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Our Korean Experience, Entry #9

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!

Saturday, June 22

Four laps around the lake starts what will be a long travel day. We choose to have breakfast outside the hotel this morning and get some very tasty baked goods at the “Greenhouse Bakery and Cafe” just down the street. We decide to skip the Black Squid Bread and some of the largest bagels we’ve ever witnessed. The rest of the AM is spent packing. Choi picks us up at 11:00 and we stop at the corner Starbucks one last time. Choi has been given a coupon by the principal Vvolist who is an important member of the orchestra. She has been all smiles this week and not only offered up a coffee house treat, but brought us drinks to the rehearsal with Jaehong last Thursday.

We get on the road to the Airport, a 50 minute drive into Busan. We bid Choi farewell and make our way through security and passport control – nothing unusual here. Although there are shops and restaurants in the terminal, there is a limited amount of choices once inside by the gates. We choose the one sit-down cafe to grab some lunch (the food is excellent) and soon after are on our way to Narita outside of Tokyo, a short flight before our long flight back to LAX.

The week has introduced us to yet another Asian culture, one that is unique in this region and feels very different from the cultures in other countries visited. We feel fortunate to have been introduced to this part of Korea as it is less cosmopolitan than Seoul and perhaps gives us a better feel of how life in Korea works. There is not doubt they take the fine arts seriously and I truly hope that another visit is in the cards sometime in the near future.

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney, Director of Orchestras

Banner advertising Changwon Philharmonic Orchestra concert

Our Korean Experience, Entry #8

Banner advertising Changwon Philharmonic Orchestra concertDirector 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!

Friday, June 21

C-Day (Concert Day). Choi is to meet us at 12:30 and takes us to lunch. So after breakfast I head over to the conductor’s lounge to work on Sweeney Todd where I’ll be actually singing the title role at CSU in July. Two hours of singing practice feels great as a change of pace. Lunch is at a different Korean restaurant near the hotel where we feast on fish and soup.

The hall is in a different part of Changwon, close to the baseball stadium where the Dino’s play. I arrive just in time to start rehearsal and discover to my delight that the concert space is very resonant. The orchestra sounds wonderful and Leslie is in the house commenting on how the tam-tam at the end of the first movement of the Prokofiev is deafening . . . it will have a sonic impact on the audience! We go through the Prokofiev in short order and take a ten minute break and welcome Jaehong to the stage. He also sounds wonderful in the space, but Leslie seems to think if he steps a bit in front of the orchestra, he will project more and in trying this arrangement, it proves true. We tweak a few more musical items and then finish up by 5 p.m. The concert is at 7:30 and we spend the time after rehearsal in an on-site cafeteria with the orchestra having dinner. Mrs. Baek shows us what each dish is in the buffet line, all of it excellent and filling.

In the walk back to the dressing room we observe photographs of many famous performers lining the hallway. This includes Paavo Jarvi (probably with the Cincinnati Symphony behind him) and Myung-Whun Chung, a famous Korean conductor who has worked all over the world including in Los Angeles when I was growing up.

While I’m cleaning up, a cellist from the orchestra comes in and asks to have her photo taken with me. It appears that I’m somewhat popular with the musicians in this ensemble. I’ve asked Choi what size and kind of audience can be expected and am pleased to learn that a nearly full house is the norm. In taking the stage, I notice that he is correct as there is a substantial gathering today, younger than we would expect in the U.S. There is also a number of children in the crowd and all are very attentive. The applause after the Prokofiev gets three curtain calls including many solo bows from the individuals in the winds.

We start the second half of the concert and get the same reaction from the Brahms Concerto. Jaehong steps up to play an encore of a Paganini caprice that is met with a tremendously enthusiastic response. It has been a wonderful evening! There are many handshakes with the orchestra’s administration backstage as well as local politicians who take great pride in their orchestra. Choi and Inho are pleased with the response as well which I’m sure is welcomed since they engineered this event.

Choi drives us back to the hotel (no dinners afterwards in this country!) and Leslie and I head to a dessert place for some Tiramisu and tea. The week has gone by quickly, but it certainly will not be forgotten anytime soon!

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney, Director of Orchestras

Our Korean Experience, Entry #7

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!

Thursday, June 21
The morning pattern continues: a long walk/run around the lake, breakfast, wait five minutes for some brewed coffee at Starbucks, walk across the street to rehearsal. When I arrive at the conductor’s lounge, the executive director, Inho, Ms. Baek, and Reena are waiting for me to go over the schedule for the next couple of days. We have a double rehearsal today with lunch in between, so the AM rehearsal will end at 11:30, which will be exclusively on the Prokofiev. It has been arranged for me to work with our soloist Jaehong YIM, at 11:30 before we head out to lunch. At 1:30 we will rehearse Brahms with the soloist and go to 3:30.

