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Are You The Next Classical Music Star?

Are You The Next Classical Music Star?
Could you be classical music's next big star? We'll talk with Orchestra Nova San Diego's artistic director Jung-Ho Pak about their new classical music talent competition The Next Star.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. People who love to sing popular music, people who think they can dance, even people who want to star on Broadway all have had a chance to rekindle their dreams in TV competitions. Now the "American Idol" concept has entered the world of classical music. San Diego's Orchestra Nova is sponsoring a competition for local classical musicians. It’s called The Next Star. Here to tell us about it is my guest, Jung-Ho Pak, artistic director for Orchestra Nova San Diego. Jung-Ho, welcome to These Days.

JUNG-HO PAK (Artistic Director, Orchestra Nova San Diego): Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Why did you decide to host a talent competition for classical music’s next big star?


PAK: Well, it’s been my vision for Orchestra Nova to be an orchestra that actually opens up the doors of classical music. Oftentimes, it’s considered – the world of classical music is considered to be a rarified environment and I completely believe the opposite. I believe classical music can be for everybody. It’s a pretty audacious thought, actually. And I know that out there, there are a lot of people who’ve taken piano lessons and violin lessons and guitar lessons and that’s fine but I know that there also are a number of people out there who have taken it very seriously, went to college, studied, and wanted to become a soloist but they probably had to shelve it because they wanted to make money.


PAK: They had a family to support. And so that dream had been tucked away. I wanted to create a competition that would be open to everyone, especially amateurs, people who don’t – who aren’t on the concert circuit, and I wanted to give them a chance to relive that dream.

CAVANAUGH: And who is this actually open to? What are the qualifications of someone who wants to apply?

PAK: First, they have to be a San Diego County resident, even temporarily if they’re a student or military, as long as they’re currently living in San Diego, or they call it a permanent home and they study somewhere else. Next, there is no age limit. And, Maureen, that’s one of the most unusual things…



PAK: …because a lot of competitions have an age limit of 25, 30. They want them fresh out of the egg or not at all.


PAK: I would love to see someone who’s 70, 80 years old and who is still playing around but, you know, haven’t had the chance to play with an orchestra, and that’s one of the prizes, actually, is that if you’re one of the three finalists you get onstage with Orchestra Nova at our regular concert series. And what’s also unusual is that there are no judges. There’s not even a Simon, Paula or Randy. There’s only the audi – and that’s what’s also is unusual. I know the Van Cliburn Competition has an amateur piano competition but it’s judged by professionals. So in this case, the people attending or online, they can view the competitors online, the audience will have the final vote. So all these ingredients, the internet, video posting, the no age limit, all this makes it a very unusual competition.

CAVANAUGH: And is it any kind of classical instrument? Is it any – or how about classical singers? Are they involved, too?

PAK: That’s a brilliant point. What also’s very unusual is that there is no limit to the instrument or voice. In other words, you could play the kazoo. You could play the harmonica. Of course, I’m speaking extreme examples.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, yes.

PAK: But, of course, you know, most of our submissions are traditional piano and violin but it could be saxophone, it could be a tenor or soprano singing an opera aria, so it could be just about anything as long as it’s a piece of classical music.

CAVANAUGH: Now what do they have to do to compete? I mean, what do they actually have to show you in this video they have to submit?

PAK: Well, they have to introduce it so we know that they have some charisma while they’re speaking. But then they just have to submit—it’s really easy—only about maybe a five to ten minute piece. We want video because we want to see their personality. A lot of people can submit audio but you don’t really know if they have that star quality and also you can’t edit video as easily, so we really know we’re getting the real thing. And then if they get past the semi-final round at the end of this month – And, by the way, the deadline for video submission is January 15th. Then they get to the semi-final round. At the end of this month in January, we choose about ten semi-finalists and then the final three go to the finals.

CAVANAUGH: Now, are – have you seen any of the videos yet on – Well, what are they like?

PAK: I’m shocked at how wonderful they are. There are – You know, what it is, there was an interesting study at – The graduates at Juilliard, did you know by far, like about at least 80% of Juilliard graduates about maybe five years after they graduate are no longer in music.


PAK: It’s very competitive. And so where do they go? They go into engineering, they go into, you know, business for themselves. Maybe they’re a stay-at-home parent. But these people, their talent is still there, and I’ve seen that on these videos, a stunningly good soloist that any major orchestra might be willing to consider.

