Campus, News

Korean virtuoso expresses his ‘musical freedom’

Concert pianist Cheol Woong Kim has performed all over the world and in front of several political leaders, but he still gets nervous when he speaks about his past.
Kim, a North Korean defector, performed and shared his story of escaping oppression Wednesday to an audience of about 200 at the Boston University Tsai Performance Center.
‘I’ve never been this nervous before, even speaking in Washington,’ he said. ‘This is more nerve-wracking for me.’
In spite of his anxiety, Kim asked the audience to not hold back and to ask him ‘tough’ questions about the government in his native country.
During the question-and-answer session, Kim said he defected to China in search of musical freedom, but was returned twice by the Chinese government. He escaped a third time and worked 18-hour days for 10 months in a Chinese timber mill before going to South Korea.
When asked if it had been hard to adapt to new freedoms after a lifetime of repression, Kim compared it to tasting chocolate for the first time.
‘I was in love with the sweetness of chocolate right away,’ he said.
The College of Fine Arts School of Music hosted the performance, which featured Kim’s music as well as a short documentary about North Korea by SungEun Han-Anderson, a CFA alumna.
In the question-and-answer session translated by Han-Anderson, Kim told the story of his defection. While studying in Moscow, he heard music that was banned in North Korea, and was caught practicing it by a government inspector and punished.
At one point, Kim played the song he was caught practicing in North Korea, calling it ‘the reason I defected.’
Han-Anderson’s documentary, ‘Voices Yet Unheard,’ exposed the human rights violations in North Korea. It discussed the gulags, or forced labor camps, that imprisoned 200,000 men, women and children, and showed a public execution of people caught assisting defectors.
The U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, the New York Democracy Forum and the G. Chris Andersen Family Foundation presented the concert as part of a three-city tour of Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C.

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