Korean orchestras, foreign musicians

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Korean orchestras, foreign musicians


Foreign musicians with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra pose for the camera. There are more foreign musicians in Korean orchestras than ever, industry sources say. [JoongAng Ilbo]

Horn player Christopher Powell, 27, is a native of the United States. Born in Chicago, he grew up in Atlanta and New York. He studied music at Mannes College of Music at the New School University and College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.

In October, he found a home in Korea when he joined the Daegu City Symphony Orchestra, becoming the first foreigner to join the 45-year-old orchestra.

“I’d never heard of Daegu before I joined the orchestra,” he said. But after hearing from a friend that the principal horn position at the orchestra had been vacant for five years, Powell decided to apply.

These days, there are more foreigners in Korean orchestras than ever. A survey conducted by this newspaper found that there are 28 foreign musicians in 10 of the 15 major orchestras in the country, excluding foreign nationals of Korean descent. The figure is more than twice that of three years ago.

Foreign musicians are employed in the city symphony orchestras of Seoul, Daejeon, Daegu, Ulsan and Suwon, among others, as well as the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra, Korean Symphony Orchestra and KBS Symphony Orchestra. Of those, the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra has the largest number of foreign players at 14, which observers say is mainly due to the efforts of music director and chief conductor Chung Myung-whun.

“When I was studying at the Julliard School, I heard that Chung was holding auditions in New York to recruit performers for his orchestra,” said Jason Matthew Crimi, an associate principal trombone player at the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. Crimi said he had been hoping to join an orchestra in the United States but chose the Seoul orchestra after hearing that Chung was the conductor.

Along with his sisters - the violinist Kyung-Wha and the cellist Myung-Wha - Chung is an internationally-renowned pianist and conductor.


Christopher Powell of the Daegu City Symphony Orchestra

According to Kim Yi-seok, the general manager of the Daejeon Philharmonic Orchestra, Korean orchestras are employing musicians who play a variety of instruments and who come from a variety of regions. The Daejeon orchestra has a Canadian clarinetist, an American timpanist and a Hungarian violinist. At a recent audition, musicians from Germany, the United States and Hong Kong applied for positions.

Many of the foreign musicians in Korean orchestras cite the potential for growth and relatively good working conditions as reasons for coming here to work.

Mark Komonko, an associate principal violinist at the Seoul Philharmonic, believes that when people of different cultural backgrounds communicate and interact, the result is a better sounding orchestra.

However, not all Korean symphony orchestras are open to foreign musicians. Smaller orchestras with little or no international exposure get few inquiries from foreign musicians simply because they are not as well known.

Still, Komonko thinks that Korean orchestras should accept more foreign musicians.

Oh Pyeong-Kwon, an artistic adviser to the Seoul orchestra agrees.


Kevin Clarks of the Daejeon Philharmonic Orchestra

“Performers from different countries have different ways of interpreting and expressing the music,” Oh said. “For example, American players can spice up jazz scores. In that sense, multinational orchestras can present more high-quality music.”

By Kim Ho-joung [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

Related Korean Article

“음악 수준, 복지 모두 매력”… 외국인 연주자 속속 몰려
전국 10곳서 단원 28명 활동 …‘정명훈 효과’서울시향만 14명

호른 연주자 크리스토퍼 파웰(27)은 미국 뉴욕 매네스 음대와 신시내티 음대에서 공부했다. 시카고 태생으로 애틀랜타·뉴욕에서 자란 미국 토박이 파웰이 지난 10월 선택한 도시는 대구다. 그는 대구시립교향악단(이하 대구시향) 창단 45년 만의 첫 외국인으로 입단했다. 대구시향에 들어오기 위해 세 번의 테이프·DVD 오디션을 거쳤다.

“오디션 전에는 대구에 대해 들어본 적이 전혀 없었다. 같은 학교에서 공부하던 한국인 유학생을 통해 한국의 음악시장 등에 관심을 가지게 됐다.” 파웰은 그 중 한 친구에게 대구시향의 호른 수석 자리가 5년간 비어있다는 소식을 듣고 오디션에 응시했다.

파웰은 “연주자로서 세계의 모든 오케스트라가 나의 ‘직장’이 될 수 있다고 생각한다”고 말했다.

한국의 교향악단을 선택하는 외국인 연주자가 최근 부쩍 늘었다. 본지가 그 상황을 조사했다. 현재 전국 시립교향악단 등 주요 오케스트라 15곳 중 10곳에서 28명의 외국인 단원이 활동 중인 것으로 나타났다. 3~4년 전에 비해 두 배가 넘는 수치다. 한국계 외국 국적의 연주자는 제외한 숫자다.

외국인 연주자가 활동하고 있는 오케스트라는 서울·대전·대구·울산·수원·부산·군산시향과 경기 필하모닉, 코리안 심포니, KBS 교향악단이다.

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