In Seoul, music director’s enemies accuse him of ‘crimes’

In Seoul, music director’s enemies accuse him of ‘crimes’


norman lebrecht

January 26, 2015

Allies of the ousted chief executive of the Seoul Philharmonic are stirring up the Seoul media against the music director Myung Whun Chung.

Chung is being accused of using official plane seats for his family over the past ten years and has been ordered to pay back $12,000. This sounds more like a mishap than a crime but sections of the press are claiming he could go to jail. It appears to be a witch hunt against the conductor, orchestrated by his exCEO.

Read here.

myun whun chung


  • Anonymoose says:

    Oh, Please. That small amount for probably one flight internationally for his family? Obviously, someone is trying to embarrass the Maestro.

  • Nick says:

    I have no doubts this is the ridiculous former CEO using her influence and pulling strings to get her own back. I’ve said before the Chung family is too entrenched as a national treasure for him to be forced out unless there was a serious breach of contract. Even then, his departure would lead to huge problems for that orchestra in finding a replacement. Storm in a teacup from a bitter lady!

  • Tom says:

    Pure comedy… seems like the exCEO should be exiled to North Korea.

  • uri says:

    As the British journalist and long-time Korea correspondent Michael Breen writes (in his book “The Koreans”), the Korean “media can be extremely misleading as a source of information. They generally do not see their role as a check on government and business (…) A huge proportion of news stories, when you follow them up, turn out to be pure speculation, trial balloons, rumour and deliberate distortion.”
    What ‘Korea Times’ writes about Maestro Myungwhun Chung is most certainly, in a way or another, part of a smear campaign against the conductor organized by the orchestra’s politically well-connected ex-CEO Hyunjung Park, who had – as has already been confirmed by investigators commissioned by the Seoul Metropolitan Council’s – abused human rights, severely bullying and harassing the Seoul Philharmonic’s employees.

  • nilege says:

    Possibly, the campaign against Chung is part of a smear campaign against the liberal Seoul City Mayor, Park Won-Soon. Mr Park, a former human rights activist temporarily imprisoned during the military dictatorship, belongs to a totally different camp than the politically powerful family of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra’s ex-CEO Ms Park. (Ms Park’s father was both financial advisor of military dictator and mass murderer Chun Doo-Hwan and minister of general Roh Tae-woo’s government. Both Chun and Roh were later convicted of treason, mutiny and corruption.) There has been a huge campaign from the right-wing camp against Seoul City Mayor Mr. Park (who is a potential candidate in the next presidential elections), and it seems possible that the case CEO against Chung is being politically exploited – last, but not least, by the Korean media which is famous for being biased and ideological.
    Ironically, Myung-Whun Chung has – as it seems – been sitting between the stools all the time. When he was appointed Chief Conductor in 2005, the Seoul City Mayor was Lee Myung-Bak, a right-wing politician (who later became President of South Korea). At that time, Chung was denounced by the leftist press as Lee Myung-Bak’s “poodle”. Now, it seems that the right-wing (mainstream) press in Korea exploits the situation with the Seoul Philharmonic politically in its crusade against the incumbent Seoul City Mayor.
    That would explain the grotesque clamor in some of the Korean newspapers.

  • nilege says:

    The ex-CEO’s uncle is an active prominent right-wing politician in Korea.

  • kea says:

    The Korea Times’ article is preposterous. Welcome to Absurdistan…

  • Herrera says:

    Wow, wake up people, if the allegations are true, they’re called misappropriation of public funds or embezzlement or fraud, and yes, in any country, they are crimes.

    I am glad none of the commentators here are general managers of arts group because you all would be turning a blind eye to a crime just because it is the beloved music director who is committing it.

    And you all would be running the company in the red. “Oh, what’s $12,000 here or $12,000 there, it’s just the conductor and his family.” Imagine it was the secretary or the treasurer or the 4th horn who was misappropriating $12k for personal use.

