Maestro’s South Korean Adventures – Part 1


For almost two years Useon Choi–up until recently the principal clarinetist of the Fort Collins Symphony–and I have been working on an artist exchange that would bring Inho Kim and Jeune Lee to Fort Collins and send me to the Busan area in South Korea. Last November Inho, the assistant conductor of the Changwon Philharmonic, and Jeune Lee, a prominent Korean pianist, came to Colorado. Inho conducted the Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3, the “Scottish”, and Jeune played the Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto. The evening was concluded with Inho conducting a beautiful Korean folk song that captured the hearts of the Fort Collins’ audience.

My part of the exchange to South Korea was originally supposed to be in February of this year, but as Choi explained, the political situation with the arts and the orchestras in Korea “is complicated,” especially in regards to leadership. So that trip was postponed and we rescheduled for June, with the concert taking place on the 22nd. Leslie and I decided to go a few days early to view the sights and sounds of a part of the world we have never experienced before beginning rehearsals on the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 and the Brahms Violin Concerto.

Wednesday, June 13 to Thursday, June, 14.

We are at the American Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport having come in from Denver the day before. It is different this time from our trip to Vietnam last December in that the flight is leaving midday and not at midnight. The only disadvantage of this arrangement is that I really do not sleep on any of the trip over. The positive side, is that when we do get to our hotel in Changwon, getting to sleep is no problem!

Our bags are checked through to Busan, South Korea, the second largest city in this country, a large port city on the southern end of this country that is about 2/3rds the size of California. Our flight to Busan will connect through Narita Airport outside of Tokyo, with a three hour layover. Eleven and a half hours and four meals after leaving LA, including watching “The Darkest Hour” (recommended) and “Downsizing” (not so much) we are working on acquiring our boarding passes to Busan, now on Korean Air Lines. It is Thursday, June 14th, having lost a day going over the International Date Line. A bus shuttle takes us to Terminal 1, and with no mishaps, we get our boarding passes and look for a snack in the airport. A small portion of Sushi and a beer does the trick, and in short order we are boarded and flying off to our first real Korean adventure.

Touching down after a short 2+ hour flight, we clear passport control (no visa required here), grab our bags that are already waiting for us, and are greeted by Choi who turns out to be an enthusiastic guide and photographer. He takes us to his late model Hyundai (I’ll discuss cars and traffic in this region of the world later) and we are soon amongst the neon lights and on a modern road taking us out of the airport and a fifty minute ride to the city of Changwon which will be our staging place for the next week and a half. Choi had forwarded to us the name of the hotel (something required in the entry form for going through passport control).  The Hotel Avenue is a businessman’s lodge of twelve stories just across the street from the Changwon Arts Center where I’ll be conducting my rehearsals. With little todo, we are soon in our room, the lights out within minutes of our arrival, for some much welcomed rest before we start a tour of the area the next day.