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Harmony of Peace from Paris
Gabrielle Yoonseong Guyonne
Pianist & Music Director of Paris Appassionata Association;
Professor at Conservatoire Francois-Joseph Gossec de Gagny
In the evening of March 14, the lobby of the Salle Pleyel Concert Hall in Paris bustled with an audience awaiting an historic performance ― a joint concert by North Korea`s Unhasu Orchestra and the Radio France Philharmonic led by renowned South Korean conductor Chung Myung-whun. A long line formed in front of the box office an hour before the concert started and the event`s organizers said that all the tickets for the 1,900-seat hall sold out quickly. The performance prompted enthusiastic applause from the full house.
The concert also drew full media attention. Radio France, arts broadcaster Arte and reporters from local broadcasting stations and magazines were present, while the press from South and North Korea eagerly captured images in and around the concert hall. Just before the concert started, French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand appeared on the stage to remark, “I want to celebrate that this hall represents unity through music.” He was obviously moved by the assembly of musicians from the divided Korean peninsula, which remains the Cold War`s last frontier.
The Unhasu Orchestra, made up mostly of players in their 20s, performed in the first part of the concert. With most of its 70 members educated abroad, the orchestra demonstrated impeccable ensemble and techniques in energetic rendition of clean notes and rhythms. The opening song, “Young Circus Girls,” based on traditional folk rhythm, aptly encouraged the festive mood with wind and percussion instruments creating gorgeous harmony.
The second piece, “Two Traditional Instruments and the Orchestra,” featured traditional Korean string instruments gayageum and haegeum played by musicians dressed in hanbok costumes. Lyrical melodies of a lively and innocent atmosphere, combined with excellent techniques of the musicians, elicited exclamations from the audience. The performance proved that Korean musical spirit can be delivered through Western classical music. There was no awkwardness often found in immature ensemble of Western and traditional Korean music. It was the kind of music that can be created by Koreans alone but adroitly balanced with Western classical music.
Closing the first part of the concert was North Korean violinist Mun Kyong-jin performing Saint-Saens` “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor for Violin and Orchestra.” It was followed by a piece for violin solo based on the popular Korean folk song, “Arirang,” inviting nostalgic responses from many Koreans in the audience. During the intermission, local audience members were heard pouring out praises for North Korean music, which they felt was “very emotional and dramatic.”
The second part of the concert was vibrant with majestic grandeur. Maestro Chung led the Radio France Philharmonic playing Brahms` “Symphony No. 1” along with the Unhasu Orchestra. Amid its characteristic solemn mood, deep resonance and tense crescendo, the symphony unfolded serene yet gloomy and pathetic melodies. The slow and lyrical dance rhythm seemed to comfort the closed and wounded hearts of Koreans from both sides of the border.
While the two Koreas have yet to overcome tension and conflicts arising from their unhappy past, the concert delivered a significant humanitarian message of hope for the Korean nation along its long journey into the future. The audience held its breath as the two orchestras crafted sublime harmony of peace, greeting the end of each movement with passionate applause in an unusual rapport.
In response to the fourth curtain call following the Brahms symphony, Chung took the microphone and remarked, “Politically, South and North Korea are two countries, but we are one from the humanistic point of view.” Then, for encore performance, he led the two orchestras in an orchestral adaptation of “Arirang,” which he explained was “a song that every Korean knows,” and Bizet`s “Carmen Overture.” Music has the power to move people beyond all ideological barriers. We witnessed such a historical moment today.