Media declares war on Maestro

Media declares war on Maestro


norman lebrecht

February 13, 2015

We’re hearing that South Korean media have come in general praise for an MBC television shockumentary that depicted Myung Whun Chung, music director of the Seoul Philharmonic, as a gold-digging imposition on the suffering taxpayer.

Few have spoken out in support of the embattled maestro. An interview that I gave to the programme was selectively distorted.

For the record, let me repeat what I said:

There are two ways of assessing a conductor’s fee: by past reputation, or present achievement. Certain maestros have been able to command $80,000 a night in Japan on the strength of name alone, but most are now dead.

Myung Whun Chung has to be assessed on the basis of achievement. He has given the Seoul Philharmonic a world status it never had before. He won it a 10-CD contract with Deutsche Grammophon, a commitment greater than any orchestra in the world, the envy of the Berlin Philharmonic. If he goes, the orchestra will revert to obscurity. Now, put a price on that.

myun whun chung

None of this was used in the programme. Needless to add, I hope Chung prevails.


UPDATE: The media war has spread abroad. Musical America is carrying a banner headline: ‘Myung Whun Chung cheated the Seoul Philharmonic’. Don’t they check their sources?


UPDATE2: A correspondent writes: Your interview was one of the few included in the show that gave ‘somewhat’ positive spin on Chung. There were quite a few interviews included (mostly with korean officials, media people, etc) which negated the whole show against chung.


  • Youngsoo Lee says:

    What an absurd situation.
    Myungwhun Chung earns $ 1,0 million annually as Music Director of the Seoul Phil. It’s not much. Seoul is not exactly in the center of attention of the world … and Chung works with the orchestra 4 months a year (which is a lot). This study provides further details:

    • kwanbo Jin says:

      I read Mr.Nielson’s article, and have to say that it’s very partial toward, Mr. Chung and being a music businessman, his arguement is techincal and taught me something new about music business but fail to discuss ethical issues this bizarre case stirred up.
      I am less concerned on 3 times Mr.Chung was able to charge Korean Taxapyer per day’s performance in Seoul, compared to London( you mention London’s going conductor’s daily fee as 4000 pound).
      I am more concerned over Mr..Chung’s moral, and ethical deficiency he clearly showed over his tenure as full time art director and conductor for Seoul Phil, which I don’t want to elaborate here.

      In my opinion, Korea treated him very nicely, when his tenure with Bastille, but he takes that goodwill as granted, and further abuse everything Korea offered for hls personal gain, which is the gist of this controversy from Korea.
      Music and art doesn’t exist in the vacuum like you suggest, and name dropping like “CD published with DG” and other passing rituals you use to justify unfair previlege you wants to justify.
      Let’s have healthy give and take on these matter further for you and me for others who are concerned.

      Thanks in advance

      • kwanbo Jin says:


        I said London’s going rate for 1st rate coductor, incorrectly 4000pound,which should read 8000 Britsh pound.which in Korean won, W13500000.
        recent report fron City of Seoul, says it pays Mr.Chung W48000000- W50000000, which is roughly 3X of London’s going rate.
        I say all the power to Mr.Chung who had midas touch as far as dealing with fellow Koreans.

        • kwanbo Jin says:

          Mr. youngsoo Lee
          You must be a very wealthy man, saying that 1 Mill is not much.Seoul Phil needs man like you for donation and cotribution
          Being a immigrant physician close to my retirement, even in my hayday, making 1/2 Mill was big deal for me, and I am an on-and-off contributor for my CSO in my community.

          Did you read recent news tha Seoul Phil has 0 , yes 0 contribution from community and big Korean company and instead all the money goes to Mr. Chung’s private concern, which he set up to support his son’s career.

          that’s why Seoul Phil has to rely on Korean taxpayer $18 Mill per year, every year.
          Seoul Phil need your donation urgently

  • SDReader says:

    It was someone called Rudolph Tang who reported for

    Perhaps he is connected to the wrong side in Seoul.

