Seoul Philharmonic in turmoil, cancels U.S. tour, two area shows

Racked by controversy that has led to a police investigation in South Korea, the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra has canceled an 11-day spring tour of the West Coast and Midwest, including performances April 14 at the Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara and April 15 at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

The orchestra issued a statement Friday saying it was forced to cancel the tour because Seoul’s municipal government, a leading source of its funding, had withdrawn financial backing for the trip.

“I am deeply saddened,” music director Myung-Whun Chung said. “This is due to financial reasons entirely beyond our control.”

Recent reports in the English-language Korean press portray an organization in upheaval. The orchestra’s top business executive, president Park Hyun-jung, resigned under pressure in December, pointing to Chung as the cause of her woes and criticizing his spending.

The Korea Joongang Daily reported that the Seoul police raided the orchestra’s offices Wednesday and seized computers, cellphones, flash drives and emails as part of an investigation into anonymous allegations against Park that she had harrassed employees sexually and verbally.

She denied the allegations, which orchestra office employees had leveled in an anonymous email to the press in early December. Joongang Daily reported that the police raid's aim was to collect evidence that could identify the employees who leveled the allegations against Park and establish whether they were true.

The newspaper reported that Park had responded to the anonymous allegations in a news conference in which she blamed conductor Chung for targeting her and for running the orchestra “as if it were his own private club” -- including using some of its funds to pay personal hotel expenses.

Chung in turn denied Park's allegations and the orchestra board subsequently extended his expiring contract by a year.

At a January news conference, the Korea Herald reported, conductor Chung complained that the orchestra’s budget had declined 20% over the previous three years, and that the U.S. tour was in jeopardy. The Herald said the orchestra had filled 92% of its seats in 2014, up from about 39% before Chung became its leader in 2005.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, which was presenting the canceled L.A. concert, said that ticket holders can get refunds using the original payment method, and can go online or call (323) 850-2000 if they have questions.

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