Volume 6 / Chapter 198
The first day of the finals was turbulent. It could be considered a competition to judge Jun Hyuk rather than one to decide on the winners of the piano and violin parts.
Even the judges were talking about how Jun Hyuk would conduct the choral concerto instead of the piano and violin finals.
“Did you hear what the orchestra members have been whispering about?”
“Yes. They said that there’s going to be a clear difference between the 2 conductors’ performances.”
“Not that, but about Jun.”
“Excuse me? Jun’s conducting?”
“They’re saying that his conducting in the morning and in the afternoon are completely different. They said it’ll feel as though 2 separate people are conducting if we listen to just the music…”
“Goodness. The morning and afternoon are different? Is that possible?”
“The orchestra says that it is just the tempo changing… but it fits with the violin and piano soloists exquisitely.”
“The performers aren’t following the conductor’s interpretation, but the conductor is matching himself to the performers? Why do you think the composer made such a decision?”
“My personal thinking is that it’s because this is a competition.”
“Oh, I see. Since the performers are the main part for the stage.”
The head of the chair and chair members drank coffee before the final performance started, expressing their anticipations for the performance.
The chairperson had been listening to the conversation silently before speaking up cautiously,
“We are not critics. We are judges. Our ears need to be geared toward the violin and piano. I hope you will keep this in mind.”
The chair members cleared their throats at her scolding as their faces turned red. It is evidence of how much their attention had gone to the choral concerto itself.
“I expect that you know there is difficulty in judging. The conductors’ influence is different, and the interpretations and personalities of the performances are completely different. We need to judge the skills and workmanship of the soloists among that. There is a lot of talk, but I hope that there will be a fair evaluation.”
The judges settled themselves, emptied their coffee cups, and headed to the concert hall.
There are a lot of familiar faces in the royal seats. While sitting in the audience, they shook hands and chatted, laughing. It seems they all knew each other well.
A few reporters even approached them to ask if they can take pictures. They are maestros who have flown here from different parts of Europe, and there are producers from critical and classical expert labels.
The producers in particular, have appeared to listen to today’s performance before deciding on releasing a record. He is a fearless rookie who becomes a hot topic every time he releases a new song. If Choral Concerto is not a song that is impossible to enjoy like Inferno, they are certain that it could surpass 1 million albums in sales.
Hadn’t Inferno sold almost 1 million on curiosity alone? The song to go on stage today is a piece that will have the sober assessment of whether or not it is worthy of competing with Beethoven.
As long as there are no horrible harsh criticisms, it is sure to be a piece that becomes news. It is inevitable that the label that makes this evaluation and releases the album the fastest, will bring it tremendous profits.
All of the producers looked anxious with a heavy responsibility.
As soon as the orchestra members and chorus entered, the stage became full. The nearly 300 people looked down at the audience and that intimidation was not ordinary.
A moderator came out, fitting the scene of a competition, and started with an introduction on the finals.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the finals for the piano and violin portions of the Queen Elisabeth Competition will be starting momentarily.”
There was formal clapping from the audience, and the moderator introduced each of the 12 judges.
“The orchestra performing with the participants will be our pride, the National Orchestra of Belgium, and the chorus is the Brussels Royal Choir.”
When the 270 performers on stage greeted the audience, an applause that could not be compared with that of what happened just now exploded. The Belgian people were showing them how much they love their orchestra.
When the audience quieted down, the moderator held the mic up again.
“The first performer is No. 24 pianist Michael Looper, of Australia. The piano is Steinway. And No. 16 violinist Hayakawa Touko, of Japan. The title of the song is Concerto for Violin and Piano in D Minor, ‘Choral’. Conductor is Jun Hyuk Jang. As a special appearance is the soloist finalist of the vocal portion…..”
When the moderator’s long introduction ended, Jun Hyuk, 2 soloists, and 6 vocalists entered the stage.
They could hear very low heckling, but most of the audience were polite with enthusiastic cheers.
The main characters of the performance approached the audience, bended their backs to greet them, and the 2 soloists shook hands with the bandmaster before going back to their respective positions.
Jun Hyuk got on the podium wearing the black suit and white bow tie that Tara had carefully picked out.
When the 1st part started, the 2 soloists watched the orchestra with anxiety. Jun Hyuk was conducting and as soon as he glared at the 2 of them, they quickly came to their senses.
“You should think of yourselves as part of the audience for the 1st part, and leave your body to the flow of the music. If you only brood over the 2nd part, it won’t be natural and you’ll trip up.”
