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(Yonhap Feature) With instrument and train ticket in hand, Koreans audition
By Malte E. Kollenberg
Contributing writer
Seoul/Frankfurt, Feb. 5 (Yonhap) -- Kim Jae-yoon is sitting in a violin manufacturing studio near the Seoul Arts Center with three colleagues. They are surrounded by half-finished violins, spare parts for instruments, glue, a small heater and sheet music scattered about roughly. They usually just have a small room in the back of the workshop available for practice, but on Sundays, when there is no work going on, they get to use the entire space.

   The Forstmann Quartet, the name the four performers gave themselves, has gained some fame in Korea in recent years. Starting out in the Ruhr district of Germany as the Kim Quartet, the group has gotten quite far in a home market overrun by young Korean talent wanting to pursue a career in classical music.

   More and more young Koreans are heading to Germany to study music. About 1,800 of 5,200 visa applications handled by the German embassy in Seoul are for such students. Embassy officials said the number has been increasing all over Europe. Austria is becoming another favored destination. "Every year the number of visa applications from Korea double," said Rainer Kranebitter of the Austrian embassy in Seoul. Some 25 percent are usually musicians, he said.


Kim Jae-yoon (top) studied classical music for six years in Germany and now teaches a student orchestra at Seoul National University. He also leads the Forstmann Quartet (bottom) that has earned some fame. (Courtesy of Malte E. Kollenberg)

Hyun Se-eun, 22, went to Germany to take courses with famous teachers such as Maria Kliegel who teaches a masterclass at the University of Cologne. Hyun wants to go back to study a whole program in Germany "because the quality of professors there is just better than anywhere else." The aspiring cellist believes she has to learn the language to fully understand the music so is learning German.

   Hyun is preparing to leave for Europe in February. She does not know yet which university she will attend. Her plan is to visit music colleges in different cities and get in contact with all the professors. She plans to take tests, which basically means auditioning, in summer 2013. "I'll go with my sister who is an oboe player," she said.

   Kang Hye-jee, 23, has returned to Korea after finishing her studies at the University of Cologne. She earned her music diploma last year and wanted to continue on to the Konzertexamen, a graduate program for music students. However, she realized she would have to wait a long time to get into the program so decided to return to Korea. With concert experience in several countries in Europe, she is hoping to make music her career.

   With many others making similar plans to Hyun and Kang, the German cultural center in Seoul, the Goethe Institute, has created special classes for them. "Since April we are offering German classes especially designed for students aiming at studying music in Germany," said Ahn Mi-ran, a German language teacher at the institute. Every Monday she teaches a class of young Korean music students.

   Once in Germany, these students take trains across Europe, rushing from one audition to another. An InterRail ticket makes such audition runs possible both financially and time-wise. For around 320 euros, it is possible to hit at least eight different cities in a week. While stressful for many, the aspiring and eager students see the ticket as the cheapest way to complete their audition round.

Hyun Se-eun took cello lessons from Brazil-born Marcio Carneiro while studying in Germany. (Courtesy of Hyun Se-eun)

Kim Jae-yoon remembers well how he got hooked on classical music and why he decided to go to Germany. He studied classical music for six years in Rhein-City of Dusseldorf. "Before, I always thought that if I got to become a musician, I would go to New York," Kim said. However, he realized that Germany was for him the "country of music," the country where the kind of music he wants to play comes from. Indeed, most composers of the music Kim and his colleagues perform have lived and worked in Central Europe.

   Kim had a very clear focus on where he wanted to study and had only three universities on his list. "Today, things are completely different," he said, "Korean students are doing audition runs in Germany nowadays." They spend a week or so on the road while auditioning in one or two cities each day. Kim is teaching a student orchestra at Seoul National University, and some 60 percent of his students want to study in Germany, he said.

   The reasons why so many Koreans want to study in Europe are obvious for Kim. "Study conditions there are very good," he explained. "Simply put, they have so many good teachers there."

   Compared to when Kim studied in Europe, the conditions have significantly changed, he said. While many music colleges have begun to depend on students from Korea, they are taking the pressure of the Korean education system with them. Many of the students heading to Germany are from the top of the line.

   "Ten years ago, there was a lot of passion involved as well," remembered Kim. "Nowadays, for the professors in Germany, the most difficult task is to sort out those students with passion from all the perfect musicians they are listening to at every audition."