CAVANAUGH: Wow. I’m speaking with Jung-Ho Pak, artistic director for Orchestra Nova San Diego. We’re talking about Orchestra Nova’s competition called The Next Star for people who perhaps lost their dream of being a classical music star or musician, singer, may be able to rekindle it by becoming the winner of The Next Star competition. And, Jung-Ho, I’m wondering, are you also looking for personal stories, people who have, you know, who perhaps have these wonderful life journeys that they’ve been on and now they want to reconnect with their classical roots or something along those lines?

PAK: Exactly. I think for me that’s the most compelling part of it. Nevermind the wonderful talent that they’ll be hearing at the concert, I really am compelled to tell the story of these individuals. Again, why did they put their dream away? How painful was it? How passionate was that fire burning inside of them, they wanted to be a soloist? Why did they give it up? I know, for example, there are a lot of people who give it up because their parents told them to give it up, and how painful could that be? You know, that’s one of the things about being an Asian-American, Maureen, is that we’re all told to practice music. We’re all in these youth orchestras and performing. You’re supposed to be a good soldier and practice. But heaven forbid that you would want to become a professional. That’s something that a male Asian is not supposed to do. You’re supposed to become a doctor or a lawyer. So how painful is that? Again but, you know, but it may not be so dramatic. It may just be, you know, they decided to put that aside to raise some great kids.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Life intervenes, as some people say.

PAK: Exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Now how much input is there going to be from the public in actually choosing the people who win this competition?

PAK: That’s what’s so exciting is that every person who buys a ticket to one of our three concerts will be a judge. And what’s going to happen is that they’re going to vote at – at the end of the first half, and then we’re going to perform in the second half, which is a Schubert Symphony No. 5. And then we’re going to announce the winners for that evening and then collectively, cumulatively, the winner will be announced for the entire series. But there’s also internet voting that prior our finalists, three finalists, people can go online and view the videos and choose who they think is the strongest candidate.

CAVANAUGH: Aha, and what does the win – What do the winners get?

PAK: Well, first off, you’re already a winner if you’re a finalist. Not many people get to perform with a fabulous professional orchestra. But if the person is really fabulous and the audience just falls in love with them, they may be invited to – for the next season or an upcoming season to solo with the orchestra with a full concerto. For the finals, they’re only going to perform one movement of a concerto or a short ten-minute work.

CAVANAUGH: So there is a possibility that this competition could actually launch a career.

PAK: Yes, absolutely. I mean, with things being viral on YouTube and us posting on our website and the – You know, we’re hoping that this competition and the winner will be able to find an agent, be able to garner other employment. I don’t know, maybe even give up their day job.

CAVANAUGH: You know, in so many of these competitions that I mentioned before, you know, in American – even in American Idol…

PAK: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …you know, the fashion industry competitions and so forth, the people win and then you kind of never hear about them again. And I wonder if there’s the idea that this is – You don’t want that to happen for The Next Star.

PAK: Oh, ideally, no. I mean, you’re right. I mean, I would love for each person to have a career. But, you know, I have to say that a lot of people who seriously start off on having a career and then were are they now. In fact, I would dare say can you name the last Van Cliburn winner?


PAK: You know? And it – I think it was a shared prize, and no one knows their name. So winning one of the most popular classical music prizes does not assure fame and fortune for anybody. I think you – In the end, we can only light the match but in terms of longevity, it takes a good amount of chutzpah and drive and a bit of showmanship as well.

CAVANAUGH: What is in it for Orchestra Nova? What is in it for your group?

PAK: Ah, yes, it’s very Machiavellian, very planned. We’re – Our whole message has been to present concerts that have a certain twist to them, a theatricality to them. In fact, for example, coming up at the end of the month, we have an all Bach family concert. It’s not just simply Bach, it’s his sons as well. People don’t realize his sons were famous composers, so we call it “All In the Family, Meet the Bachs.” And even one of the joke – satirical sons named PDQ Bach.


PAK: We’re going to do a piece by his (sic) as well. So this concert – This contest is really about showing that classical music can be fun and hip and relevant.

CAVANAUGH: And it’s so interesting as you talk about this, Jung-Ho, about how really difficult it is to break into classical music…

PAK: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …even if you excel in it. How difficult is it in this recession to keep Orchestra Nova together and going?