  • uri says:

    Collective hysteria at its worst.
    Myung-Whun Chung is one of the world’s greatest conductors.
    His tenure at the Seoul Phil has been a sensational success story.
    Before that, the orchestra was just miserable.
    In the early 2000s, they gave just 15 concerts a year, the concert hall was more than half-empty, and even of those who attended the concert two thirds received their tickets for free. And there were bizarre disputes and problems.
    Immediately after Chung was appointed and the orchestra was newly founded as a foundation it became a fully functioning and even great orchestra which has been sensationally successful both in Korea and abroad.
    Ticket sales have risen to more than 90%.
    There is the Deutsche Grammophon contract and they have given celebrated concert tours at the world’s greatest concert halls such as Walt Disney Hall or Royal Albert Hall. There have been rave reviews in international press.
    Besides from the saison program the Seoul Phil had had ambitious outreach and educational concert programming with a lot of concerts for people who can’t or don’t usually attend concerts. But the orchestra’s manipulative former CEO Hyunjung Park (who has after her dismissal rather obviously been pulling strings against Chung & the orchestra) did cut this outreach program radically, calling it ‘shabby’ (
    Former CEO Hyunjung Park, who had also abused the Seoul Phil employees human rights and therefore had to resign, has after her resignation been clamoring about some “waste of taxpayers money” at SPO and that the orchestra’s employees would have been total nitwits who had mismanaged the orchestra…
    But she’s totally clueless not only about music but also about economy. The Columbia Business School has even published a study about the orchestra’s economical success story, written by Columbia economics professor Bernd Schmitt and his Korean colleague. It’s on the web. Even if that study was made only a few years after Chung became Music Director it already reflects the amazing success of the orchestra in very short time.
    Chung’s term at Seoul Phil has not only been an amazing musical but also economical success. The former CEO Park and the Korean media and some officials are about to destroy that success.

    • John says:

      Does Hyunjung Park prefer her nuts in a bowl or in a bag?

    • kwanbo Jin says:

      koreans are having hysterical acting out against a world class conductor?
      I am not really concerned over his getting 3 times the going rate for daily performance in Seoul compared to London.
      I am concerned more over his unethical behabiour toward his player, and stuffing his pocket with donation s by Korean companies, instead of Seoul Phil.
      Also he misuse airline tickets for his children, and having athority over hiring and firing of player, he force 26 of his player to donate their time to his private enterprise for free, and evade paying tax by donating money to his own private concern……….
      He got $ 1.3M from korean tax payer for 3 months work,and wondering how much he earns during lest of the year,while claiming his “International” reputation.
      Another question I have on this bizarre affair is ,
      Mr Chung is supposed to be a Art director and fulltime conductor for Seoul Phil, and also full time conductor and art director for “Radio France Orchestra”
      Is it usual to have parttime art director as fulltime director in art world?
      Being a physician, I cannot assume a directorship of department in 2 different hospital.Please enlighten me.

      Thanks for your time and reply in advance

  • Has been says:

    ‘Worlds greatest conductors’ ?? More ‘King of the B movies’…

    • Ceòl says:

      Sorry but someone who likens Myung-Whun Chung to a “king of B-movies” (if that’s what you mean?) knows very little, if anything, about music.
      Differences in taste aside, Chung’s greatness as conductor is undisputed.
      Ask experienced orchestral musicians or ask other conductors – they will speak in awe about Chung. He permanently conducts the world’s greatest orchestras. His recordings for Deutsche Grammophon – Ravel’s Daphnis, Shostakovich’ 4th or Lady Macbeth, Mendelssohn Symphonies, Messiaen, Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique, … – are legendary.
      He is great in very different kinds of repertoire. He is equally impressive with French repertoire, German symphonies and Russian music. He is an amazing opera conductor, his Mozart is a marvel, his Brahms 2 and Stravinsky’s Sacre for instance are the best I’ve ever heard. He is one of the rare conductors who really make any orchestra sound different.

    • kwanbo Jin says:

      I don’t think Mr.Chung is 1st rated conductor, but you said he is king of B movies.
      for sure last 30 years I was busy as a immigrant to U.S.A. settling root , and raising my children. and didn’t have enough time to devote to contemporary development in music world.
      Is there a reason for you to put down Mr.Chung’s achievement? like that?
      In my estimation, he might rank 100-200 internationally.
      Is he rank worse in your opinion?
      Is that why you use the term B-Movie?
      Please tell me your reason, so I can update my data base>


  • tls says:

    Well said, John! Hahahah.

    And to show how clueless about music this sad former CEO is, she ranted at a meeting about how “stupid” it was for the orchestra to have programmed Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to be performed in the autumn.

  • hkhenry says:

    Chung for New York Philharmonic

  • Nick says:

    Re The Rite of Spring and going off on a slight tangent, John Amis used to tell a story about the LSO’s visit to the Salzburg Festival in the mid-1970s. Michael Kaye, a director of one of the LSO’s major benefactors, the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation, but not known for his detailed knowledge of the orchestral repertoire, had just been appointed its Managing Director At one of his first Board meetings, there was much discussion about the programmes to be performed at the next Salzburg Festival. A work by Richard Strauss had to be on the programme and Tod und Verklärung was mentioned. Later Death and Transfiguration became one the favourites but it was not unanimous. Kaye, anxious to finalise the details, allegedly then made the decision: “We’ll play Tod und Verklärung in the first half and Death and Transfiguration after the interval!”

  • kwanbo Jin says:

    I Ieft lengthy note earlier but it disappeared.
    maybe you are right that korea is declaring war on Mr. Chung on his unethical conduct.You maybe surprised when I say that I am not much concerned when he was getting 3times of going rate of London’s fee in Seoul per day.

    I am mostly concerned over his unethical behavior over his stuffing his own pocket when he is supposedly take care of the public wellbeing of art and music community in Seoul.
    Also you mentioned about CD contract with DG, as evidence that Seoul hit big time.
    and you were quoted that Berlin Phil should be jealouse about Seoul.

    Unfortunately, there is no evidence that DG paid anything to Seoul Philharmonics officially.
    Is this mean that Mr. Chung donated Seoul Phil’s effort free to DG for some reason?
    Unfortunately I ama music lover happened to live in Chicago and busy with my work.
    Would you get to the bottom of this matter and write another article for me and Korean readers around the world?

    Thanks in advance for your upcoming article;

    • Nick says:

      Dr Kwanbo Jin has a lot to say on the subject. Sadly he keeps getting his “facts” in a twist. He admits his first quoted “London fee” was wrong. He fails to mention that for many, many decades fees in London have traditionally been very far behind those paid in the United States and in Europe (and in parts of Asia I suspect – how much is Jaap van Zweden being paid for less than four months a year in Hong Kong, I wonder?)

      I cannot find any recent figures, but the following support the argument. 5 years ago, salaries for certain US Music Directors were –

      San Francisco Symphony: $1.8 million
      Boston Symphony: $1.3 million
      Dallas Symphony: $1.1 million
      New York Philharmonic: $1.08 million
      Cleveland Orchestra: $ 1.07 million

      – and I doubt if any spent as much as 4 months with those orchestras. (The figures come from the highly reliable Adaptistration site and were taken from the tax returns filed by the US orchestras in those years).

      Next Dr. Jin tells us –

      “I am concerned more over his unethical behabiour toward his player, and stuffing his pocket with donation s by Korean companies, instead of Seoul Phil.”

      Yet where does he provide the slightest shred of evidence of either of these fantastical theories? The fact is he doesn’t. He can’t. He merely repeats it –

      “Seoul Phil has 0 , yes 0 contribution from community and big Korean company and instead all the money goes to Mr. Chung’s private concern, which he set up to support his son’s career.
      that’s why Seoul Phil has to rely on Korean taxpayer $18 Mill per year, every year.”

      I, for one, do not believe that statement. Facts, Dr. Jin would help your case if you wish to be believed.

      Then there comes this little nugget:

      “Mr Chung is supposed to be a Art director and fulltime conductor for Seoul Phil, and also full time conductor and art director for “Radio France Orchestra. Is it usual to have parttime art director as fulltime director in art world?”

      Oh dear! Come, come, Dr. Jin! You say you contribute to the Chicago Symphony, yet you are not aware that Maestro Muti spends less time in Chicago than Mr. Chung does in Seoul? There is no such thing as a full-time Music Director in most of the international orchestral world. You do not know even that? Well, perhaps you are unaware that Mr. Muti also has other appointments. Are we seriously expected to believe you are not aware of that? (Please google his name and check).

      Then Dr. Jin tells us that in his heyday he was lucky to earn around half a million US$. Since he is close to retirement, let’s assume that his heyday was somewhere around 10 years ago. Now let’s recall that the first of Dr. Jin’s posts was one stating that Mr. Chung was earning about 3 times what he would earn were he leading a London orchestra. Surely it must come as no surprise to one in your profession, Dr. Jin, that 10 years ago not many doctors in London would have been earning anywhere near to one third of what you earned in Chicago? So how is it you are surprised that in London fees for conductors are a third of those in many other parts of the world?

      Lastly, Dr. Jin, you have lived in the United States for 30 years – and your written English is not much better than someone who has lived there for 3? No doubt other readers will make up their own minds on that score.

      It does seem that either the trolls are starting to appear or the dreadful Ms. Park’s supporters are emerging to continue her campaign of trashing one of the world’s finest conductors.

  • Brasidas says:

    If you didn’t learn your lessons yet, then let this be your lesson. Just refuse any interview request from the [Korean Press] folks. If these people are not [human garbage], then I don’t know what qualifies as such. They manipulate, distort and cast a wrong light on a slightest possible strip out of the entire interview to get [their] agenda across. And they call themselves [press]. Good riddance.

  • Park says:

    @Kwangbo Yin, you are mixing apples with oranges and you have clearly not informed yourself about the whole issue. There are so many errors in your commentary that I have no idea where to start with. As in every profession also with conductors a certain worldwide standard exists. Of course there are differences but on assessment of Maestro Chung’s reputation and his achievement his fee is really not much. He stays 4 months with his orchestra in Seoul. Most conductors stay 3 months with their orchestras, many even less. Also the overall fee is lower than with many conductors of similar stature. And Seoul is really no career gain for Chung. Quite the opposite. In these 4 months, he could guest-conduct with the world’s major orchestras and have more fee and prestige. Or take up another, much more attractive chief conductor post at some of the world’s key orchestras, if he wants to. For making big money it’s really not the right place. The people in Seoul should really be grateful for him. Such an idealism as Chung’s is rare nowadays. You say that Chung had acted “unethically”, but there is zero evidence that he would have been “stuffing in his own pockets” as you say.
    Chung has taken “care of the public wellbeing of art and music community in Seoul.” The whole discussion in Korea is schizophrenic. In Korea, there are so many impostors who are politically super-connected, powerful and successful. Also in the classical music world. And corruption is still very widespread. But as for Chung, there is zero evidence that Chung had done anything immoral or unethical. He has worked extremely hard for that orchestra and for Seoul. And what is the reaction? Media slaughtering because of ridiculous rumours claimed by people who have zero knowledge about music and music business or who don’t want to have any knowledge about it. And this manipulation is the big scandal here.
    As for the London fee, I really don’t know if 8000 pound per concert is for all conductors. I very strongly doubt. Anyway, London is a special case. Big stars, soloists and singers alike, perform for ridiculous fees at the Proms since London is the mecca of music agencies. But London is not at all comparable to anywhere else. In London, orchestra musicians, for instance, have to take up many jobs to make a modest living. It’s so different from other countries, including Korea.
    The problem with such TV documentaries as the Korean MBC documentary is that they take some facts out of context, falsifying them because they have no idea about the bigger picture and make a Mount Everest out of a molehill.
    As for Nielsen’s article I have read it, too, and I can’t see that it would be partial. It seems really well researched, and his way of argumentation is logical and makes full sense for someone who knows Korean society.
    One more thing. You write “Mr Chung is supposed to be a Art director and fulltime conductor for Seoul Phil, and also full time conductor and art director for “Radio France Orchestra.l Is it usual to have parttime art director as fulltime director in art world?
    Being a physician, I cannot assume a directorship of department in 2 different hospital.Please enlighten me.”
    Yes, it is quite usual to have two or even more posts, but with Chung even that is not the case – he is not even anymore Music Director of the Radio France Orchestra.
    You also write: ” he force 26 of his player to donate their time to his private enterprise for free, and evade paying tax by donating money to his own private concern……….”
    There is no such evidence. Zero.
    This is exactly the ‘broken telephone effect’… Perhaps better do at least some research before starting to spread rumours?

