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Chung wishes South-North interaction in music

Conductor determined to prove Koreans’ passion for music at SPO’s second Europe tour in Aug.

South Korean conductor Chung Myung-whun said he wishes to see South Korean and North Korean musicians interact some day, as music can be used to seek a common goal beyond differences.

His comments came as he was talking about his upcoming Asia tour with Asia Philharmonic Orchestra, which he founded 15 years ago by gathering young musicians from across Asia to narrow differences among Korea, Japan and China. 
Chung Myung-whun, music director and conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, speaks during an interview in Seoul on Wednesday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Chung Myung-whun, music director and conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, speaks during an interview in Seoul on Wednesday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

The Asian Philharmonic Orchestra consists of 99 musicians from diverse Asian countries. Some are from leading orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

“What I really wanted the most was to include North Korean musicians in the Asia Philharmonic. But it was maybe more difficult (for me to push it) because I’m a South Korean,” Chung said in an interview in Seoul on Wednesday, recalling accidentally running into North Korean music students studying in Paris.

“If someone tells me that he or she will push a project to allow North Korean and South Korean musicians do music together, and asks me to give up all the other posts, I will definitely do so,” he said.

Chung said he holds a strict rule in making music ― classical musicians should not take advantage of music to pursue something else.

“We are the servants for the composers. I hate it the most when people sell the music cheaply or take advantage of it for something else. But there is one exception, which is to play music for a humanitarian reason,” he said.

“What I seek the most is to link North Korean musicians with those in South Korea.”

Chung had to give up his plan to participate in the Isang Yun World Peace Concert in Pyongyang in 2006, due to North Korea’s missile tests.

It would have been the first time for a South Korean conductor to lead a North Korean orchestra.

Currently, Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Charles Dutoit is trying to form an inter-Korean youth orchestra through South Korean partner Lindembaum Music Company and hold an inaugural concert in Pyongyang on Aug. 15, the Liberation Day of Korea.

On the same day, Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim will lead his youth orchestra, consisting of artists from the Middle East including Israelis and Palestinians, to perform in Imjingak near the demilitarized zone to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula.

However, Chung, the conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra said, he does not want to hold a one-time event in Pyongyang.

“I don’t think it is really meaningful to make a fuss and hold a concert once, and people forget about it. There’s no bad side to it at all, but I wouldn’t do it that way,” Chung said, adding that he may seek a detour via French music circles to do an inter-Korean music project.

Chung and the SPO will hold the orchestra’s second Europe tour concerts from Aug. 19 to Aug. 27, just one month after releasing a debut album under the prestigious record label Deutsche Grammophon.

The upcoming Europe tour includes concerts in the Robeco Summer Festival in Amsterdam, the Grafenegg Festival in Austria, the Edinburgh International Festival in the U.K. and the Grand Theater in Bremen.

The repertoire will include Ravel “La Valse,” Debussy “La Mer,” Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 in B minor “Pathtique,” Messiaen “Forgotten Offerings,” Brahms Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major Op. 77, Mussorgsky “Pictures at an Exhibition” and contemporary music composer Chin Un-suk’s “Su.”

“When Westerners see us, they know that Asians, especially Koreans, are very hard working people. That is not a good image for musicians.

“I want to show Korean musicians are different, not ‘stereotype Asian.’ When we perform, we should show them Koreans have passionate feelings and desire to ‘fly,’” Chung said, adding that the SPO had to learn how to “walk” seven years ago but improved remarkably to have a second European tour this year.

He said the SPO’s recent contract with DG for releasing 10 albums resulted from the label’s belief in Korean classical music’s growth potential, whereas orchestras in Europe and America are “struggling to keep a status quo at best.”

By Kim Yoon-mi (