Thursday, November 6, 2008

Korea II

I was in Korea for the second time this year from 5-19 October as guest conductor of the Pilgrim Mission Choir in Daegu. I was the first guest conductor this group has ever had. They are not a professional ensemble, though many of the 25 singers are professional; they just don't get paid to sing in this group. They have won prizes in a number of international competitions in Europe and Asia. They are a stunningly good ensemble, devoted to sacred music, their conductor and each other. I thoroughly enjoyed our nine rehearsals together and they thoroughly enjoyed their concert performance on the 18th in front of a full house of 1500. The meat of the program I chose for them included Poulenc's Four Christmas Motets, Verdi's Pater Noster, Pinkham's Easter Cantata, and a couple of settings of Cantate Domino by Sch├╝tz and Hassler. Except for the latter two pieces, this was a difficult program and they performed it beautifully. I was thrilled and apparently the audience was, too: I autographed dozens of programs in the lobby following the concert, especially for young people, who are the future of choral music.

It was fulfilling and fun (sorry, but that last is an f-word I can still live with).

Their conductor is Jae-Joon Lee, who got his MM in choral music from USC in 1999. He got it to improve his work with choruses because he is a former trumpet player and primarily an orchestral conductor. He conducts a professional orchestra in Daegu in addition to a youth orchestra that does Tchaikovsky and toured Spain. He also runs a music school in Daegu, conducts two choruses when at home. Oh, and a choral seminar for music teachers in August which is usually attended by almost 500. I was part of that seminar last August. Daegu is surrounded by mountains so it was hotter than the hinges of hell and the air was wetter than Rangoon. (I won't go anywhere near East Asia in August ever again. It's May or October or nothing. Jeez.)

He is famous in Daegu and raises money willy-nilly for the Pilgrim Mission and the music school. I had a number of dinners with his supporters while there. He earns his income, though, primarily by conducting opera orchestras in the Phillipines, Cuba and Russia. He has a British agent. He takes no salary from the Mission or the school. He does accept nice suits from his supporters, but nowhere near the level at which Sarah Palin did.

He also is very handsome and has gorgeous hair, very maestro hair.

He thinks I'm wonderful and I am happy to humor him. His singers loved my musicianship, rehearsal technique, conducting gesture, enthusiasm, and interpretation. They gave me a gorgeous, heavy lead crystal 'plaque' that says so. It sits on the top of my filing cabinet now.

And they thought I was funny, especially when I did my impression of a Korean businessman dealing on his cellphone. I can be a real hoot.

I stayed in the 6-star hotel in town (the country's third largest city), in the same suite that Guss Hiddink had in 2002. It had his pictures all over, as well as a bronze plaque on the door. Hiddink was coach of the South Korean World Cup team that damned near made it to the finals in 2002. I remember getting up at 430 in the morning in California to watch their matches. I was sad when they finally lost.

I ate like a prince and was ushered to and fro by J-J and a number of the singers, usually sitting in the Asian BigWig seat behind the passenger seat. Harumph. My tux and briefcase were carried to and from my dressing room by others. They bowed to me when I came into the rehearsal. Asians worship teachers and respect the elderly. I am both.


To them: thank you, friends. Hope you can get someone to translate this for you.

I will miss you.