    • kwanbo Jin says:

      Mr.Park , funny we are talking in English, but you know Seoul Phil”s player all turned into temporary employee, and Mr.Chung has absolute power for their yearly rehiring .
      for last few years, S.P shed close to 70 member, and hired new “Supposedly Capable” members.
      In this milieu,26 member’s voluntary donation was a suspect and this was done for private interest of Mr.Chung.

    • kwanbo Jin says:

      Yes you will be right startting next year.
      Mr.Chung will be replaced as principal conductor/Art directorafter 2015 season is over and incoming art director is already scheduled toconduct number of engagement.

    • Adrian Chan says:

      Great comment! Sadly Chung is now forced to leave his post as director of SPO.

      • Adrian Chan says:


        Obviously it is a conspiracy for the Ex-CEO Park to use all her political power to get back at Mastro Chung (he might have at least involved in getting her fired in the past) A great shame that the common ignorant Korean people would believe all the crap on the biased Korean media. His sacrifice of 10 yrs of his prime time at SPO is priceless, regardless whether he is innocent or not (which I believe he is), and he did this for his own country. No one else in this world would likely be able do so, at least not for a long time, at relatively low pay. All he gets is backlash, and now is forced to leave Korea. It must have hurt him immensely for being betrayed by his own people…..

  • Park says:

    Here is someone clearly pursuing his own agenda. “Dr. Kwanbo Jin” who claims to have been living since 30 years in Chicago (wow, his command of English is truly breathtaking!!!) has been writing myriads of similarly, er, ‘imaginative’ reader’s commentaries in Korean newspapers, including a commentary where he alleges that Mr Lebrecht would not have written his above blogpost himself but that it would have been dictated to him by a Korean:
    “Dr Kwanbo Jin”, more conspiracy theories, please!!!!

    • kwanbo Jin says:

      here is another “conspiracy story” for you you Mr.Park.
      I think Arnold Nielson who wrote lengthy , exhaustive article who was passed as International Music Business Analyst, who was questioned by James Morgan and May whether he is a real person. They were openly questioning he might be an insider of this arguement, because they cannot find any other writing by Arnold, and there is no other activity of Arnold in the world as far as they can tell.
      Korean newspaper published article by Arnold today and he used facebook entry by Ms Paek of Seoul Phil as main source for his article.
      Ms Paek is the employee who first came out to accuse the stupid CEO of Seoul Phil of verbal and sexual abuse, and I wonder if she is the real author of Arnold’s article.

      • kwanbo Jin says:

        And finally my “agenda” in this bizarre arguement I happened to be engaged in is , in my hierarch of virtues, ethics score way higher than mindless art and beauty.
        Mr. Park I hope you agree.

  • kwanbo Jin says:

    Regarding Seoul Phil’s donation and contribution, which is 0, came from Seoul’s local government’s IG office, and assemblyman.
    And also from same source, information about his private foundation receiving large sums of donation from Korean companies, had been revealed.

    Also, somebody Mentioned over my English skill, which I will be the 1st to acknowledge it will never pass as native speaker, but being a doctor, my patients never misunderstood what I said, I assure you, and furthermore I never presented myself as Doctor of English Literature.

  • kwanbo Jin says:

    No. I am not the supporter of stupid ex CEO of Seoul Phil, and Nick I think you are Korean, because sadly we Korean has bad habit on internet of calling names when they don’t have little to say.
    I was trying to let you guys know Mr.Chung was poor ethical human being and I am not really concerned over artistic value.I was grown up with music of Casals, Segovia,Menuhin,Toscanini, Karajan, Bernstine and I don;t need any more heroes anymore in my 60’s.
    Is maestro a new name for any conductor?
    Sorry, My English is not as good as it should be , but hope you understand my concern.

    • Nick says:

      No I am not Korean. I am originally from Europe. However, I have been based in Asia for many years and visited Seoul many dozens of times. I also have a more extensive knowledge of the music scene in Korea than an alleged “Dr” from Chicago.

