Chung quits Korea

Chung quits Korea


norman lebrecht

August 30, 2015

After more than a year of political wrangling, Myung Whun Chung has announced he will step down next year as artistic director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.

His statement is slightly ambiguous in that it suggests he will continue to fulfil contracted concerts beyond the date of his departure and may return as a guest conductor.

But the definitive element of his resignation is that it will end one of the world’s most prosperous conductor-orchestra partnerships, a relationship that earned the Seoul  Phil a 10-album DG contract and unprecendented international recognition.

These gains have been sacrificed to the ambitions of the ruling Park dynasty and other local oligarchs, who have meddled incessantly with the orchestra. When Chung leaves, the music dies in Seoul.

myun whun chung


  • Hermann Lederer says:

    Excuse me but this is complete nonsense. Why should music die in Seoul when a highly overrated conductor from a corrupt music dynasty leaves? His brother is already in jail and the attorney has since a long time many questions to Myung Whun Chung.
    Have you ever been in Seoul??? Chung had once luck in his life when Barenboim was sacked on political reasons in Paris. That made him a hero at home and people believed he is a superstar. He earned at home fees Karajan has not seen in life and he abused his position until the moment more and more people released at the he might not be the world famos conductor he made them believe. He cancelled even on shortest notice when he got an interesting offer from Europe and his success there is negligible. May be there will be a big change in Seoul but a least there is a chance for the better. As it was it could not go on and this was to a big part the fault of Chung and his family. (Sorry for my English…)

    • Songfest says:

      You conveniently left out the fact that Chung brought the provincial Seoul Philharmonic to international prominence, and won for them a DGG 10-album recording contract, so now the Seoul Philharmonic – for the first time in its history – is reaching music lovers all over the world. But thanks to the petty pranks of jealous Korean power-players & political bullies, the Seoul Philharmonic will quickly roll back into the provincial 3rd rate band it always was. Nobody ever claimed that Chung was Toscanini, but clearly he was the best thing that ever happened to the Seoul Philharmonic, so the ingratitude and disrespect given to him by his countrymen is a flagrant display of the lowest instincts of Korean national character.

    • Youngsoo Lee says:

      I am sorry but what you, ‘Hermann Lederer’, write is nonsense.
      Firstly, Chung’s overall fee in Seoul is quite standard:
      It amounts to ca 1 million USD per annum which is not that much for a world-class conductor. Especially if one considers that he spends 4 months with the orchestra per year which is well above the average
      A good source about the whole sordid and sad story can be found here:
      However, that analysis dates from Spring and so doesn’t report about the shocking incidents that have happened since then – incidents such as arbitrary police raids directed at private homes of members of the Seoul Philharmonic’s staff and months-long travel bans imposed on them (yes, you read it correctly). All this simply because the pathetic ex-CEO Park, a scion of the ruling political-industrial oligarchy, who had to resign because of her crazily abusive behaviour, had staged a vendetta against the orchestra, Chung and the Seoul City Mayor.
      See also here:

    • Norman Krieger says:

      What a transparent idiot!!
      Get a life!!

      • Norman Krieger says:

        Chung is a great musician and kindhearted soul .Those who attack him with such vitriol clearly have an agenda. Shameful!!!

  • Erich says:

    Another Universal-angled story?

  • Lovedamusic says:

    His brother is in jail? Why???

  • Ppellay says:

    Well, the Seoul Philharmonic looks set to go the same way as the Malaysian Philharmonic, then. Sic transit gloria orchestra Koreana……………

  • Andrew Song says:

    A real shame. One of the biggest transformations in orchestra performances in recent years. Their partnership was really something special and their DG recordings are such a pleasure to listen to.

  • Ms. Gim says:

    The music WILL NOT DIE just because of one overrated musical talent of questionable merit loses his latest position. That is RIDICULOUS and this is coming from an outspoken critic of Saenuri “Lebensraum” Party and their frontwoman who creeps me out with her resemblance of Generalissimo Daddyo. I also happened to have taken up various musical instruments in the 1970s due to my family’s admiration of The Maestro’s family, as well as having had many stays at one of this family’s mountain retreats. The fact is that he is indeed overrated as a musical talent. No idea if that is the case with his administrative talent. And certainly not of the opinion that his brother’s criminal activities should taint the man himself. (His two musical sisters are lovely and very passionate.) But the unsentimental fact is that South Korea is rich in musical talents (probably due in some parts to his very family’s influence and inspiration) who will not leave any void unfilled at the very top, and who ARE indeed world class talents. I speak as an underwhelmed person who did see Mr. Chung perform live in person. I will also say that even though he is rather overrated and a bit self-important, HE HAS DISPLAYED HIS CIVIC SPIRIT and served, as best as his ability and imagination allowed, the PUBLIC INTEREST over many decades now. Perhaps he is not perfect but he has tried and tried and meant well. Give the man a breathing space. Give the nation of South Korea a bit of respect where music is concerned.

    • saeward says:

      I don’t think anyone has claimed that Korea would not be very rich in individual musical talents. The problem is that the institutions are extremely inefficient and don’t function. The Seoul Philharmonic’s almost miraculous success story with Maestro Chung has been unprecedented in Korean history. (Before that, it was a totally malfunctioning provincial orchestra.) In other countries with long-standing tradition and general respect for the arts most orchestras would certainly continue to function even after a great chief conductor leaves. Not so in Korea where, sadly, no continuity exists. If the media and the community would give the Seoul Phil a bit breathing space and all this nasty persecution would come to a halt, the orchestra would have a chance to continue its growth – and this would be something the whole Korean musical life would benefit on.
      Maestro Chung is not someone who sticks to a job. He has shown great commitment and responsibility for the orchestra and for Korean musical life, and if he decides to resign he deserves all respect for his decision. Still, his resignation (especially after such a sordid campaign) would be a real disaster for Korean musical life. At present, there is – especially at such short notice – absolutely no one in sight who might even somehow replace him. I wish the afflicted Seoul Phil all possible best, but I very much fear that all their great achievements will collapse like a house of cards when there is no powerful figure mentoring them and protecting them against uneducated and greedy politicians, revolver journalists and the pack of the ex-CEO Park who has firmly decided to bring the orchestra down to its knees.

      • Frankster says:

        I guess I am just a bad judge of music. He was rather well liked in Paris as music director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and when he was music director of the Paris Opera but the musical establishment here could very well be ignorant and Seoul could be right. His tours with the orchestra in Vienna, Berlin, London and New York were widely praised but those cities could also be considered provincial compared with Seoul. He is first principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden but they are widely known as third rate. His conducting in Tokyo was praised by the local critics but, again, what do they know. His work in Italy won him the Arturo Toscanini Prize and the Primo Abbiati Award but everyone knows the Italians know nothing about music.

    • Novagerio says:

      Overrated???? Did I read right? Chung overrated??? He happens to be one of the world’s leading living conductors!….

      • Olassus says:

        His profile in America, England and Germany does not support this, and it is possible his focus on East Asia over the last 20 years has cost him status in the main markets, except for France and to a lesser extent Italy.

        His “guest” post in Dresden produces just two (2) performances of Don Carlo in 2015-16 and no participation in the Salzburg Easter Festival, where the Dresden orchestra is in residence.

        Artistically his work now shows mannerisms, including leaden tempos. Some important orchestras are turned off.

        • Kraven says:

          He’s in the middle of a Mahler cycle in Dresden and he has performed at the Salzburg Easter festival in 2013.
          If Chung does not have a “higher profile” with the top orchestras it’s very much because HE is turned off by the diva attitude of many of them.
          People always make the mistake of judging the quality of conductors on the the prestige of the positions they have held. That is naive at best and ignorant at worst.
          Chung is undeniably one of the top conductors today a fact which is very easily proven. Can anyone name a living conductor that is clearly and undeniably a better conductor than Chung? Comparble maybe, but better?? Who?

        • saeward says:

          That’s not correct. While Chung will conduct Don Carlo three (not two) times at the Semperoper this season, he will conduct 10 concerts with the Dresden Staatskapelle this season.
          And I would say that a conductor who was invited by orchestras such as Berlin Philharmonic, Concertgebouw, London Symphony, Boston Symphony, Vienna State Opera, Concertgebouw (just a quick google search) within the last years, certainly has a ‘status’ in the ‘main markets’ (whatever that entails).
          Now, Chung is quite the opposite of a career-driven conductor who thinks in market terms. While it is true and well-known that Chung occasionally turns down concert offers even from famous orchestras this doesn’t make him a lesser conductor. And I think it is great that Chung has decided to built up the Seoul Phil and that he has remained true to that orchestra, conducting there four months a year. Isn’t this the kind of idealism direly needed in our times?
          As for his conducting, well, for me he is one of the least mannerist conductors I have ever encountered: no podium histronics, just organic (and highly original) music making. De gustibus non est disputandum … but your conclusion that some important orchestras would be turned off strikes me as rather odd (and again, even if true, doesn’t prove much.)

  • saeward says:

    Spot on. And one might want to add that Chung is also a frequent and always-welcome guest conductor at the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic, the Concertgebouworkest, major London and Parisian orchestras, Vienna State Opera, La Scala, Bayerischer Rundfunk, the orchestras in Boston, New York, Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia, the Met … but certainly: what do such obscure orchestras and opera houses know about music! As we all can agree, Korean politicians and yellow press journalists know it better. And the SPO’s ex-CEO Park (who used to compare the day of her inauguration at the SPO with the birth of Jesus) and who scolded her employees when they were planning to program Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ in a concert in Autumn, is of course an unrivaled authority on all matters musical – just as in the neighbouring country a certain Kim Jong-Un is considered the greatest worldwide expert on the art of cinema (and on every other issue as well.)

  • john says:

    _Second-prize winner at the 1974 International Tchaikovsky Competition
    _Premio Abbiati prize x 2 times
    _Arturo Toscanini prize
    _Association of French Theatres and Music Critics ‘Artist of the Year’
    _Legion of Honour, 1992
    _Order of Cultural Merit, 1996
    _Ho-Am Prize in the Arts, 1997 (worth $111,000), he donated it all to the Korean Red Cross.
    _Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Commandeur, 2011
    _Victoire de la Musique’ prize x 3 times
    _Record Academy Prize – Japan
    _”Man of the year” by UNESCO
    _Exclusive recording artist for Deutsche Grammophon since 1990
    _ many others…

    A short list of his accomplishments. Koreans are foolish people to discredit such a national treasure. They have so few…

  • saeward says:

    @Olassus – perhaps in future you might wish to do some (quick) googling before making (repeatedly) wrong claims?
    Maestro Chung’s appearances with the Dresden Staatskapelle in 2015/16 are as follows:
    27 September 2015
    28 September 2015
    29 September 2015
    9 November 2015
    10 November 2015
    12 November 2015
    13 November 2015
    14 November 2015
    18 November 2015
    19 November 2015
    18 February 2015 (Semperoper)
    21 February 2015 (Semperoper)

    Got it?

    As for Chung’s other guest conducting engagements, I don’t think I am your information service, but even a quick googling should convince you of the fact that he has been conducting these and similar high-class orchestras during the few past seasons (or will do so during this very season).

    Your argumentation is based on little more than biases. On which research is your claim based that high class orchestras would have been ‘turned off’ by Chung’s conducting? If this was the case, why would Berlin Phil, Vienna State Opera, Concertgebouw, Boston, LSO, Radio France, etc etc repeatedly asked him to conduct again?
    It is widely known Chung is highly selective in his choice of engagements. This is since he is a true musician and not a careerist. But probably you won’t understand this since what you talk about is ‘status in the main markets’ (what an ugly expression) as if that would be important. With your logic, someone like Carlos Kleiber (who conducted infinitely much less concerts than Chung) would have been a minor conductor whom orchestras would have been eschewing and who would have had no market status. Of course, this was not the case, and this isn’t the case with Chung either. Someone who has been one of the world’s major conductors since decades and has conducted everywhere doesn’t need to prove anything but is allowed to select to conduct the concerts he wants to conduct, no?
    (And by the way, at a time when many famous conductors have lost their recording contracts, Chung’s exclusive Deutsche Grammophon partnership has been going on. Really ‘no status in the main markets’…?)

    • Olassus says:

      September = his one concert program in Dresden.
      November = the East Asia tour I mentioned.
      February = the two Don Carlo dates.

      You didn’t answer the question about the Berlin, Vienna and Boston orchestras.

  • kea says:

    Olassus is wrong. This season Chung conducts 10 concerts of Dresden Staatskapell and two times at Semper Opera. Can all be found on their webpages.

  • kantormann says:

    Mr. Chung is one of well-known conductors for sure. He does not have any directorship of any major orchestras of Europe or America.
    Many other younger conductors have do.
    He recorded major Classical master pieces with lesser known orchestras and lesser pieces with some major orchestras. That should mean something. Seoul musicians
    are not his servants. Are they?
    Could he revise Brahm’s phrases? Well, Mahler helped Classical masters at will.
    Mr. Chung is no Mahler. Is he? Pollusion.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      He has been music director of the Paris Opera and of Santa Cecilia in Rome. Good enough?

      • kantormann says:

        We all know how he got the Paris Opera post. And we do not consider Santa Cecilia
        a MAJOR orchestra of Europe. Do we?
        No one should mess up masters’ original ideas. He can be very important only to himself.

    • Heeja Walker says:

      „he recorded major Classical master pieces with lesser known orchestras and lesser pieces with some major orchestras. That should mean something.“
      Oh really? Hm, let’s do some googling…:
      as a Deutsche Grammophon exclusive artist since 1990 (which Chung has remained despite all the well-known turmoil in the recording business), he has recorded ca. 40 CDs for the Deutsche Grammophon with orchestras such as Vienna Philharmonic, Concertgebouw, Philadelphia Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France, Paris Bastille and so on (recordings of music by Brahms, Dvorak, Ravel, Berlioz, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mahler, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Messiaen and other great composers – recordings, of which a number have been awarded with major awards and/or of which many are being seen as reference recordings. The next recording, announced recently, will be with the Staatskapelle Dresden.) Besides, MWC had also recorded for other major labels, both as conductor and as a pianist.

      „he does not have any directorship of any major orchestras of Europe and America. Many other younger conductors have do.“
      Hmm… Chung was Music Director of the Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France for 15 years, until last Autumn. Since 2012, he is the first Principal Guest Conductor in the history of the Staatskapelle Dresden. That should tell something.

      How about googling before spreading misinformation?

  • Christopher JOHN says:

    In 2007, (or was it 2006 ?), I was lucky enough to be present in Madrid for his Mahler’s 5th with the French Radio Phil.. It was a truly breathtaking perfomance and when I went afterwards to thank him, my abiding memory is of his genuine modesty and surprise that his artistry was being recognised by a wholly unknown, totally “grey” member of the music loving fraternity. A GREAT Maestro being bad-mouthed on this site by most obviously those who have some sort of disgraceful axe to grind. They denigrate no one but THEMSELVES !!!