Maestro’s South Korean Adventures – Part 9

Friday, June 22

C-Day (Concert Day). Choi is to meet us at 12:30 and takes us to lunch. So after breakfast I head over to the conductor’s lounge to work on Sweeney Todd where I’ll be actually singing the title role at CSU in July. Two hours of singing practice feels great as a change of pace. Lunch is at a different Korean restaurant near the hotel where we feast on fish and soup.

The hall is in a different part of Changwon, close to baseball stadium where the Dino’s play. I arrive just in time to start rehearsal and discover to my delight the concert space is very resonant. The orchestra sounds wonderful and Leslie is in the house commenting on how the tam-tam at the end of the first movement of the Prokofiev is deafening . . . it will have a sonic impact on the audience! We go through the Prokofiev in short order and take a ten minute break and welcome Jaehong to the stage. He also sounds wonderful in the space, but Leslie seems to think if he steps a bit in front of the orchestra, he will project more and in trying this arrangement, it proves true. We tweak a few more musical items and then finish up by 5 PM. The concert is at 7:30 and we spend the time after rehearsal in an on-site cafeteria with the orchestra having dinner. Mrs. Baek shows us what each dish is in the buffet line, all of it excellent and filling.

In the walk back to the dressing room we observe photographs of many famous performers lining the hallway. This includes Paavo Jarvi (probably with the Cincinnati Symphony behind him) and Myung-Whun Chung, a famous Korean conductor who has worked all over the world including in Los Angeles when I was growing up.

While I’m cleaning up, a cellist from the orchestra comes in and asks to have her photo taken with me. It appears that I’m somewhat popular with the musicians in this ensemble. I’ve asked Choi what size and kind of audience can be expected and am pleased to learn that a nearly full house is the norm. In taking the stage, I notice that he is correct as there is a substantial gathering today, younger than we would expect in the U.S. There is also a number of children in the crowd and all are very attentive. The applause after the Prokofiev gets three curtain calls including many solo bows from the individuals in the winds.

We start the second half of the concert and get the same reaction from the Brahms Concerto. Jaehong steps up to play an encore of a Paganini caprice that is met with a tremendously enthusiastic response. It has been a wonderful evening! There are many handshakes with the orchestra’s administration backstage as well as local politicians who take great pride in their orchestra. Choi and Inho are pleased with the response as well which I’m sure is welcomed since they engineered this event.

Choi drives us back to the hotel (no dinners afterwards in this country!) and Leslie and I head to a dessert place for some Tiramisu and tea. The week has gone by quickly, but it certainly will not be forgotten anytime soon!

Saturday, June 22

Four laps around the lake starts what will be a long travel day. We choose to have breakfast outside the hotel this morning and get some very tasty baked goods at the “Greenhouse Bakery and Cafe” just down the street. We decide to skip the Black Squid Bread and some of the largest Bagels we’ve ever witnessed. The rest of the AM is spent packing. Choi picks us up at 11 and we stop at the corner Starbucks one last time. Choi has been given a coupon by the principal Vvolist who is an important member of the orchestra. She has been all smiles this week and not only offered up a coffee house treat, but brought us drinks to the rehearsal with Jaehong last Thursday.

We get on the road to the Airport, a 50 minute drive into Busan. We bid Choi farewell and make our way through security and passport control–nothing unusual here. Although there are shops and restaurants in the terminal, there is a limited amount of choices once inside by the gates. We choose the one sit-down cafe to grab some lunch (the food is excellent) and soon after are on our way to Narita outside of Tokyo, a short flight before our long flight back to LAX.

The week has introduced to yet another Asian culture, one that is unique in this region and feels very different from the cultures in other countries visited. We feel fortunate to have been introduced to this part of Korea as it is less cosmopolitan than Seoul and perhaps gives us a better feel of how life in Korea works. There is not doubt they take the fine arts seriously and I truly hope that another visit is in the cards sometime in the near future.