Pass on the baton to Chung Myung-whun

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Pass on the baton to Chung Myung-whun

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The KBS Symphony Orchestra has been in trouble as of late. On March 8, for instance, less than 10 hours before a scheduled performance, the orchestra posted a notice that read, “The concert has been cancelled due to a situation in the orchestra.” The orchestra has a packed schedule in the coming weeks. The director of the Boston Pops Orchestra, Keith Lockhart, and internationally renowned violinist Robert McDuffie have been invited to perform. But in all likelihood, even those concerts will be cancelled.

The reason behind the trouble is discord among the orchestra’s members. A few days ago, 71 members of the orchestra were reprimanded, with three members discharged, one released and 64 suspended from future performances.

The members blame conductor Hahm Shin-ik for the problems and have called for him to step down. Hahm, on the other hand, says the performers refuse to follow his instructions. Both sides blame the other for lacking skill and talent, but the friction is nothing new.

When Hahm was nominated for the permanent conductor position two years ago, he was one of two final candidates along with a foreign conductor. Orchestra members reportedly supported the other candidate, but management did not heed their wishes. Since then, conflicts over auditions, internal audits of members and disciplinary actions have erupted, further straining the relationship between conductor and crew. Incompetent leadership by KBS executives has also contributed to the trouble. And to add more fuel to the fire, a musician who came in for an audition recently committed suicide after being rejected by the orchestra.

In the special meeting last week, the orchestra’s management discussed three possible solutions: a complete organizational overhaul, corporatization or full dissolution. KBS President Kim In-gyu has until Wednesday to announce a plan. As Kim ponders his options, I want to offer my own two cents.

In my mind, the best solution would be organizational reform, even if it means a few cancelled concerts. Chung Myung-whun should consider taking the baton, as he has already given a magical facelift to the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.

From 1969 to 1981, the KBS Symphony Orchestra was nationally acclaimed. Right now, it’s struggling, but with some help from Chung, it could achieve that great status it had once again.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun


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