    • Nick says:

      A crime? Sounds like Herrera believes what he reads in the newspapers without any concern about its veracity or of the detail supplied by Uri, all of which sounds more than plausible to me – and I have been involved in music in Korea (although I must admit not since Myung Whun Chung took over as head of the Seoul Phil).

      The newspaper allegations are so pathetically puerile they are clearly motivated by someone seeking to extract either revenge or political gain. Myung Whun Chung has made a great deal of money in his career. Anyone who seriously believes he would even remotely consider fiddling expenses just once to claim just one pair of tickets in just one year of his multi-year tenure must be excessively naive in my view.

  • uri says:

    The problem here is that the bulk of the Korean media (such as the Korea Times, referred to here) doesn’t present things in context but exaggerates and distorts them at will.

    What is correct is that there has been an investigation about Myung-Whun Chung and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra after ex-CEO Hyun-Jung Park (who was dismissed for – among other things – abusing the employees’ human rights – as confirmed by another investigation commissioned by the Seoul City Council) had raised a number of accusations against Chung because of allegedly „running the orchestra like a private institution“.

    The only allegation against Chung that was confirmed in the subsequent investigation (commissioned by the City Council) and that holds up to scrutiny is the incident with the flight tickets. And here it is crucial to see the context (which the Korea Times article totally fails to provide):
    – This all too place in 2009 and it was about two flight tickets in total. The then-CEO Mr Jooho Kim had permitted these two flights to be used by a person who works and travels with Myung-Whun Chung (person not specified!). The intention, however, was that these two tickets would have been used by Chung’s manager, who also sent an invoice regarding these flights to the Seoul Phil. The then-CEO Mr Jooho Kim ordered the orchestra to pay these tickets and so it was done. However, Chung’s manager couldn’t use these flight tickets since he fell ill; instead, Chung’s own son and his daughter-in-law used the flights.
    That’s all. Now, juridically seen, Myung-Whun Chung has not even nearly committed a ‘crime’. And he had not breached any agreement. Thinking about the ethical side, it is even likely that he had himself no idea about this all.
    Yes, an inconsistency has happened, but – as Mr Lebrecht hints at – it certainly was more of a mishap than of anything else. And a mishap which due to my understanding didn’t even cause the orchestra or the Korean taxpayer financial harm since the money for the flights had already been approved of.
    It feels very contrived and rather ridiculous to inflate this into a big scandal as parts of the Korean media and the politically powerful ex-CEO (who has an axe to grind because of her personal vendetta) do.
    Besides, this story is really nothing new. The incident took place six years ago and was already much written and discussed about in the media four years ago when there was another campaign against Myung-Whun Chung. It is unfathomable that this incident is being warmed up again as if it was something new.
    Good grief – how long does Maestro Chung have to atone for this mishap? Is it justifiable that Chung is being reproached because of such a minor incident again and again while the ex-CEO (whose abuse of power and bullying has been fully confirmed and who has been lying about this) is being provided a permanent forum in the Korean media, where she is allowed to spread her conspiracy theories and allegations.
    The apparent lack of serious critical journalism in Korea, also within the mainstream press, is a big problem in this matter; another problem is that the press is – whether it is leftist or right-wing – so easily manipulated by political interest.
    The real scandal – the ex-CEO’s proven abuse of power and of human rights and her blatant mismanagement – has quickly been overshadowed because of such sensationalist headlines.
    We should also not forget that the investigation about the Seoul Philharmonic and Maestro Chung, conducted by the Seoul City Council, has been investigating all the bookkeepings of the Seoul Philharmonic from the last ten years. That they find such a small inconsistency as mentioned above presents the Seoul Phil in a good light, especially considering that Korea is usually not exactly a model country regarding transparency and the lack of corruption.