The AM rehearsal goes without a hitch just a few tweaks needed. My only wish at this point is that we might have the benefit of the hall working for us, but the orchestra seems to not be concerned. Besides, Choi has told be repeatedly how much I’m going to enjoy it.

After rehearsal, I meet privately with our outstanding soloist in the conductor’s lounge. Jaehong is well-known in South Korea, teaching at a University in Busan and being concertmaster of an important chamber orchestra in Seoul. He plays through the Brahms concerto and proves himself to be a formidable artist with a solid technique and a marvelous expressive sound. I make a few notes in my score, then the rest will left up to rehearsal.

At lunch we meet with the two violinists that had approached us on Tuesday. They are both members of a group they call the Caldera quartet. Their cellist is also with us and Choi comes along to help with the language. It is another Korean lunch at a very nice place and may be the best Korean food we’ve had yet. The conversation revolves around their upcoming concert and my impact on the Changwon Philharmonic, which they interpret as very positive. They pick up the tab for lunch and after thanking them profusely, we head back to the rehearsal hall for Brahms.

The rehearsal goes well. We deal with pacing, balance, sound, interpretive, and other challenges expected in a first rehearsal on a concerto. This is business as usual and after a full read of a movement and a second pass stopping for various issues, we get through the whole piece in the two hours allotted. For a variety of reasons, the Changwon Philharmonic has made the unusual request to have the concerto as the second half of the concert. My only concern is that Brahms following Prokofiev is a tougher shift than Prokofiev following Brahms. I explain this to the ensemble to make sure that they have mentally made that shift.

After this rehearsal, Choi drops Leslie at the Lotte department store (red flags for me!) and Choi takes me to a virtual golf place nearby since we had no time to sample one of Korea’s courses (red flags for Leslie.) The virtual course Choi selects is in fact the one we would have played if we had one more day, sigh. Choi is quite the athlete and even though he has not played in awhile his swing comes back in short order and he starts hitting some amazing shots. His putting is the great equalizer so even though I’m lousy tee to green I’m able to keep up with him for a few holes. The course is very difficult (on a hillside and narrow) so any errant shots are out of bounds. Score one for the Koreans vs. U.S. in this match!

I head back to the hotel and find that Leslie has made it back from the Lotte department store with a new outfit. She has fallen in love with the offerings there, both in make-up and clothes, and tells me about her experience. Later in the early evening, we walk north of the hotel to the neighborhood we had discovered on Tuesday with the restaurants and coffee houses. To our dismay, NONE of the restaurants in this area serve beer or wine. It is disappointing and after much discussion, we head back to Hotel Avenue to Cubar’s Grill for a camembert pizza and some wine, which is excellent.

Once back in the room, we decide to turn on the TV and discover a couple of channels with English language films. There is not much in regards to English language news, although we have been able to access an English language newspaper at breakfast to at least keep us somewhat apprised of world events. We watch the end of a remake of The Day of the Jackal with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere (as well as J.K. Simmons who has a minor role long before his Oscar win for Whiplash and becoming a spokesperson for Farmer’s Insurance.)

Another busy day added to the week, but only one dress rehearsal and the concert is left.

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney, Director of Orchestras

Kenney-Stewart South Korea tour photo

Our Korean Experience, Entry #6

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!

Wednesday, June 20
A routine has been established of an American or Korean breakfast followed by a stop at Starbucks. At a Korean coffee house, if you want a quick coffee you need to order a Cafe Americano or a Latte and they will always ask if you want it hot or iced for the latter is very popular. For a drip or brewed coffee, you’ll need to wait at least five minutes as they do individual cups only and fresh.

Rehearsal begins at 10 a.m., goes to 12:30 p.m. We then seek out a lunch and following that is more exploration. The breakfasts are OK, but never really varied. The orange or tomato juice that comes with the American breakfast comes out of a carton as a convenience and the coffee is an Americano. There is one choice of white toast and if you order poached eggs, they will come on the top of it. There is an ingenious strawberry jam packet that squeezes the jam on your toast when you fold and bend it between your fingers.

Ju-eun LeeToday’s rehearsal is going through the entire Prokofiev symphony and we’re all tired by the end. Before leaving the hall, the two inquiring violinists from the previous day appear and tell Choi they would like to take us to lunch the next day between rehearsals. Today our midday meal is with Inho and Jeune Lee, the wonderful pianist who came to Fort Collins last November and performed with FCS. She is thrilled to see us and we enjoy some lively conversation over another traditional Korean lunch with even more taste experiences. Jeune is playing a concert of her own on Friday near the DMZ on the north side of the country. She is a faculty member at a nearby university as well. Jeune is particularly excited to be returning to Fort Collins to perform and adjudicate at the Keyboard Odyssiad at CSU in August.

