Most of the biographical information on these pages comes from the Japanese Juche Blog
Unhasu Orchestra is likely to have had a fairly large bureaucratic structure, but we have only the following information.
Jang Jo-il 장조일. People’s artist. Composer. Born in 1950. Studied at the Kim Won Gyun Pyongyang University of Music, graduating in 1980. After that he worked with various ensembles, and in 1994 started to compose music for films and tv-programmes. Most of his career was spent in the Mansudae Art Studio. He is most well known for the arrangements that he has made for traditional songs to a large orchestra. In 2011 he received the Kim Jong Il Prize. He performed briefly on stage in the 20100308 concert.
Jang Jo-il did not accompany Unhasu Orchestra to Paris in March 2012. During that trip UO was lead by a person well versed in international diplomacy, namely the KWP Central Committee Vice Director Kwon Hyok Bong. He had earlier supervised the travels and performances of the Sea of Blood Opera Troupe in China for most of its tournee from October 2011 to January 2012.
Ri Myong-il 리명일 was born in 1978, and was thus during the Unhasu Orchestra years a bit over 30 years old. He was the main conductor of the ensemble, working with it in every single published concert from the beginning till the end. While in UO, he was awarded the rank of Merited Artiste. He is the grandson of Ri Sung Gi 리승기, 李升基 (1905–1996), who was educated in Japan, and in 1950 moved to North Korea bringing with him the synthetic fiber of pinallon/vinalon. He was subsequently a central figure in setting up the North Korean chemical industry, and as the director of the North Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute from 1965 onwards probably also in the first phases of the development of North Korean nuclear weapon. The grandson Ri Myong-il dedicated himself to the cultural field, studying piano at the Kim Won Gyun Pyongyang University of Music, graduating at the age of 20. He then stayed in the university practicing conducting with its string orchestra. After receiving there enough basic practice he moved to Austria to study at the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien, majoring in conducting. According to an eyewitness account by Kuwolsan in the yForum comments, in his final exam before graduation he conducted the Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien at the Wiener Musikverein. It is located in the inner city of Wien, was built in 1870, and is said to have one of the best acoustics in the world. By February 2007 Ri was back at the KWGUniversity, again directing its string orchestra. His alma mater thus steadily supported him. When Unhasu Orchestra was established in 2009 May 30, he at the age of 31 started to work as its main conductor. After the demise of UO he has disappeared completely from publicity.
Yun Pom-ju 윤범주 was the second main conductor of Unhasu Orchestra. His first appearance in the orchestra was in February 2010, visiting then irregularly, until at the beginning of 2012 he became a regular conductor together with Ri Myong-il. He was born in 1975, and thus came first time to UO at the age of 35. He studied conducting and composing at the same Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien, graduating in 2007. His Diplom Work written in German on composing can be found in the library of the university. It is titled Überlegungen zur strukturellen Relevanz von Instrumentation und Klangfarbe in “Marteau sans maître” von Boulez = Reflections on the structural relevance of instrumentation and timbre in Pierre Boulez’ “Marteu sans maitre”, 33 pages. His final exam in conducting took place in 25 June 2007 at the RadioKulturhaus Wien, where he conducted Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast (My Homeland) with the Hungarian Savaria Szimfonikus Zenekar (Savaria Symphony Orchestra). It is quite likely that before Wien he also had a KWGUniversity background; many people connected with UO have. In May 2013 he was awarded the title of People’s Artiste. After the demise of UO he became one of the conductors of the State Merited Chorus.
Kim Chung-il 김충일 visited UO occasionally during 2009-11. Nothing is known about his personal details. If he studied in Wien like several other North Korean conductors, he did not study anything requiring a written thesis. They can be found in the online library catalogue, but outsiders of course do not have access to student records.
Jon Min-chol 전민철 visited once in the 20091230 New Year’s concert. He appears to be a more veteran conductor. In the same concert there were also a number of apparently young visiting conductors.
One conductor visited at the 20101231 New Year’s concert, but his name was not disclosed. The visiting conductors in new year’s concerts was one pattern of the KJI period.
Ri Sune 리순애 of Samjiyon Band performed in 20091010 together with UO, but she did not direct UO, only her own ensemble. When both orchestras played together, Ri Myong-il did the conducting.
Pavel Ovsyannikov is the former chief conductor of the Presidential Orchestra of the Russian Federation in the Kremlin of Moscow. He is the author of the current arrangement of the Russian national hymn. At the time of his engagements with UO he was officially retired, in practice conducting musical diplomacy with countries friendly with Russia. An important expert who spends decades in Kremlin, in the centre of power of the Soviet Union/Russia, does not really retire, if he remains useful. His first visit to Pyongyang was in 2002 by an invitation of Kim Jong Il, who had heard his orchestra in Moscow in the preceding year. During UO’s existence he made three training trips to Pyongyang, once in the autumn 2009 and twice in spring 2010. Twice he had a Russian orchestra with him, once only a few musicians and singers. Anyway, he certainly conducted Unhasu Orchestra a lot during his training visits, in his very personal and free style. Although he occasionally behaved like a clown at the stage, he had lots of authority.
Finally we have the South Korean conductor Myung-Whun Chung 정명훈, who certainly has to be counted as one of UO conductors.
Chung first travelled to Pyongyang in September 2011, where he conducted both the National Symphony Orchestra and Unhasu Orchestra. At that time he had the idea of organizing a joint concert with the Seoul Metropolitan Orchestra and either of the North’s orchestras, while the main number to be played was Ludvig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. As that idea was turned down by the Northeners, his next suggestion was to organize a joint concert of UO with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, whose musical director he was. The main symphony to be performed was toned down to Johannes Brahms’s First Symphony – though that probably did not matter. This plan was accepted by both Korean governments. Next time he visited Pyongyang at the end of February 2012, two weeks before the grand tour, rehearsing with UO the music to be played in Paris. The third time when he conducted UO was in Paris in 2012 March 13-14; one day and the next morning for rehearsals, the evening for the concert.
In addition, also the French conductor Christophe Talmont conducted Unhasu Orchestra in Pyongyang during July and August 2011 within a cultural exchange programme. UO had a concert in 20110719 on the occasion of the opening of the Unhasu Theatre, but Talmont did not appear on stage during it. Apparently his influence was kept hidden by DPRK authorities. Also Talmont has not been boasting about his visit.
We also have an interview with a music expert, and those with a better understanding of spoken Korean may be able to get something out of it:
He is introduced as Vice Director of the Music Information Centre (음악정보쎈러 부소장), but whether he had a direct relationship with UO or not remained unclear for me. His academic position would make him quite close with the ensemble, though. The interviews were related to the 20110719 concert, the first one held in the Unhasu Theatre, at the time when KJI appeared to be very pleased with the ensemble. They were televised, and later published by Wangjaesan: