Monday, September 19, 2011

Television Melodrama With A Classical Music Twist

The digital streaming service Hulu is allowing me to catch up on some Korean shows.

I served as a Korean linguist for the U.S. Army in Korea for years and got hooked on some of the dramas on television then. In fact, as part of our training at the Defense Language Institute, we watched the famous Chil Tu (Jealousy), which is considered the father of the modern trendy television soap in the R.O.K.

Currently, I am enjoying a very popular show from 2008 called Beethoven Virus. The plot revolves around the formation of a new philharmonic orchestra out of what is essentially a community music festival.

At the center of the drama is the handsome, volatile, but genius conductor Kang who is famous for walking out before performances because his orchestras are not ready to play. "I would rather offend this audience by cancelling than offend Brahms!"

Through the manipulations of a public employee for the Arts and Culture Ministry, (also a competent violinist,) Kang finds himself helping conduct an orchestra of mostly amateurs for a public music festival.

In this process, he meets a young police officer who plays for the community group, but is clearly a prodigy. Shades of a Mozart/Salieri musical rivalry hit the edges of the story, along with a love triangle involving the lovely violinist who is clearly attracted to both men.

However, the main reason to watch the show is to marvel that a popular television show could be so clearly about the place of classical music in the culture. The episodes explore such issues as how classical musicians make a living, the politics involved in public art subsidy and the music itself.

For instance, an older player explains to some of the younger hopefuls that a state sponsored musician will make 1300 a month. They are flabbergasted at how low that is, but he reminds them that they can tutor on the side and they will be eligible for a small pension because they would be government employees.

And who can resist a show in which the climax of an episode hinges on the proper execution of a musical notation in the William Tell Overture?

The conventions of these Korean shows takes a little getting used to. As anybody who has watched Asian horror movies probably knows, the more blatant sexier elements of, say, American television programs are replaced by daydream-like moments, complete with some cloying pop music.

In Beethoven Virus, though, these moments are just as often about an attraction to great music. As in the photo below where the young prodigy's mind drifts from traffic duty to orchestrations.

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