After lunch, Inho guides Choi and us through Changwon University where he teaches conducting. The university is up on a hill, something that is common for most schools in Korea as the land is less expensive as explained by Choi. It is a nice campus and we stop at a student coffee house to grab some ice coffee and hear about Inho’s graduate conducting class which he has just started teaching this past fall. Changwon University has a small music department and we pass by the building where it is housed.

Wes Kenney and Leslie Stewart at the beach in South Korea After that we are off to one of Busan’s famous beaches along a strip of modern high-rises. The beach is clean and not very crowded for this time of year, but it is later in the afternoon about 4 p.m. by the time we arrive. Leslie and I take a walk to explore some of the sculptures found about 150 yards into the water. Swimming is limited and a boat or a jet-ski with patrolmen wave people out of the water where they are not supposed to be. No one seems to know why swimming is not allowed near us, but is fine about 500 yards to our left. It is here on this Busan beach that we see more foreigners. In Changwon, it is possible to go an entire day and see one or even none.

On returning, Choi takes me across the street south of the hotel to order dinner. Tonight is fried chicken, another food that the Koreans love. When we do sit down, we are given a cabbage slaw and a huge platter of chicken pieces and they are very tasty. We go to sleep early for Thursday will be a double rehearsal with our soloist.

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney, Director of Orchestras

Kenney-Stewart South Korea tour photo

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

Our Korean Experience, Entry #4

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!

Monday, June 18
It is Monday which marks the first day of rehearsals with the Changwon Philharmonic. Choi has been very upbeat about the orchestra as an ensemble saying several times, “You’re going to love this orchestra, Maestro!” We meet Choi around 9:30 and walk over to the hall. The Changwon Arts center is a huge complex with several theaters at street level and offices and rehearsal space below. After we cross the street, Inho Kim, the orchestra’s associate conductor, meets us outside with the orchestra manager and walks us down a long hallway lined with photographs of the various resident arts group and posters for upcoming concerts. We turn a corner and I’m ushered into the conductors dressing lounge complete with elegant paintings of the previous two and current music directors. There is a nice area to relax, a grand piano, refrigerator, desk, computer, and other things that might be appreciated, such as a hot water kettle for coffee or tea. Inho makes sure I have cold water and we meet briefly with the general manager and personnel manager regarding the rehearsal schedule.

The assistant concertmaster, Rina – acting as concertmaster for this performance – comes in and introduces herself. She speaks fluent English after having been trained in New York at Juilliard and spending many a summer at the Aspen Music Festival. Rina is also good friends with Michelle Kim, an assistant concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and a soloist with us next season. She asks a few questions about Prokofiev, then also about the size of the string section for the Brahms Violin Concerto on the program. For this concert they are carrying 14, 12, 10, 10, 6, which we reduce by one stand for the concerto. Today and tomorrow though, we will only work on the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5. Inho read through the piece with them on the previous Friday, so they at least have a sense how the piece goes. The orchestra tunes (before the 10 a.m. downbeat) and at 10 I am introduced and off we go into the first movement. Having never heard or conducted this ensemble, my plan is to read the first movement then go back and rehearse.

The rehearsal room is spacious and the orchestra seems quite comfortable with the place. Curtains line the walls as the size of the winds and percussion will create some decibel levels that could be dangerous. The layout of the orchestra is different from what I am use to with the woodwinds directly in front of me and the brass in a line behind them. The horns are stacked on the risers next to the woodwinds on stage right and the percussion further off to the same side. The strings are configured in a standard way save the violas to the outside and cellos between them and second violins.

Well, Choi was right. The orchestra is fabulous. They are VERY attentive and even with my speaking to them in English, they only need to be told most things once before they make an adjustment. They follow like a dream and the ebb and flow of the first movement is already something they seem to understand. They also have a true sense of their own sound and play to that level. Technically they are solid and even the most intricate of rhythms (of which Prokofiev writes many) are clear to hear. We work for an hour or so, then take a break of 15 minutes. Then we launch into the scherzo which is equally at a “tweakable” level as opposed to needing “woodshedding.” We accomplish most of what I’m looking for and they are released a few minutes early – they certainly earned it!

