The man who brought classical music to South Korea

The man who brought classical music to South Korea


norman lebrecht

November 14, 2016

Fascinating piece by Elijah Ho, accompanying the San Francisco Symphony on its first Korea tour. South Korea today has the highest per capita classical record sales in the world.


In 1948, John S. Kim (the ‘S’ stands for ‘Seong Ryo’, his Korean name) founded the Seoul National Philharmonic, the first symphony orchestra in Korea. But as the Korean war ravaged the country a few years later, his family of musicians — not to mention his actual family — were under serious threat.

“My birthplace, Seoul, was a dangerous place,” says Kim, who first picked up the violin at age 5. “My mother and father pleaded with the Navy Admiral of Korea to protect the musicians of the symphony by providing refuge for them in Busan, just outside of Seoul. My mother’s best friend’s husband happened to be this Navy Admiral, and he offered them a hotel.”

Kim still recalls living all together in that complex, her family alongside all the orchestra musicians and choir members. Whether it was the close quarters or simply a profound love of music, John S. Kim and his orchestra never ceased their musical activities.

Read on here.

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