      And I am not calling you names “Dr.” Jin. Another of your fabrications? List me one instance where I have called you a “name” other than “Dr.” Jin. Oh, I may have said something like “alleged” in a post that I made a couple of hours ago but which has still not appeared. That you can easily confirm to readers by informing us where you read medicine and did your internship. Presumably that was in Korea. After all, you tell us you are in your 60s and have been in the USA for 30 years.

      I have certainly questioned your falsities and fabrications. And your fanciful naivete! Now you seem not to know about the word, “Maestro”. Dear me, “Dr” Jin! And you who have contributed to the Chicago Symphony and lived through the reigns of several great Maestri including Solti, Barenboim, Muti, Boulez and Haitink. Indeed you might have overlapped with Abbado. And none of these merit inclusion in your pantheon of heroes!

      By the way, “Dr” Jin, the phase should be “I grew up with” and not “I was grown up with” as any 30 year resident of the United States would confirm to you!

  • Nick says:

    “Dr” Kwanbo Jin’s credibility here is zero. He makes outrageously unsupported allegations and then fails to answer most of the questions put to him. He’d be far better concentrating on the Korean media which clearly print all kinds of drivel. If after living in Chicago for 30 years he seriously thinks anyone reading this thread actually believes he would write in the manner he has done in this thread, then the moon is indeed a balloon!

    And it seems the “Dr.” (what is your speciality “Dr.” Jin, by the way?) knows both that Mr Chung is out and another “Art Director” is in, one who has already been booked for several concerts next season. So perhaps “Dr” Jin will enlighten readers as to the name of the incoming “Art Director”? Or even just give a clue to tantalise readers? Or is this just another figment of someone’s lively imagination being fed through the mouthpiece of “Dr” Jin?

    With all your so-called inside knowledge, “Dr” Jin, will you also confirm –

    1. after all your ranting about Mr. Chung not being the “fulltime director” working all year in Seoul, that the incoming “Art director” will indeed be “fulltime” and will indeed be spending all year conducting the Seoul Philharmonic?

    2. since you are so righteously concerned about the amount of money the citizens of Seoul give to Mr. Chung, that the incoming “Art director” will be paid a good deal less than Mr. Chung for his 12-months service each year?

    3. and since Mr. Chung ranks so low in your amateur estimation (you’ll recall your comment – “In my estimation, he might rank 100-200 internationally”), how high on your ranking list will the new Art director be? 98 or 99?

    We await your responses with bated breath!

    PS: This was originally posted around 03:00 UK time on 17 February but did not appear.

  • Ceòl says:

    Dr. Kwanbo Jin claims, without providing even the slightest trace of evidence, that Myungwhun Chung would be a “poor ethical human being”.
    As for Dr. Kwanbo Jin himself, he has been convicted of a felony for health care fraud. See here:

  • Nick says:

    Well! Well! Well! So our Dr. Jin (if indeed he has been the one doing the posting) graduated in Medicine in South Korea and completed a residency in psychiatry in Illinois “on or about 1984”. The timeline certainly fits! One item outlined in the sites listed above –

    “On September 28, 2009, Respondent pled guilty to `’one count of Health Care Fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1347, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, . . . .”’ (Resp’t
    Ex. B, at 1.) Respondent has not actively practiced medicine since his September 2009 conviction”

    “Respondent testified at hearing that in 1996, his Illinois medical license was reprimanded”

    “Respondent next testified that his medical license in Illinois had recently been subject to discipline due to his September 28, 2009, federal health care fraud conviction”

    “Respondent testified that he pled guilty to health care fraud `'[b]ecause I did wrong.” (Tr. 56.) Respondent further explained the nature of the misconduct,\7\ stating `’that’s what I pled guilty for and I feel very bad about it.” (Tr. 57.) Since his conviction, Respondent explained that he has paid a fine of $10,000, a $100 assessment, and restitution of $28,349. (Tr. 57-58.) Respondent also
    successfully completed a four month period of work release at the Salvation Army, along with 250 hours of community service.”

    So evidence of brushes with the US medical and or legal systems in 1996 and 2009!

    Please reply to Ceòl’s post, Dr Jin. Who is the “poor ethical human being?” (your quote!)

  • Nick says:

    After 12 clearly silly posts in 3 days, Dr. Jin has gone silent. I wonder if Myung Whun Chung’s detractors in the Korean media have been as ineffective.