The reception of exiled composer, Isang Yun (1917-1995) has been varied geographically: The West evaluates his music for the adoption of oriental philosophy on avant-garde inventions, whilst paying attention to his political messages. His homeland South Korea was largely reluctant to host his music until his passing partly due to his friendship to the Kim dynasty in the North on one hand and because of mixed messages in politics on another.
When South Korea was run by regimes practising the sunshine policy to the North from 1998 to 2008, the local government of his birth town has begun establishing the memorial project of Isang Yun, which no interruption was made in running until recently. However, on the year celebrating his centenary, the cultural policy towards the Yun project is facing to vanish into thin air.
Whilst Royal Philharmonic Society promotes the centenary of Isang Yun by hosting a free concert with the two UK premières in March, his homeland gives him the cold shoulder again partly because of his musical activities in the North could be interpreted as political involvement. As a result, it is confirmed that due to the governmental funding cut, the future of annually held Isang Yun competition is unclear.
With the impeachment of the current President on her way shortly due to corruption allegation, the country is about to elect the new president, who will then form the government. It can be assumed that if the country elects someone, who is expected to resume the sunshine policy to the North, the funding to the Yun memorial project could blooms again. However, with current climate to cultural policy on classical music in general and musical tastes of possible presidential candidates in particular, it leaves us another doubtful situation.
Mind you, the structure of the competition itself is questionable about its aim in establishing. The main aim of Isang Yun competition is “to remember the music of Isang Yun (1917-1995), one of 20th century’s prominent composers, promotes cultural exchanges among nations through music, and supports talented young musicians from all over the world”. The competition has been held annually since 2003 in three categories; piano, violin and cello and each instrument gets its turn of competition in every three years.
Cello being his main instrument, Yun regarded the instrument close to his heart often expressing his emotions through progressive melody and dark timbre. Therefore, the inclusion of cello appears appropriate, but I couldn’t stop wondering the two other instruments were chosen for the competition partly down to their statuses as notably most popular instruments in classical music in the country. If the aim of competitions were to celebrate and remember Isang Yun, why on earth categories directly relate to Yun’s musical insights such as composition and/or musicology were excluded in the first place.
I am sure Isang Yun memorial project will resume in his birth town sooner or later. But it is hoped that when it does, the running committee ought to give some serious thoughts into what could be best way to celebrate his music as the long-lasting project.