It is what Jun Hyuk stressed during rehearsals. The 2 people shook their heads lightly to shake off their tension, and started to tune their ears to the orchestra’s music.
The maestros in the audience also geared their ears to the music. They got lost in the performance while comparing their own interpretations of the music when they first received the score to that of the composer’s.
Once the storm-like 1st part was over, the flow changed with the start of the 2nd part where the piano and violin came in.
The gentle yet fast piano calmed the relentless orchestra. But the violin was flexible and powerful as though trying to go out alone, following closely behind the piano. While the two instruments showed a sprint by going ahead of each other, the orchestra ran forward without hesitation again.
The music that was so fast that it was impossible to distinguish between the end of the 2nd part and the start of the 3rd, started to change slowly. The piano and violin maintained the exquisite balance that they had showed up until the 2nd part, and began to encroach upon the orchestra.
Now, it is not a sprint of the 2 instruments, but became like a sprint between the 2 soloists and the orchestra. They could not erase the feeling that the soloists were a bit ahead either.
The maestros watching this began to fret. Could it be that the ensemble collapses? But the back of Jun Hyuk, holding the baton, did not look exhausted at all, and the performers did not show any signs of discomposure. Once they realized that this is all the conductor’s intention, everyone sighed in relief.
When the 4th part that everyone had been waiting for started, there was not even the sound of a cough from the audience. The theater was especially full of anticipation for how the vocal duet and trio of a 150 member choir and orchestra performing Ode to Joy would compare with Beethoven’s.
However, the audience was most surprised that the familiar Ode to Joy sounded so different. The first reason is the difference in the sounds between German and English. Unlike the sternness offered by the hard and broken syllables, the flowing and almost rhythmical English made it feel as though they are listening to an aria.
Also instead of the Ode to Joy melody that they are familiar with, it is a solemn melody that shows it has influence from hymns. A tragic beauty flowed out with an emphasis on the simplicity of the chorus configuration and sporadic chords.
When the performance was complete up to the 4th part, there was only a light clapping full of disappointment rather than an explosive applause. Of an audience of over 2,000 people, only 1 out of every 10 people – about 200 people – gave a standing ovation and yelled bravo.
“That person must be from Italy, right?”
“I didn’t even imagine this kind of result… How much is that young maestro going to surprise us? Ha ha, geez.”
“I’ll say. I was expecting Beethoven, but it’s Giuseppe Verdi out of nowhere.”
The maestros in the royal seats forgot about applauding and faced each other, discussing their thoughts. Among them, just one maestro stood from his seat and applauded with tears flowing down his face.
“The answer comes from watching him. Isn’t he from Italy?”
The person who could not stop his tears is a maestro from Italy.
“The 4th part felt like we were watching Verdi, so that reaction is inevitable.”
Another maestro spoke with a big smile.
“I’m really anticipating the afternoon performance.”
The maestros looked to the person they were discussing.
“Pierre Boulez said something funny. He hinted that the the morning and afternoon performances are going to be totally different.”
He did not stop smiling as he looked at the people who could not easily understand that the 2 performances are going to be different.
“Let’s all get rid of our preconceived notions. It is the finals for the piano and violin. Only think about the soloists’ performances.”
The committee head looked at the 11 members and spoke hastily. She is speaking not only to the committee, but also to herself.
Everyone who watched the performance will be thinking the same thing. They had been expecting Beethoven, but they had fallen into chaos with a completely different music.
They need to evaluate on the music alone. They must not think that the music was bad just because it was not what they had predicted. Strictly speaking, there is no target of comparison. Isn’t it a premiere – something that has never been performed? The moment they compare it with Beethoven’s choral symphony is when it becomes too late to make a fair assessment.
“Of course. Didn’t Jun, the composer, keep saying it? He said that it is different from Beethoven’s choral symphony.”
“My head knows it, but my heart and ears kept comparing the 2 works.”
The judges shook their heads as though trying to shake the words Beethoven and choral symphony.
Just as confused as the judges are, the BOZAR theater lobby was noisy with the audience members exchanging opinions. It was not just the theater lobby that was noisy, but also the restaurants and cafes nearby.
The people who accepted only the music praised it as a great work, and the people who could not erase Beethoven from their minds, disparaged it saying that Jun Hyuk did not match up to the confidence he exhibited.
Three hours later, before the afternoon performance, the people gathered to the theater again.