[Viewpoint] Discordant music

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[Viewpoint] Discordant music

When everyone owns something, it ends up having no owner at all. That is precisely the situation of the KBS Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra is allocated a budget of 9.3 billion won ($8.2 million) taken from the television license fee charged by the Korean Broadcasting System, so the orchestra’s real owner are the citizens of Korea. But as the real owners have no real ability to get involved in its operation, the orchestra members, its conductor and KBS executives end up exercising the power of an owner - or failing to exercise those powers. That’s how the orchestra ended up being completely ruined. No one gave a care about the significance of the license fees extracted from the public.

A canceled concert is denial of the orchestra’s existence. Since the 666th regular concert scheduled for March 8 and 9 fell through, concert cancellations have become the norm for the KBS Symphony Orchestra. The 667th concerts on March 29 and 30 were not held as scheduled, and the 668th regular concert on Thursday and Friday are not likely to happen either.

A foreign accompanist arranged for the concert has already been notified that he need not attend. Its engagement for the 2012 Orchestra Festival at the Seoul Arts Center was broken off in the end. The Web site of the Seoul Arts Center posted an announcement that the KBS Symphony Orchestra’s performance has been canceled due to the orchestra’s circumstances. The festival was a major event with 22 orchestras from around the country participating, and the KBS Symphony Orchestra has always been considered an eldest brother in Korea’s classical music world. But is KBS Symphony Orchestra qualified to be seen as a leader?

Who ruined the KBS Symphony Orchestra? Let’s start with Hahm Shin-ik, the artistic director who created constant friction with orchestra musicians for various reasons since his appointment. Hans von Bulow, who is considered the first virtuoso orchestral conductor, said that there is no such thing as a good orchestra or a bad orchestra: There are only good conductors and bad conductors. Sergiu Celibidache, who was known for his cynicism, said that there is no such thing as a good conductor or a bad conductor, since a bad one can not even be considered a conductor. Based on their perspectives, Hahm was a bad conductor who failed to lead the members of the orchestra.

But is Hahm solely responsible for the fiasco? Some members are at greater fault. Hahm may have been a foreign species that landed on an isolated island named the KBS Symphony Orchestra. Those members that slacked off practices, refused auditions and excessively focused on teaching careers outside the orchestra need to look in the mirror before criticizing Hahm.

The conductor said he could not exercise any of the authority he had been given. It was impossible for him to change musicians he wanted to change. The recorded audio file of a quarrel between members includes vulgar and foul language. Instead of making excuses that they were overly agitated, they should contemplate on whether they contributed to the hostile environment.

While the conductor and the orchestra members were fighting, KBS executives sat on their hands. They are the ones who should know the importance of the television license fee. But they allowed 92 people in the orchestra to waste nearly 10 billion won. At a KBS board meeting last month, the board demanded management to produce a reform plan, even if it involves a complete overhaul or corporatization. Nearly a month has passed, and the board is called for a regular meeting tomorrow.

In the meantime, KBS executives came up with three options: making an independent corporation, a complete restructuring or a dissolution of the orchestra. The three plans have been in discussion for a while. And the situation is only getting messier as the members of the orchestra operation committee resigned last Wednesday and disciplinary measures on the members were postponed.

KBS President Kim In-kyu and the board of directors need to settle the fiasco. It has become a fact that Hahm, whose contract expires in December, is to leave the orchestra. Some unfit members also need to be discharged, and the structure should be reorganized. Choi Bong-rak, a member who fought Hahm, said that the orchestra is internally discussing a plan to establish a corporation, modeled after the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.

KBS Union, to which the orchestra belongs, is to go on strike from May 3, so the situation is getting even more complicated. Kim In-kyu’s term will end in November. The current directors of the board will complete their terms by the end of August, and new board members will be selected in June. That means the orchestra does not have much time. I want to ask the KBS executives if they figure it would be better to prolong the issue until after the presidential election. If so, then they deserve to be criticized for playing dirty tricks with the license fee collected from the public.

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

by Noh Jae-hyun
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