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Despite Penderecki’s absence, SIMF continues with Polish-themed concerts

In spite of numerous hiccups -- the biggest one being the unexpected absence of Polish maestro Krzysztof Penderecki -- the 11th Seoul International Music Festival kicked off as planned and continues to introduce classical music to a wider audience.

The 86-year-old composer and conductor was to visit South Korea for a concert Saturday at the Seoul Arts Center, but canceled a few days prior due to health concerns. 

Polish composer Maciej Tworek filled in and led the KBS Symphony Orchestra for the Korean premiere of Penderecki’s “St. Luke Passion,” about the horrors of World War II and the Cold War. 

Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki (SIMF)
Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki (SIMF)

Even apart from Penderecki’s last-minute cancellation, the Seoul International Music Festival has experienced turbulence this year, especially after a drastic subsidy cut.

According to artistic director Ryu Jea-joon, the festival received 80 million won ($68,143) from Arts Council Korea this year, a 73 percent cut from the 300 million won it got last year.

This year’s theme is “humans and the environment,” an attempt to raise awareness.

The opening concert, held Tuesday, was kicked off by the Hungary-based Gyor Philharmonic Orchestra presenting Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra.

“It is hard to convince the Korean audience with orchestras that are not the Wien Philharmonic Orchestra or the Berlin Philharmonic,” Ryu said at a press event held in southern Seoul on Thursday.

“But many praised the orchestra after the concert, saying that what they have listened to before was not the true Bartok.

SIMF’s artistic director Ryu Jea-joon speaks at a press event, Tuesday in southern Seoul. (SIMF)
SIMF’s artistic director Ryu Jea-joon speaks at a press event, Tuesday in southern Seoul. (SIMF)

“This festival has been introducing amazing orchestras,” he said. “(Those introduced) are musicians who have been pursuing excellence in what they do, who have proven themselves for a long time.”

Some of the concerts celebrate the 30 years of diplomatic relations between Korea and Poland, featuring Polish musicians and compositions.

For example, Tuesday’s concert “From the New World” at the Lotte Concert Hall features Polish composer Jurek Dybal. Penderecki’s Sinfonietta No. 3 “Leaves from an Unwritten Diary” is part of the program.

On Friday, Chinese-Australian cellist Li-Wei Qin graces the stage with clarinetist Kim Han and pianist Mun Ji-young at the concert “A Surfing Beach,” presenting Britten’s Cello Sonata in C major, Schumann’s “Fantasiestucke” and Brahms Trio for Piano, Clarinet and Cello in A minor at the Seoul Arts Center.

The last concert, “On a Sunny Day,” features flutist Jasmine Choi, violinist Kim Dami, violist Roberto Diaz, cellist Christin Lee and pianist Kim Kyu-yeon presenting Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major, Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor and more at the Seoul Arts Center.

The festival, founded in 2009, continues through Nov. 8. Tickets can be reserved through the festival’s official website and Interpark Ticket. For more information, visit the festival’s website at

By Im Eun-byel (