In the land of nut rage, the orchestra is now at risk

In the land of nut rage, the orchestra is now at risk


norman lebrecht

March 11, 2015

Remember the scion of a ruling family who caused a Korea Air jet to turn back because she didn’t like the nuts she was served?

A similar saga is now playing out at the Seoul Philharmonic.

The orchestra’s offices were raided by police today on the orders of the former CEO, a member of another of the ruling dynasties who was forced to resign after being accused of  sexual harrassment and bullying. Ms Park swore she would not go quietly.

First, she mobilised media connections to broadcast a TV hatchet-job ‘documentary’ on the orchestra and its music director, Myung Whun Chung.

Now she has used government friends to send police into the orchestra’s offices in search of documents that might in some way incriminate her accusers.

Ms Park will not desist until the orchestra is brought to its knees.

Over the past few years, the Seoul Philharmonic has earned world rank, a DG recording contract and widespread admiration. Ms Park wants to destroy these national gains in pursuit of personal vengeance. Large sections of Korea’s family-owned media are cheering her on.

She may well succeed.

myun whun chung



  • Robert Garbolinski says:

    What a bitch!

  • Ceòl says:

    Korea is not a normal country.
    In terms of individual freedom rights and the freedom of press, the situation has actually worsened in the last years:
    – South Korea ranks only 57 in the Press Freedom Index
    – there is much censorship and government control
    – journalists and bloggers and protesters continue to be arrested
    – an opposition party (which was even member of the parliament) was just being banned by the constitutional court after a request from the government because it allegedly violated the Korea’s vague and ominous National Security Law, another example of the current government ‘using national security as a guise to repress political opposition and curtail freedom of expression’ (Amnesty International)
    – Reporters without Borders have spoken about ‘noticeable problems’ and they have listed South Korea alongside Egypt, Thailand and Russia as countries ‘under surveillance’.

    As for the Seoul Philharmonic’s abusive ex-prez Mrs Park, her father was a minister and economic advisor of two military dictators and later (!) Chairman of Securities Supervisory Board – one example of many about how potentates at the military dictatorship have survived even after South Korea’s (deficient) democratization. And Mrs Park’s uncle remains a prominent politician in the ruling party. (A further note: South Korea’s current president is the daughter of military dictator Chung-Hee Park under whose regime Isang Yun, alongside a number of intellectuals and students, was kidnapped by the South Korean Secret Service from Germany to Korea and imprisoned and tortured because of alleged contacts with North Korea. Mrs Park’s election for presidency is one example of many about one of South Korea’s big problems, the prevalence of family dynasties.)
    Some more information about the Seoul Philharmonic case specifically and its background is being provided by this study:

  • Tom says:

    Crazy and so sad!!!!

  • korry kung says:

    Reduce working conditions of the seoul phil to that of ordinary korean orchestras, with an increase in workload and a 60 percent pay cut. No more expensive foreign guest conductors, no more expensive foreign soloists, no more expensive foreign players on the orchestra roster, no more renting or purchasing of playing parts that do not infringe upon copyright laws, etc. Cut the office staff in half and make them work twice as hard with a pay cut. No sick pay, no disability pay, no union, no legal representation, play in 7 degree cold or 30 degree heat, play an annual audition to keep your job, be victim to arbitrary verbal abuse and or dismissal, have a concert program change two days before the concert, be forced to sight read, have limited access to practice parts, play on cheap photocopies on cheap flimsy paper with music shrunken from b1 to a4 to save on paper costs and weed out players with old eyes, have rehearsal/concert times/tour departure times/virtually anything that can be scheduled be free to be rescheduled at any time with little or no warning. Don’t be told what the concert dress is until the day before the concert. Don’t get paid extra for recordings, television, radio, tours, extra rehearsal time, extra rehearsals.

    No play? No pay. Tens of thousands of young koreans, studying here in korea and abroad have no jobs upon graduation. These robo-musicians are plentiful, strong and accurate, svelte and compliant. There are now more music teachers than music students. There is no work.

    The korean economy is struggling hard. Lay offs everywhere. In the midst of this, taxpayer money is used to support a hobby, a plaything of the elite class, the orchestra.

