The reaudition virus – now out in South Korean Radio Orchestra?

After the OSB case in Brazil and the still running one with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra which tries to recruit new members in New York, now KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) Symphony Orchestra (KBSSO) seems to be infected by the “reaudition virus”. The KBSSO is one of the leading orchestras in South Korea. Its quality is documented on many Youtube videos, CDs and broadcasts. The KBS is the only Korean orchestra with permanent contracts for its players. This shall be history as of September 1. It has been about five months since the KBS orchestra’s function was stopped by the radio company. Now the situation for the orchestra and its players is obviously getting worse. Concerts are cancelled and it seems like it is impossible to recover and to fulfill the job as a public broadcasting orchestra.

Korean Broadcasting System

What happened? In December 2011 KBS announced the audition for all members of the orchestra. The purpose should be to evaluate each player’s topic performance skills and this procedure should be taken every year from now.

The chief conductor Shin-Ik Hahm supported the decision of KBS officials. It is reported that Mr. Hahm thinks that “the audition to each members is absolutely necessary because during the rehearsal, when a lot of people play together I cannot recognize who is good or bad. And if they are the members of Korea’s leading orchestra, they have to prove their ability in the audition.” No comment on this.

There seems to be a battle between conductor and orchestra. When Mr. Hahm was engaged first as chief conductor, 93% of the orchestra members strongly resisted to the appointment due to artistic reasons. See earlier reports on this issue and the attempt to inform other orchestras conducted by Mr. Hahm here. However, KBS enforced the appointment and even threatened the players who resisted, at least the whole orchestra.  While Shin-Ik Hahm served as a chief conductor in Daejon Philharmonic Orchestra until 2006, he already has used ‘audition policy’ to humiliate the players whom he disliked, as musicians reported. From the point of view of professional orchestra management this is a nightmare.

The members of KBSSO refused to take the audition because the audition is unfair and unreasonable method of evaluating system for orchestra players. This is according to the policy of the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) who had banned reauditions recently. When KBS musicians got the position in the orchestra, they already passed the audition. Until becoming the tenured player, they participated one year as a probationary period. This is a logical system for most of the orchestras around the world. Most of the KBSSO players refused to participate in the reaudition.  KBS took severe disciplinary action against the players. The chairman of the union committee was fired and some 70 people got suspended from 15days to 6 months. Orchestra members protested against this ‘reauditioning policy’.

In meantime KBS decided to outsource KBSSO and make it an independent foundation. The company is enforcing the plan without any discussion and agreement from the players and KBS union. This action seems to be unlawful to Korean law. Part of the plan includes that the musicians have to take an audition every year to maintain and develop their musical ability. KBS has informed the players that existing KBSSO will be disbanded as from September 1, 2012. If musicians do not sign a transfer agreement for new foundation, KBS has announced to dismiss all players.

The international music world will be watching this dramatic case. Incompetence of conductors and management which jeopardizes orchestral organisations cannot be tolerated. It damages the image and operational basis of symphony orchestras and the dignity of their players.


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