The humidity is doing its customary number on my shirt and hair and by the end I have that wilted look that such an environment leaves me at the end of a rehearsal. I ask Rina if I’m the only conductor who sweats so much and she says certainly not, they all do. (Nonetheless, I don’t see the orchestra perspiring.) Inho takes pity on me and brings a towel, some water, and a fan into the conductor’s lounge which helps. After rehearsal we gather up the general manager, Inho, Choi, Leslie, Rina, Ms. Baek, the publicity person for the orchestra and another fluent English speaker, and head to lunch. This is another traditional Korean meal with many dishes and soup hitting the table. The conversation is lively and fun. Leslie discovers that the GM is also a composer, Rina talks about her time in the U.S., Inho tells us some of the pieces he’s conducted this season (including Strauss Alpine Symphony!), and Ms. Baek gives her own background which is not in music, but in literature.

As lunch concludes we are taken back to the hotel. Before departing, Choi and Inho help us find a restaurant nearby to have dinner. They walk us down to the next block and we are set up with a BBQ pork dinner with the owner at 7 p.m. We head back to our room and I decide it is time for a work out around the lake before cleaning up and going for dinner. The meal is delicious and though we are struggling to pronounce Korean, the owner takes good care us.

It has been a good day and I’m now quite excited for the rest of the week.

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney

Kenney-Stewart South Korea tour photo

Our Korean Experience, Entry #3

Wes Kenney and Leslie Stewart at a market in South KoreaDirector 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!

Saturday, June 16
We spent a slower morning, same choices for breakfast, although my Korean meal had seaweed soup as the centerpiece on this AM. Choi met us again at the Starbuck’s late morning and we headed off to the Busan again to a shopping mecca down by the waterfront and the famous fish market.

If you want to learn something intrinsic about a culture, the open air markets are the way to go. Walking into the four story building one is immediately faced with the bustle of sellers of live wholesale seafood in a diverse set of tanks. It would be easy to spend hours just perusing the aisles to see the variety of fish, octopi, squid, sea slugs, anemones, eels, snails, and so much more. And, any of it can be fresh at your table (raw or cooked) in a matter of minutes.

Wes Kenney and Leslie Stewart at a market in South KoreaChoi took us up an elevator to the top floor looking for stall 29, the proprietor recommended by his mother. Along the way down the aisle, a young woman used forceful persuasion to convince us that her place was THE place to eat (at least we believe that’s what she was shouting at Choi in Korean). Another 25 yards down the row we found the our destination. We sat down at a table overlooking the harbor and was served a seafood feast, the culmination being a square platter with four rows of a multiple kinds of raw fish. The Kimchee, chili-sauce, bean sprouts, shaved green onion, and other sides could be wrapped up in sesame leaves with these delicacies to create a sandwich of sorts all downed with copious amounts of the light tasting lager that is a also a staple of tables throughout this region. Choi was amazed at our adventuresome palettes, willing to try anything.

After lunch we headed down stairs and into the markets that lined the streets nearby. We were looking for a few items (Zantac being a must for the spicy foods consumed) as well as some colored pencils for my score marking (this IS a business trip) and some gifts for the grandchildren. Much of the shopping is low key and bargains can be had if you are willing to haggle a bit. E-business might be taking over much of the world, but here you see crowded streets and people hunting for just about anything in live time and place.

Wes Kenney and Leslie Stewart at a temple in South KoreaAfter an hour or so we had our purchases and headed back to the car for a drive to a Buddhist temple out in the area where Choi lives. Traffic was still heavy even on Saturday so it was close to 4 p.m. by the time we arrived. Such shrines dot the region and they are an oasis to hubbub found in the cities. Tongdosa Temple, is located at the base of Yeongchuk mountain just outside to the city of Chonglim. There are multiple buildings including a museum and a 1000 year old temple. One can start at the front entrance and enjoy a considerable uphill walk along the Nokdonggang river or drive to a closer parking lot. We opted for the latter, passing through several temple gates to the inner sanctum of the compound. Missionaries are present at work amongst the Zen chamber, precepts chamber, and lecture chamber. It is an idyllic and relaxing setting in stark contrast to the scenes experienced earlier in the day.

After about an hour we headed back to the car and a restaurant where we would meet Choi’s in-laws for dinner along with his wife and young son Dustin. The restaurant was a family buffet along with a cook your own meat style BBQ. Choi’s father-in-law showed us how to put everything together. A disk of rice paper is set into warm water to soak briefly, that is then put on a small but wide bowl and filled with meat and other sides, wrapped together and then eaten. His motions were clear and elegant all the way to his mouth, while I spent the evening trying to figure out how to not let the construction fall apart while picking it up with chopsticks. Still it all tasted great and we had a good evening learning more about Choi’s family–his father-in-law  was a chemical engineer and his wife a school teacher. They are both retired now and help Choi and his wife with the new addition to the family. It was clear that 9 month old Dustin was the star of the evening with the attention lavished on him.

At the end of the meal, we said our good-byes and headed back to Changwon, ready to collapse from the multiple hours of activity. Another day filled with new experiences provided by this magical country.

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney