Hopes Surface for a Cross-Border Symphonic Collaboration

by: Jake DeBacher

It looks like music may finally break across a famous border in the coming months. Chung Myung-whun, maestro of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, announced his intent to start a symphony equally comprised of members from North and South Korea. From a political standpoint, it is not yet known whether this will be possible, but even the potential for such an idea coming to fruition is exciting.

Chung recently met with music figures from North Korea and members of the North Korean State Symphony Orchestra, all of whom were in favor. Chung saw no signs of resistance from the South Korean government, which makes him hopeful about the future of the project. The project has moved into secondary negotiations between the two halves of the peninsula.

I was briefly in South Korea this past January, not long after 50 were killed in attacks between the two countries, and the animosity between them is still quite evident. It is unrealistic to believe that a move such as this can resolve the tensions that have been built over the better part of a century, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction. Chung indicated that he doubts the collaboration could have serious potential for changing the cultural policies of North Korea, but it could be a valuable interchange nonetheless.

The cultural rift between North and South Korea has widened ever since their division in 1945. The cultural state of North Korea does indeed seem to be more dire; all “art,” under the eye of the government, must have an underlying didactic purpose, and cultural influences from outside the nation are widely criticized and rejected. In fact, on the few occasions when the North Korean regime has admitted external cultural groups, it is viewed internally as proof that the rest of the world respects North Korea.

This is a reassuring bit of news, particularly with the recent controversy around the BBC Proms. The Israel Philharmonic was performing a broadcast concert on September 1st which had to be shut down when 20 to 30 anti-Israel protesters began shouting and singing. They were booed by audience members and eventually removed by security, but the disturbance they produced was widely felt.


See also:

Maestro plans joint concert with NK, by Kwon Mee-yoo via The Korea Times

Protests disrupt Proms concert by Israel Philharmonic, via BBC News



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