Kindred Spirits

The married couple Soon-Mi Chung and Stephan Barratt-Due are a whole musical life in miniature; from duo to full orchestra, from teachers of children and amateurs to highly professional performers.

Barrat-Due musikkinstitutt

Both have solo careers and both work with genuine enthusiasm at the Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo – a family institution steeped in the traditions of three generations of musicians. They are also a symbol of “always the twain shall meet” – at least in terms of music. East and West met most harmoniously two years ago when Barratt-Due’s own chamber music festival in the southern town of Kristiansand (where until last year he was also leader of the symphony orchestra) first flew in ten top Korean musicians to play with a hand-picked group of Norwegian musicians, then moved the entire festival gang, including festival composer Arne Nordheim (see p. 6) to Soon-Mi’s home town of Seoul in South Korea for another chamber music festival there, in cooperation with the Korean Broadcasting System.

Stephan Barratt-Due started playing the violin at the age of five, taught by his father in his grandfather’s music institute. He is secure in the tradition and role of the musician.

Viola player Soon-Mi Chung’s father was hooked on Heifetz, but when his daughter wanted to be a musician it meant breaking with her entire environment. At the age of seventeen, she was accepted as a student at the Paris Conservatoire and she has never looked back. Classical western music had little impact in Korea until the 1950s, and her relationship with it is refreshing; Soon-Mi is not bound by unfortunate conventions.

They met for the first time in London in 1978 when they played together in the Christmas Series at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Several meetings followed, and the need to find a common base, apart from the whole globe, soon became apparent. After one-and-a-half years of commuting to London – Soon-Mi from Switzerland and Stephan from Norway – they married in 1981, settled in Oslo, and are now the proud parents of three children, the oldest of whom, Julian, plays the violin.

They obviously complement each other, and as a duo they are increasing the repertoire for their two instruments. Several Norwegian composers, including Arne Nordheim and Ketil Hvoslef, have written music for them. The critics are no less enthusiastic when the two of them, with such different origins, cultures and temperaments, launch into their brilliant Mozart performances and reveal that they are kindred spirits.

Soon-Mi Chung is a true performer with a performer’s charisma. Although she teaches at the institute, she devotes most time to her solo career. For her, the concert is the goal. One of her most memorable ones was the first performance, with the Oslo Philharmonic, of the viola concerto Ved komethode (Near the Comethead), written for her by Olav Anton Thommessen. Now she is involved in one of the strangest projects of her career: a crossover project combining jazz and classical music. Since she is a jazz novice and refuses to play without written music, a great deal of persuasion by drummer Jon Christensen was required to get her onto the stage at all. It ended with Soon-Mi playing Glasunov’s Elegi in purely classical style while Christensen, guitarist John Scofield and bass player Pelle Danielsson improvised around it. The audience screamed in delight and the originally hesitant viola player had a fantastic experience. Mozart, Thommessen and jazz say something about the breadth of Soon-Mi Chung’s range.

For Stephan Barratt-Due, studying music in depth is a matter of life and death. His passion is to enter deep into the music whether he is going to play in a concert or not. In recent years he has increasingly concentrated on conducting, and he is a principal guest conductor of chamber ensembles in Norway and Sweden.

The artistic direction of the institute is also a major responsibility. When he took over, the building was haunted by many ghosts. They have now been banished after a comprehensive turnaround. At the moment the institute is building a new concert hall, an auditorium for chamber music that seats 80-90 people.

The Barratt Due Institute of Music, which was established in 1927, currently has 450 pupils and students of all ages and teaches under the motto “From music kindergarten to concert platform”. The music kindergarten is for children from the age of three, but you don’t have to be that old to enrol at the institute. This year they have established a baby group where three to four-month-old babies lie on rugs and receive aural stimuli from their singing parents while decorative mobiles attract their visual attention! Both the talent school for the smallest children and the professional school for 15-20-year-olds have admission tests, but the babies (and their parents) are allowed in without having to demonstrate their talents in this versatile building, which also houses a large music school department.

Stephan Barratt-Due is enthusiastic about his educational activities and employs the best teachers he can find. Jiri Hlinka, who taught the new generation of Norwegian pianists, with Leif Ove Andsnes and Håvard Gimse in the lead, is a brilliant addition to the teaching staff. Two pupils from his piano class have already won international prizes. The Norwegian-American violinist Camilla Wicks is a permanent visiting professor, which has led to strong growth in the string department. At the Norwegian String Championships in 1996, seven of the nine prizes went to pupils of the institute.

Soon-Mi Chung is also an excellent teacher who demands much of her young pupils, although only a little more than they can achieve. “Children and adolescents must have something to strive for, otherwise there is no fun, no artistic growth,” she says.

The couple’s involvement in contemporary music and on behalf of contemporary Norwegian composers is unique. Each term they have two house composers; this year they are Henrik Hellstenius and Arne Nordheim. During their four-year college education, all seventy pupils therefore meet and work with eight living composers. New music is a natural element of their curriculum and not merely a matter of stunts and a week of ghetto concerts for believers. The conservative attitude of which many musicians are more or less justifiably accused is avoided from the start.

This year, various groups like the Junior Orchestra, the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra and Camerata Barratt-Due – the cream of the students – will be taking part in a whole series of festivals, including the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in Germany, the Båstad Chamber Music Festival in Sweden and the International Music Festival in Bergen. As always, new Norwegian music is on the programme – and a proud duo of kindred spirits provides the inspiration...

Translation: Virginia Siger ©
Printed in the music magazine Listen to Norway, Vol.5 - 1997 No. 2
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