PAK: It’s a challenge for all of us but it actually, I think, makes us a better orchestra. I know it sounds like such a cliché but I believe that classical music should survive on its own two feet, meaning that people shouldn’t support the arts simply because we are the arts. I think the arts have always had to be relevant. Looking back at Mozart and Beethoven, they were business people, Hayden, Handel as well. So I believe that these difficult times are just making us to take a look at our product, if you will. Of course it’s about beauty and inspiration but to take a look at it and make sure we’re giving not only the best customer service, but are we playing our buns off onstage? Are we passionately communicating the music as well as we possibly can? And so I think in the end we’ve actually improved.

CAVANAUGH: Talk to me a little bit more about your goal to let – make everybody like classical music because…

PAK: Not make everyone. Seduce everyone.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, all right then. Fine. Because, you know, that is a challenge that a lot of orchestras and symphonies are facing…

PAK: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …is the concept of classical music as being this rarified art that only the chosen few understand and appreciate as opposed to popular music which everybody can enjoy. How do you breach that? How do you reach out to people and get them to listen?

PAK: Well, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? And I think that one of the things you do is you start and you look at your market base, if you will. And looking at California, looking at America in the 21st century, the iTunes, Twitter audience who are much more preoccupied these days, I think you have to sort of create a new type of energy, a new type of experience that relates to them. This is not Europe or even the east coast. This is not America, the 1960s, with Toscanini or Bernstein on television all the time. So I think that the way to reach people is having a more of an American modern energy and esthetic. That means being more bold and more emotional onstage. That’s one of the things I love about being American; you can wear your heart on your sleeve. And I think the idea of the people sitting onstage looking very demure, very disconnected, very prim and proper is going away. And we’re trying to push that envelope.

CAVANAUGH: Indeed, with competitions like this. How many people have actually submitted applications so far?

PAK: Well, thus far we’ve had a little bit over a dozen people so we’re actually set. But we want to – we’ve extended the deadline to try to get the word out to see if we can even garner more interest.

CAVANAUGH: And, you know, so often in the classical world, you know, the pianos and the violins get all the glory. What if somebody – what if somebody plays the French horn or the oboe? Are they going to have a fair shot at this?

PAK: Absolutely. This has nothing to do with repertoire. I mean, the violin’s blessed because they have, you know, five Mozart concerti and Beethoven, five piano concerti, but it has nothing to do with repertoire. It has to do with charisma. That’s why I want to take the judges out of it, these so-called professionals, because in the end it’s about pleasing the – and that’s our mission as well, pleasing the common person who comes to the concert hall who doesn’t have a degree from Juilliard. So, absolutely, again, if you play the musical saw, if you play it musically, you have a shot at this.

CAVANAUGH: And I was reading your entry form and it says even people who play jazz primarily and so do they, indeed, submit a classical piece, though, as part of their audition?

PAK: That’s right. The only stipulation is they can’t make a living as a soloist.


PAK: In other words, they can’t be on the circuit, if you will. But if you’re a rock musician, a folk musician, a jazz musician, whatever, but you have this secret side to you, this is also open for you even if you make your living in another genre.

CAVANAUGH: So when is it – Tell us again the nuts and bolts. How do people apply and when are these deadlines?

PAK: The deadline for submitting the application and video is January 15th, which I think is about a week and a half from now, which is fine. You know, I mean people can put together a video by that time. Upload it to YouTube or send us a DVD. Go to our website, or dot-com, and you can find all the rules and regulations. They’re not really that much. It’s very simple. And then you’ll be – if you make it to the top ten, you’ll be invited to play at the semi-finals at the end of the month.

CAVANAUGH: It sounds great. I just wish you so much luck and I hope you get a whole lot of people who take advantage of this.

PAK: Thank you very, very much and I just want to say the concerts will take place, the finals will take place at the beginning of March.

CAVANAUGH: Fabulous.

PAK: Yeah, thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much.

PAK: Thanks, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Jung-Ho Pak, artistic director for Orchestra Nova San Diego. He just told you the deadline for applying for Orchestra Nova San Diego’s classical music talent competition called Next Star. You can find more information, if you didn’t get a chance to jot it down, on our website, We also encourage you to post your comments about classical music or any of the topics you’ve heard to us at Stay with us for hour two. It’s the State of the State address by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.