    Time to reframe classical music in korea. Time to cut state funding for all orchestras and state concert halls. Time to cut classical music. Dinosaurs of a past era of plenty.

    be ahead of the curve, korea. Sack chung and replace with hahm and a new sleek orchestra S.O.N.G.

    then watch the real master of the podium in action.

    he will definitely improve the playing level, better than vienna phil for sure, cut pay, sack players, make the orchestra completely compliant or dissolve if called to do so.

    chung is an artist first. Hahm is Korean first.

    much better with hahm. Much much better. Korea deserves hahm.

    koreans don’t need a world class orchestra or music director. DG? Who cares? Who listens to classical recordings these days? Touring orchestras always make seoul concerts a priority. Koreans can hear real classical musicians when foreigners are here on tour on their bill. The world knows that korean orchestras are mediocre at best. For korea, that’s plenty good enough. No need to make orchestras better.

    koreans don’t need chung’s asia philharmonic. What a waste of state funds! For two reasons: money for a bunch of rich people hobnobbing, and money for a party tour of asians, not some lofty intercultural diplomatic tool that fosters friendship and understanding using music as a way to bring the people of china, korea, and japan, TOGETHER IN HARMONY, in a time of increasing tension in asia and the world.

    Chung has no place in a world that no longer values him. It doesn’t matter that he is the greatest korean conductor by a long shot, that he has done more for korean orchestras and classical music than any other person.

    chung needs to go because he is a true artist.

    Korea doesn’t need artists. Korea needs the right pitch at the right time, dressed well and stern-faced, ready to take orders and bow deeply.

    Police raiding offices? Is that all you can do, korea? Have some class and bring the SWAT team on stage, which I am sure maestro hahm will be able to easily accomplish when he sets up shop soon in seoul

    • Nick says:

      Haha! I thought this was the disgraced Dr Kwanbo Jin up to his old tricks again until I realised it’s all a parody.

      One does wonder for how much longer Myung Whun Chung will decide to put up with all this petty childish nonsense from the supporters of the pathetic Ms. Park, though.

    • May says:

      I had to laugh reading your post. Shinik Hahm can’t hold a candle to Chung. Sure, Hahm is a good conductor, but not on an international level. If Hahm is so Korean, why has he chosen to live in the USA for the past twenty years? Maybe Chung has long overstayed his welcome with the orchestra, but he won’t be easy to replace.

      • Ceòl says:

        Myung-Whun Chung has overstayed? In principle, I am always in favour of change, but Chung has definitely not overstayed. He has built up the orchestra. Before he came, ten years ago, it was an absurdly mismanaged institution almost about to be dissoluted, barely giving (scarcely attended) concerts. Now it’s a world-class ensemble but one which will need Chung for a long time.
        It won’t be easy to find someone to replace him? Indeed not, it would simply be impossible. Who would be keen to take up the post considering the circumstances in Korea? In Korea, there is no planning security whatever. Contracts are always made at the last moment, contracts are vague and opaque, promises maken by politicians (such as the new concert hall with which the lured Chung to Korea ten years ago) are being broken, the budget is being cut a month before the new season starts, etc etc etc. And who would really be masochist enough to consider becoming Chief Conductor in Korea after the witch-hunt against Chung?
        BTW, look at this, this is a clip from a Korean parliamentary session, it’s telling:

  • Opus 111 says:

    And we all thought that Kim Jung-Il’s North Korea was so terrible?

  • Tom says:

    We are in dire need of true art and true artists in Korea, thus Myung Whun Chung is essential for Korea. If one cares so much for the good of their own country, one needs to look deeper within.

    “Art is the daughter of freedom”
    Friedrich Schiller

    “The work of art is a scream of freedom”

    “Freedom in art, freedom in society, this is the double goal towards which all consistent and logical minds must strive.”
    Victor Hugo

    “The Revolution introduced me to art, and in turn, art introduced me to the Revolution!”
    Albert Einstein

  • Novagerio says:

    Ship Mrs.Park over to the Pyonyang Philharmonic!….

  • korry kung says:

    “Freedom or art won’t feed your children.
    Compliance pays the bills”

    -kim jong nut

  • Adele says:

    I think that Korean does NOT deserve to have such a great international-level conductor for them. Maestro Chung is definately one of the greatest conductors(alive) nowdays. Mrs.Park already got all media manipulations since last Dec. What a shame ! Seoul is a capital city of south Korea, which doesn’t have anything attractive or high-leveled refined cultural spots except coffee shops and cosmetic shops..

