South Korean dessert

Our Korean Experience, Entry #5

Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Music Professor Leslie Stewart are spending two weeks in South Korea where Maestro Kenney will conduct the Changwon Philharmonic. These entries document their latest experience!

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 more than 100 musicians on the payroll.

There is 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.

South Korean mealLeslie 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 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.

red bean ice creamWe 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, an 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.

A few supplies are in order so we walk a few blocks southeast of the hotel to a huge traffic circle lined with stores. Our destination is a business called emart which contains a huge grocery store on the bottom floor along with McDonalds and a few other fast food franchises. The upper floors contain other goods so it feels as if we’re at a large Target. The grocery level is busy and we have come to pick out a few gifts for people. There are many packaged foods as we have learned from Choi that Korean people are generally busy with work and that time for cooking at home is limited. For example, under coffee there are many choices of “Coffee Sticks”, essentially instant coffee that we also find in our room. A kettle on a heating base is always available to heat water, something we have found in the accommodations of other Asian countries. Before returning to the hotel, we walk across the street and look at the Lotte Cinema just to see what is playing and discover a mix of Korean and U.S. films (with subtitles).

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!

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney, Director of Orchestras


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