Orchestras from North Korea, France perform concert in Paris

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In a symbolic gesture meant to bridge the divides between east and west, north and south, orchestras from North Korea and France joined forces Wednesday evening in Paris to perform a classical concert led by a South Korean conductor.

Chung Myung-Whun conducted musicians from North Korea’s Unhasu Orchestra and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France at the Salle Pleyel in Paris. (Chung is the music director of the latter group.)


The concert program included traditional Korean music, Saint-Saëns’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” and a performance of extracts from Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. The solo violinist for the Saint-Saëns piece was Mun Kyong Jin.

Chung conducted the Brahms while conductors Yun Pom Ju and Ri Myong Il led the traditional pieces and the Saint-Saëns, respectively.

Wednesday’s concert marked the first time that a North Korean orchestra has performed in Europe, according to the French orchestra.

A radio broadcast of the concert is available online at Radio France. (The archived program will be available for free for the next month. The broadcast starts with a French-language introduction followed by the concert beginning at the 11-minute mark.)

Chung told the hosts of the Radio France broadcast during a break in the performance that there was a bit of a language barrier between orchestras because the visiting musicians only spoke Korean.

In February, Chung traveled to Pyongyang, North Korea, for a rehearsal with musicians. The conductor had reportedly proposed a joint performance between the Seoul Philharmonic and the North’s Unhasu, but the North rejected the offer.


The two Koreas have collaborated on joint concerts in 2000 and 2002 in Seoul and Pyongyang, respectively.

Chung has led the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France since 2000. He also leads the Seoul Philharmonic. Chung served as an assistant conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the late 1970s and early ‘80s.


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-- David Ng