Closed Musical Doors Cited as Root Causes Of Bribes, Chicanery

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Closed Musical Doors Cited as Root Causes Of Bribes, Chicanery

The "ghost orchestra" scandal that broke in the Korean music world in February has left many ruminating and regretting its causes.

A Korean concert promoter falsely represented an orchestra due to perform as the well-known Vienna Mozart Orchestra. In fact it was not. Many of the Korean soloists who played with the false orchestra paid bribes to appear. Others, at the very least, knowingly participated in the subterfuge.

Many people agree that Korean musicians - apart from a minority of established ones - do not have many opportunities to play with Korean orchestras, as most of the orchestras are reluctant to offer chances to newcomers. To build a career, some unknown musicians will try to play with any orchestra from abroad, bribing organizers and even buying up blocks of tickets to events in which they are performing to allow the event to continue.

To stop this mischief, Korean orchestras must give more opportunities to new faces.

The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and the Korean Broadcasting System Orchestra are relatively more welcoming to young players than other orchestras in Korea. The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, in particular, has paid a lot of attention to seeking out new conductors and soloists and giving them chances to perform with the orchestra. Since 1956, the orchestra has given music students the chance to play with the orchestra through an annual young musician concert program.

Since 1990, the orchestra has also helped promote two new conductors every year by holding debut concerts for them.

The KBS Orchestra, meanwhile, is putting most of its efforts into finding new soloists. Since 1991, the orchestra has held a competition for soloists between 22 and 27 years old and awards winners with the chance to perform in concert with the orchestra. Unfortunately, the orchestra has largely neglected up-and-coming young conductors aside from occasionally inviting them to conduct small events such as children's concerts or short radio concerts.

So most music students at Korean universities find it almost impossible to break into the profession. Even college orchestras often offer only one music student a year the opportunity to join as a soloist. These limited opportunities for Korean musicians can hamper their progress in all areas of their musical development; Most international music competitions require participants to play with an orchestra in the final round. Having experience performing with an orchestra is thus crucial for establishing a career as a musician.

Noh Tae-cheol, a conductor who was involved - though unintentionally - in the Vienna Mozart Orchestra fiasco, says he regrets the ongoing exclusiveness of the nation's musical world, which recognizes only the graduates of few prestigious music schools or universities.

Despite an international musical education, guest conductorships for several notable orchestras and conductorships with small orchestras in Korea, he said, his attempts to succeed as a conductor have been fraught with difficulties because he did not attend one of the selective group of well-known music colleges in Korea.

by Lee Jang-jik

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