THE house-concert series in Seoul
Words like “The Open” in the UK, meaning the golf championship in St Andrews (throwing the colloquial term, “National Open” of the US championships out of the league of arrogance!) usually get me slightly annoyed, because who are they to judge what is THE one and what isn’t?
But I had to nod in agreement when I went to one of THE House Concerts in Yulhaus, Seoul.
I had seen some news articles about the house concert series, but it was when my pianist friend told me she had performed there that I stopped what I was doing to have a good look (at the website, initially).
Although I was mega-busy preparing for the premiere of Nokha, I had to go to one of the concerts where an Ensemble Opus member (violist Avri Levitan) was performing accompanied by a pianist(Peter Ovtscharov) who had studied in Salzburg at the same time I did. They were about to perform 3 of my favourite pieces of music; sonatas by Brahms for viola and piano, violin and piano and cello and piano.
The vibe of the event was rather unique. The performer is alarmingly close to you, and the audience area was surprisingly small, but it was the kind of refreshment I needed from the too-many typical concerts I’ve been having to attend recently. The first note was enough to be mind-blowing, because, seated 1m from the violist, the acoustic sound itself was just so powerful and rich, it felt like a huge gust of wind slapping on my face. It was spectacularly breathtaking and I was instantly mesmerised till the end. I was so grateful for the experience that brought me back to my teenage years when my passion for music – in its raw state – was so great it was impossible not do anything about it.
There are many house concerts in Korea, including one exclusively for Korean traditional music, but this one is distinguishable because of the strict principle Mr Park has for the performers and staff. First of all, they are not paid a lump sum, but just the half of the ticket sales, which is 20,000 won per audience. For the type of performers performing in The House Concert nowadays, this is a ridiculous amount. The 10 years of persistence and craftsmanship towards ideal concert planning has made these performers in turn ask Mr Park for a chance to perform- regardless of money.
The performers then have to come up with a programme exclusively for The House Concert. Performing there as a “rehearsal concert” for a future larger gig is frowned upon, and strongly discouraged. Having to come up with a full concert program for a mere 50 or so audience is something a typical musician cannot think of.
If you want to join, you simply enter the venue, pay 20,000 to the staff, grab a cushion and sit on the floor and wait for the concert to start. It is every other Friday at 8pm, and there is no need to make a reservation, other than the gala concert every last Friday of the year and a handful of other concerts that are predicted to be immensely popular. If it’s an ordinary(?) concert, all you need to do is to show up. There is also wine and refreshments after the concert for everyone to join, so if you haven’t got much to do on a Friday evening, this could be an idea of spending quality time.
The venue is in Dogok-dong of Seoul, next to a Dogok 2-dong community service centre(a rather new looking large building) in the lower floor of Sukjeon building(석전빌딩) in a studio called the Yul House(율 하우스). The subway station is Maebong(매봉) on line no. 3 (exit no.4). Detailed directions and map can be seen here(albeit in Korean).
Avri Levitan and Peter Ovtcharov in the 308th House Concert. Picture taken from where I was seated.