More corruption smears at the Seoul Philharmonic

More corruption smears at the Seoul Philharmonic


norman lebrecht

December 28, 2015

The power tribes in South Korea are raising further allegations against the Seoul Philharmonic music director Myung Whun Chung, alleging that his wife was involved in the dismissal of former SPO chief executive, Park Hyun-jung, a hereditary member of the ruling elites.

The latest allegations have appeared in the Korea Times, mouthpiece of the elites. Mrs Chung has received a police summons on a defamation charge. The board of the SPO meets today to discuss Mr Chung’s contract. The wealthy Ms Park is said to have set up a ‘revenge office’ south of the river to pursue her grievances against the Chungs.


The flare-up comes at the end of a year in which Korean artists achieved unprecedented triumphs at the Chopin Competition and other global summits. But power does not like to be challenged and talent is no match for hereditary wealth and political control.



  • Heeja Walker says:

    This absurd situation has to be seen in the context of the general situation in Korea. South Korea is a young democracy and it is questionable of whether nowadays one can even remotely speak of a real democracy: especially in the last years there has been a dramatic erosion of core democractic values. One example of many: last year, a Japanese journalist was banned from leaving Korea for fourteen months and charged with defaming the president since he had raised critical questions about the president’s whereabouts on the day of last year’s Sewol ferry sinking, during which the president had disappeared for seven hours. (After fourteen months and protests from abroad, the Korean court cleared the journalist from defemation but reprimanded him harshly – other journalists haven’t been that lucky.)
    Another example: the government has just reintroduced state-authored history textbooks in order to whitewash the legacy of former military dictator Park Chung-Hee (the current president’s father). The police is currently considering charging the organiser of a big demonstration against the new history textbooks with sedition.
    In general, freedom of speech has been strongly curtailed in recent years. Members and scions of the old nomenclatura from pre-democracy times are in power again and thriving. Paranoia and fear blossoms in today’s Korea, an essentially oligarchical country (where, not too long time ago, bribery of the press was openly omnipresent). Old habits die slowly. Democratic criteria such as rule of law and the separation of powers – gained at least partly since the end of the military dictatorship – have not been fully embraced and have eroded dramatically in recent years.

    As for the Seoul Philharmonic affair, it all started when, one year ago, 17 of the orchestra’s employees wrote a petition demanding the dismissal of the orchestra’s then-CEO, Hyunjung Park, because of the violation of human rights. (Before that, 13 employees had already quitted because of Park – within only a year’s time since her appointment.) Park, a member of the politically ruling class (her father was a top politician during the military dictatorship and afterwards, and her uncle is still a prominent politician) resigned but launched a campaign against Chief Conductor Myung-Whun Chung and the Seoul City Mayor (a possible future presidential candidate and, as a liberal politician and former human rights lawyer, an object of hatred for the members of the old nomenclatura and the far right), accusing them of a conspiracy to oust her from power. Besides, she filed defamation cases against the employees of the Seoul Philharmonic who had signed the petition.

    What has happened since then: police and the great majority of the media have taken sides with the powerful and wealthy ex-CEO Park. Even though the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Human Rights Committee confirmed the allegations against ex-CEO Park, the police declared them quickly as unfounded. (Ex-CEO Park filed defamation cases against the members of the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Human Rights Committee and against critical journalists.) The police raided the offices of the Seoul Philharmonic a number of times, confiscating the mobile phones of the employees. In April, they imposed ongoing travel bans on two of the Seoul Philharmonic’s employees because of an alleged defamation of Ms Park. Ten employees have been ordered to attend numerous police questionings which have taken 10-12 hours each. Private chats of the SPO’s employees were being printed out and analyzed by the police and were handed over the Korean press even though the investigation has not even nearly been closed. An employee who had recently given birth is suffering from depression and is said to be on the verge of nervous breakdown; another employee attempted suicide. Interestingly, a number of Korean newspapers write shocking canards always at a moment when something important for the orchestra happens: today, the orchestra’s board was about to discuss the future of Myung-Whun Chung’s contract – a meeting which they now postponed due to the media news. (Chung had earlier announced not to extend his contract due to the reporting of the media but he promised to fulfill next season’s conducting commitments with the SPO, after which the orchestra’s musicians made a public plea to retain the conductor as their music director.)

    The excellent Seoul Philharmonic and its brilliant conductor have become victims of lurid manipulation.

    • MWnyc says:

      As Gordon Brown (reportedly) said,
      “When it comes to establishing the rule of law, the first five hundred years are the hardest.”

  • uri says:

    This analysis about the drama at the Seoul Philharmonic has, sadly, lost none of its actuality:

  • canadian says:

    It’s sad to read such articles but the real stories behind, is slowly revealing that Mr Chung’s wife was behind Ms. Park’s dismissal, with police investigation though.