Maestro’s South Korean Adventures – Part 6

Tuesday, June 19.

We are on our own today as Choi has a concert elsewhere in the area. Changwon has a Philharmonic–a full-time orchestra,  Busan has a Philharmonic–a full-time orchestra, and Choi is playing with an orchestra on an island that is a pick-up group. It is clear that South Korea is flush with musicians and they are well-trained. There also seems to be a bit of a competition amongst the groups. I pick up a brochure for next season in the conductor’s lounge of yet another orchestra nearby. On the season is Mahler 5 AND Mahler 2, not to mention, Bruckner 7. I ask Choi regarding the heavy-handedness of the repertoire in one season and he comments on the ambitiousness of their Music Director. It occurs to me that not only are these full-time orchestras, but they are BIG ensembles with over 100 musicians on the payroll.

There are also huge local government subsidies to these ensembles —  from what I understand, hundreds of thousands of dollars. That thought leads us to one of the dichotomies I discover during this week: five out of the six rehearsals are spent in a rehearsal room and the last rehearsal is on stage the mid-afternoon of the concert. I’m not sure if this is a cost-saving measure, but for great orchestras, it does seem odd that the “fifth section” of the ensemble–the space they play in and its impact on the music–does not come into play until the final day.

After our standard breakfast in the hotel — the soup has now changed to corn chowder to start — I walk across the street to the hall where Inho greets me, brings more water, and then leaves me to get rehearsal started. The concertmaster Reena comes in to ask me about a misprinted rhythm in the violin 1 and clarinet part, then goes off to tune the orchestra. With the ample rehearsal time for this concert (!), I have the luxury of digging into just the 3rd and 4th movements of the Prokofiev. All goes well with the rehearsal process (although today I’m giving rehearsal numbers in English and German since I’ver heard many have received training in that country) and again I let them out a few minutes early.

Leslie has arrived at the end of the rehearsal and while I’m toweling off, two violinists from the orchestra appear at my door. One of them asks if we speak French, which does not get us far, but they seem to want to have lunch with us later in the week. I tell her that we’ll talk when Choi comes back on Wednesday.

Ms. Baek, the PR person in the office, volunteers to help us find a different Korean lunch a bit further away from the hall, but still within walking distance of the hotel. We go about a quarter mile north of our neighborhood and are shown a traditional restaurant where our host orders for us then departs.  Soon a large ground beef patty is brought to the table which we are supposed to take pieces from (harder with chopsticks) to wrap up in lettuce, or cabbage, or sesame leaves with Kimchee, chili sauce, and other sides. This is similar to the way much of the Korean-styled BBQ is eaten.  We are also served a type of pork soup, all of it wonderful.

We then walk into a neighborhood just a few blocks south that is filled with restaurants (one is Vietnamese), coffee, and dessert places. What is unusual about this neighborhood is that none of the buildings are taller than two stories and most have outdoor patio seating. The coffee houses in particular do a serious business even with several being side by side by side. We are on the hunt for a red bean, ice cream, and ice concoction that Ms. Baek has mentioned and after several stops we score one. It is huge and similar to what we had with Choi at Spaland. Our walk back takes us around a school with a park with some green houses and finally deposits us on the north end of the lake opposite our hotel.

We decide to dine in the hotel’s Cubar’s Grill for dinner and are rewarded with a very reasonable Prix Fixe dinner complete with pasta, steak and dessert. It is a bit more western than we’ve had and a respite from all the new tastes we have been experiencing.

Another extraordinary day!