Seoul music: Philharmonic chief quits

Seoul music: Philharmonic chief quits


norman lebrecht

December 29, 2014

As predicted, Park Hyun-jung has resigned as CEO of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, effective immediately. She made the announcement to a packed press conference after weeks of tension arising from leaked memos that she had bullied and abused staff.

‘I am to blame for a large part (of the allegations) and I sincerely apologize for that,’ said Park. ‘Restoring my personal reputation is more important than anything, but I could not bear the abnormal state of the Seoul Phil, which is run on taxpayers’ money.’

park seoul


  • sdReader says:

    What “abnormal state”? It’s great that she accepts some responsibility, but then she leaves a zinger like this!

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I suppose it depends on what the bullying was about. Was it as petty as the package of nuts that Korean airline exec freaked out over?

  • uri says:

    Ms Park’s behaviour is an excellent example of buck passing.
    Let’s sum up the whole situation: early December – after months of silent diplomacy – 17 (out of 30) of Seoul Philharmonic’s employees passed a petition to the Seoul City Council accusing Ms Park of unbearable bullying, sexual harassment and total incompetence. (Before that, 13 long-time employees had already quitted because of Ms Park’s behaviour.) To give a taster of Ms Park’s invectives (by using her own words): she had urged female employees to “doing the duty of bar girls” when seated to “senile old folks” during a fundraising event. Another example: she had told the employees that “if the company suffers a loss, the loss will be covered by making deductions from your paychecks. If you guys cannot pay it off, what can you do beside selling your organs.”
    Now, what was quite interesting was how Ms Park reacted to the petition and the accusations. First, she just ignored them, instead accusing Maestro Myung-Whung Chung and the Seoul City Mayor of some kind of obscure conspiracy, but failing to give any evidence or any details about such an alleged complot. After an audio tape of Ms Park’s tantrums was leaked to Korean TV and after an independent investigation commissioned by the City of Seoul confirmed that the accusations about her had been correct, the evidence was so overwhelming that she had no other chance but to admit them. What Ms Park is doing now – in order to save her own skin – is remarkable indeed: she says that she had no other chance but to behave in such a way in order to get things running since the Seoul Philharmonic had – in her words – been in an abnormal state especially due to “the total incompetence” of the orchestra’s employees.
    Now, let’s leave the bullying issue – which has already been confirmed – aside and let’s look at Ms Park’s claims more closely.
    As the petition (and the media reports) reveal, Ms Park means by ‘abnormal state of the orchestra’ the following incidents:
    1. Ms Park was shocked that Chief Conductor Myung-Whun Chung had given a piano recital in Seoul which was not organized by the Seoul Philharmonic and that the profit of this piano recital would go into Mr Chung’s private foundation. In Ms Park’s crooked logic, Maestro Chung should not be allowed to give piano recitals in Seoul as long as he is Chief Conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic (unless the profit goes into the coffers of the Seoul Philharmonic and unless Ms Park has given her consent). Quite original kind of thinking.
    2. For Ms Park, an alarming sign of the alleged incompetence of the SPO’s employees was the fact that they had programmed Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Le sacre du printemps’ in Autumn rather than in Spring. (Marvellously bizarre, not to say kafkaesque, stuff…)
    3. Ms Park was shocked that she was not seated at the same table than Maestro Chung during a post-dinner party after the orchestra’s concert at this year’s BBC Proms. Because of this she insulted the orchestra’s foreign cooperation partners – that is: well-respected international music managers – in public in a most foul-mouthed manner and scolded the orchestra’s employees for couples of weeks. (A taster of this scolding was offered by the leaked audio tape.)
    What these incidents reveal is certainly not any incompetence of the employees but rather the state of mind of Ms Park, who had, as the petition reveals, even compared herself to Jesus Christ when talking to her employees. (Ms Park is daughter of a prominent politician from the time of the military dictator, and her uncle is a prominent right-wing politician in today’s Korea. Honi soit qui mal y pense…)
    As for Ms Park’s claim that the tax payers’ money has been misused she hasn’t been able to give any proof for such a claim. The truth will come out soon since the Seoul City will investigate on this as well, but doesn’t that weird accusation sound rather like buck passing? Isn’t it the very responsibility of a CEO to ensure that the budget is correct and that the tax payers’ money is not being squandered? Ergo, if that has not been the case, Ms Park herself would be to blame! After all, she, in her position as CEO, was responsible for the use of the budget…
    And as for Ms Park’s claims that the employees had been so incompetent that she had no other chance than to behave, um, rudely: now, if this is really the case, how has the orchestra managed to organize 130 concerts per annum + internationally successful concert tours + an internationally praised recording series with Deutsche Grammophon for several years? (To recapitulate, Ms Park has been CEO for less than two years, but the international tours and recording series started long time before her tenure.)
    If one looks at the full picture, the whole thing becomes suddenly rather clear: an orchestra, which used to be a mediocre provincial orchestra, has become an excellent one after Maestro Myung-Whun Chung’s appointment in 2005. The orchestra’s rise and success (the first international success of an orchestra in whole Korean history!) could almost be called a miracle. This could surely not be achieved with an incompetent management.
    What instead seems totally incompetent, to say the least, is Ms Park’s handling of things – if there are any problems with the orchestra they seem to have emerged during Ms Park’s tenure. I am not speaking about the human rights issues, I am speaking about basic management skills: as the petition reveals, the number of sponsors dropped during Ms Park’s tenure from 44 to 11 – in less than two years. Quite an achievement! (All this and other facts can be found in Korean newspapers and in their English editions, for instance on the Korea Herald’s webpage.)
    Ms Park’s behavior could most certainly be called a textbook example of buck passing.
    Hopefully, the Seoul Philharmonic, a great orchestra and a major flagship of Korean culture, will have more luck with its next CEO. After Ms Park – who, by all appearances and accounts, has been an bizarrely incompetent tyrant – has left, the orchestra’s situation can only become better.

  • saeward says:

    The way how Hyunjung Park is acting is fishy. Ever since the accusations against her came up she has been barnstorming the Korean media/talk-show circuit, apparently committed to causing the orchestra as much harm as possible by refusing to resign and by scapegoating others. After having denied her wrongdoings for weeks and stylizing herself as victim, Hyunjung Park started to admit her wrongdoings only when the evidence, proven by investigators, was downright obvious. What Mrs Park is doing now is combining a penitent appearence with the same illogical accusations and conspiracy theories for which she has been unable to submit even the slightest trace of evidence.

  • Nick says:

    There was never any doubt that in a battle with Myung Whun Chung, Ms Park would be forced out. I just cannot believe the suggestion that the Seoul City government will even consider seeking or accepting the resignation of Maestro Chung. That would be the Korean equivalent of committing ritual seppuku.

  • helsinki says:

    “Restoring my personal reputation is more important than anything…”

  • uri says:

    The Seoul City Government is the executive branch and the Seoul City Council is the legislative body.

  • Danja says:

    Uneducated, spoiled, petty minded ex CEO Park….total waste of time!
    Shame on Park…grow up.