Coming up: A hatchet job on a music director

Coming up: A hatchet job on a music director


norman lebrecht

February 09, 2015

The Korean TV channel MBC is about to screen a demolition documentary on Myung Whun Chung, music director of the Seoul Philharmonic. Chung is accused of ‘ethical violations’ a charge first raised by the orchestra’s discredited chief executive, who was forced to resign for bullying.

A trailer for the programme wilfully distorts (by selective editing) some comments that I made during the course of an interview last week. I very much hope my full contextualised comment will be heard in the course of the programme tomorrow. If not, I shall publish exactly what I said.

Meantime, a music business analyst, Arnold Nielsen, has published a full account of the sorry Seoul saga here.

myun whun chung


  • James Morgan says:

    This demolition documentary on Myung Whun Chung will be very interesting!
    But, who is this music business analyst, “Mr. Arnold Nielsen”??? Anyway, does this music business analyst, Mr. Nielsen exist, really? This “” is of dubious authenticity.

    • kea says:

      @James Morgan: if the author doesn’t exist, who has written it, then?
      Based on what has been written about this case before and knowing something about the situation in Korea, the article makes a well-founded and credible impression.

  • Florence Miller says:

    The article (link) logically consistent and rather matter-of-fact to me and it doesn’t seem biased at all. The reality over there is much more sinister and dirty.

  • May says:

    Mr Lebrecht, could you provide your readers with further information about Arnold Nielsen. As there seems to be no evidence of other writings or activities in connection with this name, one gets the impression this is a pseudonym for an insider.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      He describes himself as a former musician who has worked in ‘the artistic administration/management of various classical music organizations’.

    • Youngsoo Lee says:

      It’s well written and seems very well researched. As for the author’s name, well, maybe it is a pseudonym, maybe not. Where’s the deal? There are countries in which people have to protect themselves. Note that in terms of individual freedom rights, South Korea is worlds apart from North Korea, but it is also worlds apart from the EU or the US. South Korea ranked only 57 in the 2014 Press Freedom Index. Press and media can be (and is usually) easily politically instrumentalised – usually, they are just poodles of the powers-that-be. Government controls news to a certain degree and there is political censorship which has increased since Lee-Myung Bak’s government and especially since ruling president’s, Park Geun-Hye’s, government (President Park Geun-Hye is daughter of former military dictactor Park Chung-hee – who is still idealized by many in South Korea – but under whose regime numerous crimes of human rights abuse were committed. For instance: Korean composer Isang Yun and a number of other Korean intellectuals were abducted from Berlin to Seoul by the South Korean Secret Service. They were tortured and charged with treason and sentenced to life imprisonment or even to death in a show trail. Isang Yun was only being released after international protests and after a couple of years.) Since a couple of years, government censorship has tightened its grips on the citizens again. Writers who criticize the South Korean president have been penalized. South Koreans who publish content on Internet must verify their citizen identity number. Internet service providers have been ordered to block IP addresses of certain websites. A twitter account of a user who criticized the president was deleted, and a judge who wrote critically about the President’s internet censorship policy was fired. In 2013, Korean censors deleted 23,000 web pages and blocked an additional 63,000. Reporters without Borders has placed South Korea on a list of countries “under surveillance”, alongside Egypt, Thailand and Russia, in its report on “Enemies of the Internet”. Abstruse things have been going on: a blogger had posted a picture of Gustave Courbet’s ‘L’Origine du monde’ in protest at censorship laws and he was convicted and fined in the first instance. A blogger who had posted prophecies on the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the crash of the Korean currency (in 2008) spent 104 days in prison for “spreading false rumours”. There are many other examples. And new systems of pre-censorship have been planned.

  • Sung Hae Park says:

    I have been following this sordid business in the Korean media as well as on bloggs posted by music industry people, professors, composers, etc. — all in Korean. The information has been heavily burned by sensationalism and misplaced sentimentality.

    When I came across Arnold Nielsen’s take on this yesterday, I was positively impressed. The research he has done and his assessment of the situation is amazing; the analysis is cutting-edge!

  • uri says:

    An unbelievably sordid, populist and demagogic media campaign against conductor Myungwhun Chung has taken place in Korea. The attacks in the newspapers have been way below the belt. And the Mayor of Seoul announced publicly in a press conference that the sole reason why Chung is still Chief Conductor is because they haven’t found another one and if anyone knows a conductor who is better and cheaper they should let him know. Oh, they should really try and see whom they will get as a successor of Chung – good luck indeed. Myungwhun Chung should not tolerate this kind of defamation and he should leave that country. No one should work under such circumstances.

  • Nick says:

    Having read that report in detail and knowing first-hand about classical music in Korea and the dire state of its investigative reporting, I am hugely impressed by Arnold Nielsen’s Report. I have no doubts that it is genuine and based on actual research findings.

    The Chung family – Myung Whun, Kyung Wha, Myung Wha and their businessman brother Michael – have done so much for the development of classical music in that land it is utterly, mind-bogglingly pathetic that this kind of false rumour-driven campaign is underway against one of the world’s finest conductors. I know how committed Myung Whun was when he took over the SPO and how much he has raised not only its stature but the stature of the city of Seoul and the country of South Korea.

    The Report is absolutely spot-on when it states this –

    “During his tenure, the orchestra has transformed from a dysfunctional and mediocre province orchestra [Nick – 100% accurate] into a world-class formation. It has signed a 10-CD contract with Deutsche Grammophon, given highly lauded concert tours in the world’s major concert venues and festivals . . . Ticket sales have rocketed from less than 40% of the pre-Chung era to more than 90% at present, the orchestra’s recordings are bestsellers in Korea. The success story could almost be called a miracle and it gives an impressive picture about Maestro Chung’s commitment to the orchestra.”

    His extraordinarily deep commitment to that orchestra and its musicians no doubt means that even now he will be reluctant to resign. He will know that, as Nielson points out, no first or even second grade conductor will want to bury much of his career in Seoul for as much as a third of a year. More to the point, he will know that the musicians and most of the audience are there only because he is there. That’s not because he is full of his own importance – he is not that kind of individual. It’s because he is realistic about the situation in Seoul. Without his presence, the SPO will quickly revert to the status it found itself in before he took over.

    I hope for the sake of the orchestra he stays. I fear he will now depart.

    • SDReader says:

      I also think he will now leave, and he should, citing hostility and a desire to channel his energies productively. He has shown what he can do. Enough. He can’t change Korea.

      It is time to put himself first.

  • Jack says:

    I very much agree with this article.

  • kwanbo Jin says:

    I also had chance to read Mr.Nielson’s a rticle the other day through the link called International Music Business.
    On that page found only one entry by Mr. Nielson.
    At this juncture, I have to agree with other commenters that insider of this arguement in Seoul wrote this article using pseudonym, because I cannot find any other writings by this author or analytic activity by this name.
    Please check the identity of this author and let me know.
    Thanks in advance.

  • kwanbo Jin says:

    Somehow I can’t put my opinion on this matter anymore, even after 3 trial.
    Above authors in lot of different word, accepted the possibility that insider might be indeed used pseudonym, Arnold Nielson, and from the Report of Korean Newspaper, Daily KyungHyang, most likely real author of this article is the main accuser of now a former CEO of Seoul Phil.
    She accused Former CEO of verbal abuse and sexual abuse.Funny thing is Female CEO
    sexually abused this lady working as middle manager in Seoul Phil organization