  • harold braun says:

    Maestro Chungs concert with the Seoul PO was,in my opinion,the highlight of last year’s proms season.Fantastic conductor,world class Orchestra.A Tchaikovsky 6 for the ages!

  • Ben says:

    The world is much more dangerous because of easily manipulated people like some readers around here, who jump to conclusion and get excited easily when there is no cross examination of facts. Those are the defense attorneys love to have as jurors in any murder trial.

    (I do not defend anybody mentioned in this article since I could not find any fact about it. Any alleged insider knowledge should always be taken with a gain of salt as it usually could not be verified)

    • Youngsoo Lee says:

      I know Korea really well and, sadly, this all is more than plausible for me, I even think this is just the tip of the iceberg. I have followed the situation keenly by reading Korean newspapers, blogs, interviews etc.
      Knowing about Korean society and media the picture that emerges is rather clear. And in English there is an informative blog about the whole matter which analyzes the media coverage and the situation in Korea. It’s recommendable:

    • Nick says:

      There have been plenty of recent threads on this subject with a lot of interesting and informed comment from people who know quite a bit about classical music in Seoul and who either live in Korea or visit regularly. I suggest you look back at some “before jumping to conclusions”.

  • Ceòl says:

    I think Chung should leave. It would be a disaster for the orchestra and for Korean musical life, but I think it is the only solution. One can’t fight alone but needs a broad support. Chung is the exact opposite of a superficial jet-setter, but I wonder whether he should start thinking more about himself and start actively contending for one of the top Chief Conductor jobs in America or Europe – in addition to being principal guest conductor post at the Staatskapelle Dresden. That would be exactly the slap in the face his detractors deserve. As for Korea, I wonder where is the broad public support for SPO and Chung? Forget about the media, but why don’t wealthy and influential music lovers start campaigning for SPO and Chung in public? Are they just content in travelling once a year to Bayreuth or Salzburg? Of course, when, say, the Berlin Phil comes to Seoul they can surely afford the super-expensive tickets, but other people can’t and in terms of freedom of expression ‘ordinary people’ have much to be frightened of in this (semi)repressive society. One of the great things about the SPO, besides the high quality of its concerts, is that it has really become a people’s orchestra. Tickets are cheap and they have had a lot of outreach concerts – at least until ex-prez Mrs Park did cut the outreach programme, calling it „shabby“ …

  • kea says:

    “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” Yes, perhaps Chung should leave this mental asylum. For idealism doesn’t pay in that society. And yet, one feels deeply sorry for the orchestra’s musicians and staff. A terrible and absurd situation.

  • korry kung says:

    Let me make it simple for the simple:

    Chung should stay at seoul phil and be supported fully by the city, province, state, audiences, donors, and corporate sponsors. Outreach programs should be reinstated and expanded.

    No one else in korea is qualified to lead a korean orchestra on a world level. No one else has created an orchestra that is on a world level.

    Every major city in korea has an orchestra and concert hall that is completely state funded.

    Seoul phil must continue to be the flagship orchestra of korea under his leadership. All korean orchestras should use seoul phil as a template and adopt its culture and working conditions and pay a livable wage. Currently, full-time korean orchestral players base scale is approximately 23, 000 dollars a year.

    Chung’s asia philharmonic promotes peace and understanding, bringing china, japan, and korea together on many levels. Government officials, business leaders, musicians and their families from the three countries that have been traditionally at odds with each other meet in an atmosphere of friendship and harmony, using music to find their common humanity.

    Although Chung, an individual, is being attacked, it is classical music as we know it in korea that is being attacked.

    Chung serves as a very important cultural ambassador of korea to the world and as a symbol of justice and fairness for all korean orchestras.

    Orchestras are a very important part of human culture and need to be supported. Access to concerts should be made available to all. Outreach programs should be expanded.

    Chung is a champion of the orchestra, and knows its value to society and humanity.

    This attack on chung and the seoul phil is absurd and should frighten all koreans whether they be classical music fans or not.

    • Youngsoo Lee says:

      Hear! Hear!
      This is an attack not only on Seoul Philharmonic and on Chung, but on classical music and on freedom in general.