Concerts Celebrate Isang Yun, a Musical Bridge Between Asia and Europe

(New York Times) — Today’s classical music world is not foreign to composers who fuse their Asian roots with Western avant-garde techniques, from Toshio Hosokawa to Unsuk Chin. But in 1966, when the Korean composer Isang Yun made his international breakthrough with the orchestral work “Réak,” at Germany’s Donaueschingen Festival, harmonies imitating an East Asian mouth organ were radical.

Born in what is now South Korea, Mr. Yun was an activist for the reunification of the North and South after the division of his home country in 1945. He moved to West Berlin in 1957 to study at the Hochschule für Musik. A decade later, he was abducted and held as an enemy of the state by the South Korean military regime of Park Chung-hee until protests from the West German Foreign Ministry and leading musical figures, including the composer Igor Stravinsky and the conductor Herbert von Karajan, led to his release. Mr. Yun became a West German citizen after returning to West Berlin in 1969.

If both North and South Korea claim him as a national composer, it was the North that offered him a platform during his lifetime — by 1990, the capital, Pyongyang, had established a festival, institute and ensemble in Mr. Yun’s name. He tried to move back to South Korea on the occasion of a festival in his honor in 1994, but the trip fell through because of complications with the authorities. […]