S. Korean Conductor Discusses Joint Concert with North

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Myung-whun Chung, the prominent South Korean conductor, met with officials from North Korea in Beijing to discuss a joint orchestra performance in Pyongyang, local media reported Monday.

The joint concert, if realized, would be the first joint orchestra performance between the two Koreas in a decade. Last week, Chung said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency that there will be good news regarding the performance, raising hopes for the historic event.

The two Koreas' orchestras held a joint concert in Seoul in August 2000, two months after a landmark summit between their leaders. In 2002, the two Koreas again held another joint concert in Pyongyang.

An official with the Seoul orchestra confirmed the news.

In September, Chung, who leads the Seoul Philharmonic and doubles as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, traveled to the North, to discuss musical programs for children there and push for regular performances of a joint symphony orchestra of the two countries.

Less clear is how the two orchestras would come together artistically. North Korea's isolated State Symphony Orchestra is a wonder of sorts, playing Tchaikovsky symphonies from memory and occasionally taking on rousing scores like Shostakovich's "Leningrad" Symphony. Yet Western classical music is permitted in limited doses. By contrast, Chung has a notably international career, having studied at Juilliard and the Mannes College of Music and worked extensively with the LA Philharmonic and the Paris Opera. The Seoul Philharmonic has toured the West regularly since the 1980s.

The announcement came on a day when South Korean marines conducted military exercises near the southern coast of North Korea, and as the North warned it might retaliate with artillery attacks, according to a New York Times report. But the drill ended without immediate provocation. Washington is trying to persuade North Korea to suspend operations at its uranium-enrichment plant and return to six-nation talks on ending its nuclear weapons program.

UPDATE - 2/21/12

On Tuesday, Myung-whun Chung said North Korea's Unhasu Orchestra would perform in Paris as part of a cultural exchange program. The orchestra will join forces with the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra in the Salle Pleyel theater in Paris on March 14. Chung serves as music director of the French orchestra and organized the joint concert, which will bring some 90 North Koreans including 70 musicians to Paris.