Unhasu Orchestra in Paris


Pictured above (Google Earth): (L) Unnhasu Theater in Pyongyang where the Unhasu Orchestra normally performs.  (R) The Salle Pleyel in Paris where the Unhasu played their first overseas concert.

You can listen to the performance here.

You can watch the performance here.

Here is KCTV coverage of the performance.

Media on the performance below.

UPDATE 3 (2012-3-15): Here is the coverage in KCNA:

The Unhasu Orchestra of the DPRK gave a performance before full house at Pleyel Theater in Paris on Wednesday.
The Pleyel Theatre opened in 1927 is one of the modern theatres for orchestra in France.

Enjoying the performance were Frederic Mitterand, minister of Culture of France, the general director of the Radio Broadcasting of France, the former minister of Culture, personages of various strata, music experts of France, people from all walks of life in France, the chief and staff members of the DPRK mission and staff members of various foreign missions in France and Koreans living in different parts of France.

Prior to the performance, the French minister of Culture and the general director of the Radio Broadcasting of France made speeches.

They welcomed the visit of the Unhasu Orchestra to France and introduced it.

In the first part of the performance, the Unhasu Orchestra gave a separate presentation and its second part was devoted to a joint concert with the French orchestra.

Staged in the first part were numbers like orchestral music “Swinging Girl”, duet of national musical instruments “Vinalon Extending 3 000-ri”, orchestral music “Attraction”, unaccompanied violin solo “Nilliriya” and orchestral music “Sinau”.

Staged in the second part were numbers like “Brahms Concerto No.9”, orchestral music “Arirang” and “Carmen Suite”.
They sent warm applause to the performers, expressing admiration at the Korean musicians’ high level of rendition and conducting skill with deep understanding of the Western music, to say nothing of the national music.

Organizers of the performance expressed thanks to the dear respected Kim Jong Un with broad magnanimity and noble traits who made sure that the excellent orchestra perform in France.

The audience expressed their hope that the Unhasu Orchestra would often come to France to give performances.

UPDATE 2 (2012-3-15): The Los Angeles Times reports on the concert:

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.

UPDATE 1 (2012-3-13):  Final rehearsals for historic Paris concert featuring North and South Korea and France. According to the Associated Press (via Washington Post):

A North Korean and a French orchestra held a daylong rehearsal on Tuesday ahead of a landmark concert in Paris, a sign of warming ties between Pyongyang and the West following years of tensions.

Pyongyang’s Unhasu Orchestra and Radio France Philharmonic make their debut together on Wednesday — under the baton of renowned South Korean conductor Chung Myung-Whun, who organized the event.

Most of the 90 North Koreans — many of them under 30 — will be performing with a Western ensemble for the first time. The lead violinist Mun Kyong Jin spoke of his excitement at being in the French capital, where the group is spending a week.

“Paris is well preserved. The scenery and the streets are very pretty even if they are narrow,” he said through a translator.

The event is also an opportunity for French musicians to learn about their Korean counterparts.

“We were quite ignorant about their musical background,” said Radio France violinist Mirelle Jardon.

“We don’t know their learning methods, who their teachers are, but I think their level is very high. They are young, they can improve even more,” Jardon said. “And with this collaboration, (North Korea is) opening itself to the world.”

The concert comes as relations between Pyongyang and the West thaw after years of antagonism over the North’s nuclear program. Last week, the United States and North Korea announced a deal that calls for Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities in exchange for food aid, and a senior North Korean nuclear envoy was in the U.S. to attend a university forum.

Paris and Pyongyang do not have formal diplomatic relations, but France opened an office in Pyongyang last year to foster cultural exchanges.

“This joint concert is a historical event for the bilateral relations of our two countries,” Kwon Hyok Bong, the head of the North Korean delegation, said during a rehearsal break.

The Seoul-born Chung hopes the concert will also lead to improvements in ties between the two Koreas through musical diplomacy. North and South Korea have been rival states since civil war forced them apart in 1953.

Chung said that a pan-Korean folk song called “Arirang” will open the performance in the famed Salle Pleyel concert hall.

“There is not one single Korean who would not know this song,” he told The Associated Press during rehearsals. “And I mean in the whole of the north and south.”

