'Music comes before politics'

Conductor Chung Myung-whun has high hopes of having musicians from South and North Korea perform classical music together this summer, despite intensifying political tension between the two Koreas.

Chung, an internationally renowned conductor, said on Thursday that he has suggested that the North join the annual performance by the Asia Philharmonic Orchestra that he founded 16 years ago to bridge Asian musicians from across the region.

"We are waiting for 'permission' from the North. If they say 'yes,' the orchestra will have musicians from the South and the North Korea, China and Japan," he told reporters at a luncheon held in Seoul.

His comment comes after he led a joint North Korean and French orchestra in a landmark concert in Paris last month. Under the baton of Chung, North Korea's Unhasu Orchestra and Radio France Philharmonic played at Paris' Salle Pleyel music hall, drawing attention from around the world for its symbolic significance in bridging the West and the isolated nation through music.

Chung said that the concert was an emotional one for him and has led him to step forward to help North Korean musicians who don't have many musical exchanges.

"North Korean musicians were perfect in technique. They didn't make a single mistake. But they were not that good at playing classical music. They were more like a pop orchestra," the 59-year-old conductor who currently serves as chief director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra said.

Chung said it was not appropriate to exploit his project for political purposes.

"You should never use music as (political) means. Music comes first in this case.

"It is politically impossible to have both musicians from the North and the South. But if (the suggested event) is to help North Korean musicians improve their musical skills and to open their eyes to classical music, then the joint performance will be possible," he said.

Chung met reporters last week before leaving Seoul on SPO's first North American tour, scheduled for April 15-19.

Starting in Vancouver, the orchestra will also perform in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Seattle.

The North America tour, sponsored by Hyundai Motor, is part of Chung's efforts to create a world-class orchestra. Chung said last year that the orchestra would have to offer many recordings and tours to attract international attention.

This year, the orchestra will perform Korean composer Chin Un-suk's "Su," a concerto with the sheng, a 17-pipe traditional Chinese reed instrument, for the first time in North America.

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