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[Herald Interview] Conductor behind 'Maestra' explores new musical territory

By Park Ga-young

Published : Jan. 7, 2024 - 16:58

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Chin Sol poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on Dec. 6. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald) Chin Sol poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on Dec. 6. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

In the recent TV drama series “Maestra,” South Korea’s prominent actor Lee Young-ae plays a charismatic conductor.

Based on a 2018 French thriller “Philharmonia,” "Maestra" centers around world-class conductor, Cha Se-eum, who returns home to lead a local orchestra after conquering New York.

Chin Sol, a young South Korean conductor, was responsible for Lee's transformation into a charismatic conductor in a space of a few months.

“Actors seem to acquire things faster than ordinary people. To transform into an expert, one must be open and make an effort. Lee Young-ae was curious and found joy in learning new things -- a refreshing surprise,” Chin told The Korea Herald during on Dec. 6.

Lee asked a lot of questions about conducting, conductors’ lives and certain conductors' styles, including that of Leonard Bernstein, whose performance Lee had watched on black-and-white video.

For Chin, taking part in "Maestra" was a realization of her aspiration to support future female conductors and raise awareness, not only in South Korea but also in Southeast Asia, too.

“It's thrilling to see a female classical conductor reaching living room theaters. I thought (the subject) showed the change in the tide of the times,” she said.

She experienced the change firsthand. Born in 1987, when she decided to become a conductor, her parents -- composer Chin Kyu-yung and soprano Lee Byung-lyul -- didn’t like the idea. As musicians, they knew how challenging the life of a female conductor could be.

In her 20s, when she applied for a conducting job with a youth orchestra, the parents of the orchestra members wanted to evaluate her rehearsal because a female conductor was a first for the orchestra. When she went to Mannheim University of Music and Performing Arts in 2013 to pursue a master's degree, she was the only female Asian studying conducting in her class.

But at the Korea National Institute for the Gifted in Art there are many budding talents dreaming of becoming conductors. “The current generation of children doesn't filter or judge based on gender,” Chin said.

However, female conductors are still a minority and Chin believes a TV drama can raise awareness not only in South Korea but elsewhere as well.

Chin recalled an encounter with a Vietnamese music student at Mannheim University.

The student used to sing a famous song from “Dae Jang Geum,” a hugely popular TV drama released in 2003, whenever he saw Chin. “Dae Jang Geum,” which was popular also in many Southeast Asian countries, features Lee Young-ae.

“Vietnam is changing, but he told me it’s hard to imagine female conductors there,” Chin said. “Imagine if Lee of ‘Dae Jang Geum’ is a female conductor. I cannot inspire so many girls to dream of a conductor but ‘Maestra’ and ‘Maestra’s Lee can."

She currently serves as the chief conductor of Daegu International Symphony Orchestra and the conductor of KNIGA Orchestra, but her musical territory goes beyond the traditional realm.

A game enthusiast, she founded a video game music company called Flasic which transposes music for video games and organizes game music concerts.

“As you play the games, the music is engraved in your head. As a musician, I thought it would be fun to have a live performance,” Chin said. “Once I did, I didn’t want it to be just a one-time thing.”

“I thought the new world would open up for the game music when I saw conductors like Hans Zimmer getting involved with game music several years ago," she said.

“True businessmen see music as a tool, but I focus on music and use other elements as tools,” she said. “It might become a concern when art is replaced by robots, and indeed, many researchers are looking into situations where artists may not be needed. Reducing the number of artists to make music a more commercially viable product is the most commercial form of business,” she added.

“I’m leaning more toward the direction of artistic intelligence business, rooted in people rather than purely commercial pursuits,” Chin said, adding “Can it truly be natural without artists?”

Chin said she will continue to try new things.

“It's difficult for artists to be confined within a certain framework. So I think I will nurture my own growth through many challenges and tasks,” Chin said.