Renowned South Korean conductor Myung-Whun Chung will lead the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in a concert featuring French composers next Sunday at Shanghai Oriental Art Center.
The program includes Berlioz’s overture “Le carnaval romain” (“Roman Carnival Overture”), Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G Major” and Saint-Saens’ “Symphony No. 3” (“Organ Symphony”).
French organ player Christophe Henry, a tenure player of the Grand Organ of Notre Dame de Versailles, will perform Saint-Saens’ symphony, and Chinese pianist Chen Sa will interpret Ravel’s piano concerto.
The French orchestra was founded in 1937 and renovated in the mid-1970s in response to Pierre Boulez’s critiques of rigid traditional symphonic formations. It features a wide range of repertoire from classical to contemporary.
Conductor Chung has visited Shanghai several times in the past. His recent visits include conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from the Netherlands in 2012 and Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in 2011.
Chung is recognized as one of the three leading conductors in Asia together with Ozawa Seiji from Japan and Zubin Mehta from India. He has conducted virtually all the world’s leading orchestras like Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra.
Born in Seoul shortly before the outbreak of the Korean War, the 62-year-old started his musical career as a pianist, though he was also trained on the violin and kettledrums. He made his debut with Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of seven. In 1974, he was the joint second prize winner at the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow.
“I was immersed in classical music even before I was born,” Chung said in an earlier interview. “For me, it was a natural language before it became a profession.”
Chung studied conducting at Mannes College of Music and the Juilliard School, then became an associate conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1981. He has been music director of Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra since 2000. Prior to this appointment, Chung was music director of the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1984 to 1990.
In 1991, Chung was named “Artist of the Year” by the Association of French Theatres and Music Critics. In 2011, the French government named him “Commander, Order of Arts and Letters.”
Chung came from a musical family, he has two sisters who are also musicians: violinist Kyung-Wha Chung and cellist Myung-Wha Chung.
The award-winning conductor also has a passion for food and cooking. “Along with music, cooking is one of my passions and I love spending long hours over a hot stove preparing dishes,” he said in an interview with france.fr, the official website of France.
Deeply sensitive to humanitarian and ecological problems of our age, Chung has devoted an important part of his life to these causes, according to the website of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic in Russia. “He served as Ambassador for the Drug Control Program at the United Nations; in 1995, he was named Man of the Year by UNESCO and in 1996, he received the Kumkuan, the highest cultural award of the (South) Korean government for his contribution to Korean musical life.”
Chung also has served as honorary cultural ambassador for South Korea, the first in the Korean government’s history. In 2008, he became the first conductor to be named as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund.
On this visit to Shanghai, Chung is bringing an all-French program to the Shanghai audience.
“Le carnaval romain” was composed by Berlioz (1803-1869) in 1843. The romantic-era composer created this overture for concert performance, featuring themes from his opera “Benvenuto Cellini.”
Saint-Saens is well known among Chinese audience especially for his composition “The Carnival of the Animals.” In 1886 he completed the “Symphony No. 3,” which is special because it uses organ and often known as the “Organ Symphony.”
While Berlioz and Saint-Saens were romantic composers, Ravel was more of an impressionist. His “Piano Concerto in G Major,” finished in 1931, was deeply influenced by jazz.
The composer himself once said that the opening theme came to him on a train between Oxford and London, and that “the most captivating part of jazz is its rich and diverting rhythm ... Jazz is a very rich and vital source of inspiration for modern composers and I am astonished that so few Americans are influenced by it.”
What the reviewers say
Chung has been an exclusive recording artist for Deutsche Grammophon since 1990, and nine recordings have been released under the label.
In 2011, a program featuring Debussy and Ravel’s works was recorded live with Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, and Blair Sanderson of allmusic.com said Chung “has shown a remarkable affinity for French music since his recordings in the 1990s of music by Olivier Messiaen.”
Philip Clark of Gramophone magazine in London was more criticals regarding Chung’s recording of works by Messiaen with Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra, released in 2008. Clark said that “having just listened to Chung’s account of the ‘Turangalila-Symphonie’ for a Gramophone Collection, his idiosyncratic approach to Messiaen continues to baffle me. His ‘Turangalila’ is perfumed and standoffish, and this is another disc of soft-focus, overly precious Messiaen.”
In November 2011, Chung conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra featuring Weber’s “Overture to Der Freischutz,” Barber’s piano concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique.” Music critic Charles Warren of The Berkshire Review said that Chung “conjured a wonderful rich, bleak sound from the strings, beginning low and dark, and had them achieve marvelous layering and rise to great, never coarse, intensity as the piece progressed.”