Nurturing the growth of a community orchestra takes not only a lot of support from the public it serves but also a bit of imagination. These days, the Garden Grove Symphony seems to be enjoying both.
Saturday, the orchestra brings Won-Sik Lim, conductor for the Korean Broadcast Service in Seoul as well as the Inchon City Symphony, to its podium as part of an exchange program. In November, the Garden Grove Symphony's conductor, Edward Peterson, will travel to Korea to conduct the Inchon City group.
It is the community orchestra's third such exchange with another country, the previous two involving conductors from Bulgaria and France. This year, the exchange is sponsored by the Hamni Bank, one of the many Korean businesses with a large branch in Garden Grove.
"Last year, when I visited California, I just happened to come and listen to the Garden Grove Symphony," remembered Lim, in a telephone conversation from his hotel in Orange earlier this week. "After the concert, I discussed with Peterson the idea of making the exchange. We both agreed it would benefit both orchestras and communities."
The program includes the U.S. premiere of the Fantasy for Orchestra, by Korean composer Woo Jong Gap (who will attend the performance), as well as local soprano Yang Hae-Jeong singing an aria from Verdi's "Nabucco" and a folk song. Also to be performed are Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with soloist Elisa Lee Koljonen and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5.
"We wanted to find a honcho from Korea, and I think we did," said Yaakov Dvir-Djerassi, general manager of the Garden Grove Symphony, about his guest conductor. "I mean, you take one look at him, and you know right away that you don't want to mess with him."
"We knew we wanted to do something for the Korean population in Garden Grove," he added, noting that the city is No. 2 in the United States in terms of the number of Korean businesses based there. "This is a good chance to pay homage to them."
At 71, Lim has had a long and successful career, though most Americans are probably unaware of his activities due to the general paucity of information in the West regarding Asian musical accomplishments. A conducting student before World War II at the Tokyo Conservatory and a small Russian school in Manchuria, Lim came to the United States in the late '40s to study conducting with Dean Dixon at Juilliard and Serge Koussevitzky at Tanglewood.
"What's our programming like in Korea? It's just like the New York Philharmonic," Lim said with much laughter. Actually, he said, "it's different in Korea than it is here in America because there is a lot more activity considering the size of the country.
"In Korea, 15 different cities have large orchestras, and there are about 100 different music schools. There are about five different major concert halls in Seoul, and they all have concerts every night."
This proliferation of activity since the second World War may come as a surprise to some. But Lim points to the high level of support that the Korean government gives to the arts.
"Orchestras are, of course, difficult to keep and maintain," he observed. "But in Korea, the cities themselves own and operate the orchestras, so it's not necessary to raise funds.
"That doesn't mean we don't have plenty of problems. The musicians argue for a raise in salary every year. And the orchestra itself can't touch the money from ticket sales because it belongs to the city.
"But the situation in America works as long as people support the arts. So I hope everyone will support the Garden Grove Symphony, because it is serving a very important function."
Won-Sik Lim conducts the Garden Grove Symphony in music by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Korean composer Woo Jong Gap at 8 p.m. in the Don Wash Auditorium, 11271 Stanford Ave., Garden Grove. Tickets: $10 to $25. Information: (714) 534-1103.