    I insist: this is a smear campaign. And all the agitation is like a tempest in a teapot – which does not make it harmless, however, since it could lead to the ruin of an excellent orchestra, the first one in Korea of international significance. Myung-Whun Chung has very clearly become a target in a witch hunt. Primitive emotions such as envy have been effectively fuelled by sensational headlines, and ‘reports’ consisting of exaggeration, lots of hot air, rumour and distortion, brought to the fore by the irresponsible lust of sensation of a great deal of the Korean media.

  • Herrera says:

    @Nick and @Uri, all I have to say is, if I ever committed a crime, I would want you two on my jury, because you would not see a crime even it smacked you in the face, lol

    OJ Simpson should friend you two. “If the gloves don’t fit, you gotta acquit!”

    • uri says:

      @Herrera, all I have to say to this is that your comments are not worthy of a serious response.
      Trolls, keep away.

      • Nick says:

        Agree totally with Uri. Herrera would be better served by taking time to learn something about Korea, its music administration, the quality of its journalism and the nature of its politics, as well as the particular personalities involved in this storm in a teacup – no doubt manufactured by one aggrieved camp, before sounding off about crimes.

  • nilege says:

    Witch hunt happens basically every day in Korean media. The most spectacular and a particular tragic one lead to the suicide of president Roh Moo-Hyun who had been unjustly accused of corruption. He was literally driven to suicide. Most likely the campaign was orchestrated by his political opponents: Roh Moo-Hyun was a liberal and a former human rights activist during the time of the military dictature and an object of hatred for the old nomenclatura from the time of the military dictature, of whom many are still thriving and in influential positions. Since the mainstream press is – by and large – very ideological and since it supported his opponents, Roh had not an iota of chance.

    On another side, Korean media can also be extremely naive and blue-eyed. For instance, they hysterically hailed such dubious characters as the con man Hwang Woo-Suk, who was “perpetrating one of the biggest scientific frauds in modern history for his false claims about cloning human embryos and generating cloned stem cells” (NY Times). There was a huge national hysteria: the then-South Korean government issued postage stamps with his image (to mention only one bizarre example). And this guy still has his supporters who believe that everything was a conspiracy. That’s just one example, there are a billion more examples over there.

    The Seoul Phil’s ousted CEO Ms Park Hyun-Jung has appeared continuously in the Korean media since almost two months. Even the most ludicrous claims and allegations leave their marks on people if they are not being questioned by the press and if they are being repeated over and over again. Propaganda aims on emotions, not the brain which is why it is so powerful. Sensational headlines stir up emotions and appeal to base instincts. Lots of people when being confronted with a case of alleged abuse of money their alarm bells ring and the rage stirs up since “it’s my money! – even if such a claim is not even substantiated. When they are being confronted with a case of human abuse such as that by the ousted CEO it keeps them cold since “it was not me who had been abused, so, who cares?”

  • Nick says:

    As a postscript, it is interesting to see how the Korean public is very quickly turning against the rampant nepotism practised by the giant Korean chaebols – the industrial conglomerates. It will be recalled that the daughter of the head of Korean Airlines held a senior position in the airline. As her aircraft was taxiing to the runway at JFK on December 5, she had a tantrum when a flight attendant offered her some macadamia nuts when she hadn’t ordered any. After shoving a couple of the crew, she then ordered the captain to return to the gate and the purser to leave the flight!

    The lady is now charged with various crimes and a trial is underway which could see her in jail for up to 10 years. Her father has told the court that he “scolded” his daughter “for not controlling her emotions” when he learned of the incident. The court has also been told that the lady offered one of the aggrieved cabin staff a professorship at a University if she kept quiet about the incident. She did not accept.

    Ms. Park, formerly CEO of the Seoul Phil is, it will be recalled, from the country’s political elite. It seems she resigned just in time!

    From the BBC website of 30 January –

    “Plenty of humble pie is being eaten by some of South Korea’s most privileged people in the aftermath of this incident, says the BBC’s Steve Evans in Seoul.”