Embarking on ‘Organ Odyssey’ with organist Park Joon-ho


Many of us have played the piano, the violin or the flute at some point in our lives. But how many of us have played the organ?

The organ is an exquisite instrument, one that not many people get a chance to experience. As grand as a house, its complex structure puts it beyond comparisons with other musical instruments.

As of now, there is only one functional grand pipe organ for classical music in Korea — at the Lotte Concert Hall. A second, at the Sejong Art Center, is currently under repair.

The Lotte Concert Hall’s pipe organ is huge. Some 5,000 pipes, some wooden and some metal, are laid out across three floors. It has 68 stops (components that control the flow of air).

This year, the Lotte Foundation for Arts continues with its “Organ Odyssey” series, putting on soft classical music performances. 

Concert guide Na Woong-jun (left) and organist Park Joon-ho speak to the audience during Wednesday’s recital, “Organ Adventure.” (Lotte Foundation for Arts)

Park Joon-ho, this year’s organist, opened the 2019 series on Wednesday with “Organ Adventure.” He is the winner of various organ competitions, including International Organ Competition Graz 2006.

Though the recital took place on a weekday afternoon, the concert hall in eastern Seoul was packed with an audience representing various age groups.

The first piece was Vierne’s “Carillon de Westminster.” Park chose the piece to demonstrate the rich tones of the organ. To provide a more comprehensive understanding, sandbox artist Park Eun-soo portrayed the history of the musical instrument visually by drawing pictures with sand. 

Sandbox artist Park Eun-soo visually portrays the history of the pipe organ, drawing pictures with sand. (Lotte Foundation for Arts)

Inspired by the soggetto cavato technique, the organist got creative with the name of the series, assigning a note on the musical scale to each syllable of “Organ Odyssey” in a sort of improvised musical code.

To make the recital more relatable for the audience, Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre” was included in the program. Park explained that the piece is well-known to Koreans because figure skater Kim Yu-na once skated to it.

The highlight of the recital was when concert guide Na Woong-jun, who is also a music therapist and a trumpeter, entered the pipe organ and explored its insides with a camera. Na showed the audience the wind box and the different kinds of pipes, and explained how they create sounds. 

Concert guide Na Woong-jun enters the pipe organ with a camera. (Lotte Foundation for Arts)

The last part of the concert featured Robert Schumann’s “Six Etudes in Canon Form” No. 4 and No. 5, and Bach’s Sinfonia from Cantata No. 29. The lighting projected onto the pipes changed along with the music, creating a heavenly atmosphere.

“Classical music always has its weakness — the distance from the general public,” Park told The Korea Herald after the performance. “For the audience, sometimes, they need explanations. I hope there can be more performances like today’s in the future.”

During the recital, Park seemed comfortable even when he was not playing the organ and was only talking to the audience. He appeared nervous, yet eager to communicate.

“It was difficult to memorize the lines and speak in front of the audience, but I managed. There were many rehearsals and I practiced a lot,” he said.

Park was responsible for planning the program, selecting pieces that he thought might be familiar to the audience as well as pieces that show the organ’s power to produce unique tones and sounds.

The yearlong series “Organ Odyssey” has two more parts left: “Giant Inside the Organ,” based on a children’s story; and “Christmas Edition” on Dec. 18, featuring a children’s choir.

For more information, visit the foundation’s English website.

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)

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