He said he explained the music to the French musicians, saying that it “starts very quietly, nostalgically when you go back in time into your childhood, into the past, when there was no division and we could all just be free.”

The piece ends on an exuberant note that the South Korean-born conductor said could be interpreted as a carrier of hope for reunification.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-3-8): According to Bloomberg:

North Korea’s Unhasu orchestra will leave its crowd-pleasing “Cantata to Comrade Kim Jong Il” at home in favor of Brahms’s first symphony when it plays in Paris on March 14.

For the three-year-old orchestra, the Paris event is its first performance abroad. The joint concert with the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra at the Salle Pleyel in Paris will be conducted by South Korea’s Myung-Whun Chung. Together with events this month in Washington and New York, it may signal the willingness of Kim Jong Un, the new leader of the so-called “Hermit Kingdom,” to reduce its isolation.

“Cultural exchanges are rarely separated from North Korea’s broader political strategy,” Scott Snyder, who heads U.S.-Korea policy in Washington for the Council on Foreign Relations, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “It is reasonable to assume that there must also be a diplomatic motive that accompanies the performance.”

Kim Jong Un succeeded his father Kim Jong Il after the latter’s death in December. While diplomatic officials in the U.S. and North Korea on March 7 opened talks for the first time since the change in the leadership of the impoverished country, the regime has yet to relieve tensions with South Korea.

In recent days, North Korea has stepped up its rhetoric, threatening “a sacred war” against its neighbor for defaming the dignity of its leadership and conducting military drills with the U.S. That came as the regime accused a South Korean army unit in the western port of Incheon of writing “unspeakable defamatory words” below portraits of Kim Jong Un and his father.

The Korean peninsula has 1.7 million troops from the two Koreas and the U.S. squaring off every day.

Long Arranged

Some political observers warned against reading too much into cultural events like the one in Paris.

“I’d bet that this was arranged long before Kim Jong Il’s death” said Alastair Newton, a senior political analyst at Nomura International Plc in London. “I don’t believe for one moment that Kim Jong Un is in charge in Pyongyang. This is a deeply Confucian society where age counts and whatever he thinks probably doesn’t.”

Kim is believed to be about 28 or 29 years old.

Myung-Whun Chung told reporters in Paris he hopes a joint concert between orchestras from North and South Korea will be possible by the end of the year.

“We’re not yet politically ready to put musicians from the North and South together,” he said. “There are political obstacles which have to be overcome.”

New Start

North Korea’s National Symphony Orchestra, established in 1946, has performed abroad in countries including China, Japan, Germany, the U.K. and South Korea in August 2000. It held a joint concert two years later in Pyongyang with the South’s KBS Symphony Orchestra.

“Yes, these initiatives were under way before the death of Kim Jong Il,” said Charles Armstrong, Professor of History at Columbia University. “But the leadership transition helps give a fresh start to things.”

The Paris event is “a very promising sign that North Korea under Kim Jong Un is reaching out to the world, ” he said.

Unhasu was set up in 2009, according to the South Korea’s Unification Ministry in Seoul. The average age of the artists in the orchestra is about 20, according to Radio France.

They use traditional Korean instruments such as the haegum, a kind of violin, and the kayagum, a kind of zither with 12 silk strings. The first part of the concert will consist of traditional Korean music, to be followed by Brahms.

Beethoven’s ninth symphony — among the best-known of the German composer’s works and one that uses words of brotherhood from the poem “Ode to Joy” — would have been “too much,” for this performance, Myung-Whun Chung said.

“We’ll leave that for later,” he said.

*** The concert takes place at the Salle Pleyel at 8.30 p.m. in Paris on March 14. Ticket prices range from 10 euros to 45 euros.

Read the full stories here:
North Korea Orchestra in Paris Shows Kim Jong Un Opening Window on World
David Whitehouse

Final rehearsals for historic Paris concert featuring North and South Korea and France
Assoicated Press

Orchestras from North Korea, France perform concert in Paris
Los Angeles Times
David Ng


2 Responses to “Unhasu Orchestra in Paris”

  1. Fred Small says:

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