we adapt to the digital age, we must remember that great compositions allow us to explore various perspectives, enabling us to infuse fresh vitality into immortal works.


Gen de Art: What were the most memorable moments of this year's festival?

Yang: For me, this year's festival was about inclusivity and novelty. Inviting artists who had never participated before allowed us to share this cultural celebration with a wider range of talents. Embracing diverse genres, from ballet to contemporary pieces, was a highlight, as was showcasing the talents of young musicians. The festival's identity evolves each year, emphasizing positive change and growth while nurturing a community of dedicated artists who believe in the power of art's message.


Gen de Art: What message would you like to convey to young artists who aspire to participate in Music in Pyeongchang?

Yang: To all young artists, I want to say that patience is key, and your opportunity will come. We seek artists whose music conveys a profound message—one that reflects their musical identity and perspective. Classical music is not merely entertainment; it's a vessel through which we share meaningful narratives and timeless wisdom. Stay dedicated to the messages within the music, and you will find a place in our festival's remarkable journey.


In the hands of Sung-won Yang, Music in Pyeongchang stands poised at the intersection of tradition and innovation. With a commitment to preserving classical music's core while embracing change, Sung-won Yang's artistic direction promises an ongoing symphony of growth, unity, and harmony that resonates beyond the festival's stages.

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