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Chung to lead N. Korean-French orchestra in Paris

Conductor says long-term aim is joint performance by North, South Korean musicians

A world-renowned South Korean conductor said on Tuesday that he would conduct a joint performance of the French and North Korean orchestras in Paris on March 14 and he hopes this will pave the way for musicians from the two Koreas to perform together in the near future.

“What I wanted the most was to have musicians from North and South Korea perform together, but (we) decided to stage a joint performance of French and North Korean orchestras first, because there are still lingering political problems,” Chung Myung-whun, who leads the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, told reporters in Yeouido, Seoul.

North Korea’s Unhasu Orchestra will perform with the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra, where Chung serves as musical director. The North Korean orchestra will perform at the Salle Pleyel in Paris at the invitation of Radio France, a French public service radio broadcaster, Chung added.

“I will lead the two orchestras, so it is a meeting of South Korea, North Korea and France,” he said. There are five South Korean orchestra members in the French orchestra, who also perform with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, he added.

The conductor announced the plan during a press conference held on the day he led the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Seoul. He left the stage without taking questions from reporters.

The French and North Korean musicians will perform Brahms’ Symphony No.1 in Paris, Chung said.
Maestro Chung Myung-whun (right) and pianist Kim Sun-wook pose for a photo during a press conference in Yeouido, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap News)
Maestro Chung Myung-whun (right) and pianist Kim Sun-wook pose for a photo during a press conference in Yeouido, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap News)
The announcement disappointed many here as news of Chung meeting with North Korean musicians in Beijing to discuss a joint performance with the orchestras of the two Koreas in Pyongyang spread.

Chung confirmed that he met North Korean musicians to discuss the matter in Beijing on Sunday.

“A joint performance by the two Koreas will not be staged this time because of the current political situation which North Koreans label as ‘frozen,’” he said,

“But the joint performance (in Paris) can be seen as a path toward two Koreas performing together in the near future,” he added.

Earlier in the press conference, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, lauded as the top symphony orchestra in the world, said that Asia will become the center of classical music in the future, citing the growing number of younger audiences compared to Europe.

“Audiences we have seen in Asia are considerably younger than those in Europe. Actually it makes us rather jealous because everyone wants to have younger audience to make sure we still have audiences in 20-30 years,” Joel Ethan Fried, artistic director of the Amsterdam-based orchestra told reporters in Seoul.

“We like it here … good audience, good young people. I think the future of classic music is also in Asia,“ agreed Jan Raes, director general of the orchestra. The orchestra is here to perform on Tuesday and Wednesday under the baton of Chung at Seoul Arts Center.

Chung and the orchestra performed together in Amsterdam five times before embarking on their Asian tour which took them to Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong before coming to Seoul. The Seoul concert is their 12th collaboration, Chung said.

The uniqueness of RCO lies in their ability to balance and harmonize the music performed by 120 musicians.

“What makes RCO the best of all is in their way of balancing and harmonizing the music and this really makes the music warm and gentle,” Chung said.

“All members of the orchestra know how to pay respect to and serve composers. And this makes the orchestra different from others,” he added.

On Tuesday, Chung led a program of Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta,” Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in collaboration with Dutch violist Janine Jansen and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. RCO will also hold another concert Wednesday, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 with Kim Sun-wook, the youngest pianist to win the prestigious Leeds Competition in 2006.

“I was surprised of the high quality of the sound that RCO makes and their way of balancing performance between the soloist and the orchestra,” pianist Kim told reporters.

“I’m really looking forward to playing with the orchestra tomorrow and I also thank maestro Chung for supporting me,” Kim added.

By Cho Chung-un (