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101 thoughts on “yForum

    • Very important and surprising research you have done again. A whole new UO concert. A pleasant surprise.

      It seems that in 2013.05.01 UO must have given two concerts, a first one with KJU but no cameras, and then a second with cameras but no KJU. In the existing video there is absolutely no trace of KJU, and the song “The Dear Home in My Native Village” is not repeated, unlike in the news story. However, “Peace is on our bayonets” is repeated, in a rather unexpected manner, but if KJU had asked for it during the preceding concert that would provide the explanation.

      Knowing the honorary titles is important. Some new names of musicians also came up. Again many corrections to be made on the site.


      • Trombonist Yu Won Chol 유원철, who received the honorary title „People’s Artist“ together with Jang Yong Ok (see the KCNA article mentioned by Umutcan) was born in 1970 and graduated from Pyongyang University of Music and Dance in 1992. He also performed at the UO Paris concert.
        In the linked “new” UO-video, he plays a trombone solo piece “장군님 여기는 최전연입니다” at 41:45.

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  1. Some data re. North Korean – Italian Music exchange (2003 – 2006)

    North Korean singers in Italy (see previous postings):
    2003 – Paek Mi Yong
    2004 – Park Mi Yong
    2004 – Sok Ji Min
    2004 – Kim Ki Yong
    2004 – Ri Hyang Suk
    2006 – Ri Myong Gum
    2006 – Hwang Un Mi

    Italian musicians in North Korea:
    2003 – Patrizia Greco (singer)
    2004 – Patrizia Greco
    2004 – Fabrizio del Bianco (pianist)
    2004 – Filippo Torre (conductor)
    2004 – Roma Barocca Ensemble (+1999?)
    2004 – Mario Bassani (countertenor) (together with Roma Barocca Ensemble?)
    2004 – Alessia Sparacio (singer)
    2006 – Gianluca Sciarpelletti (+2014) (singer)


    • Highly interesting data. At least during those 3 years there was constant movement both ways, with more than one person participating in most years, and this is only the data available on the internet, I presume. 2005 data is missing, but no reason to suppose that there was nothing. Nor did the movement end in 2006. Developing its high culture, at least music, at the international level clearly has been a systematic goal nurtured by the North Korean leadership.


  2. You wrote:
    “Many North Korean singers won prizes in international competitions at that time. This makes one wonder how many were sent. A situation where every single singer sent abroad receives a prize, even if only a special one, would be strange statistically. …”

    Propaganda media tend to show only the best of oneself , not the average or bottom line …

    The organizers of the music competition at Valsesia, a small Italian town in Piemont province, inform us that among its participants were also North Korean musicians. But the archive of the prize winners of this Valsesia competition does not mention any North Koreans. Who was/were those North Korean musicians who took part without success at the Valsesia competition?
    Source: http://www.valsesiamusica.com/paesi.htm and http://www.valsesiamusica.com/images/lira.gif

    Another interesting side note of that Valsesia competition:
    Conductor Luis Rafael Salomon was a member of the jury of the Valsesia singing competition in 2003, 2006 and 2015. Conductor Salomon was also a member of the jury of the 2006 G. Lauri Volpi competition, where Ri Myong Gum won a second prize. And Maestro Salomon gave masterclasses in Pyongyang at the Kim Won Gyun conservatory in 2008 (April and Juli) and 2009. His Pyongyang concert with music of Richard Strauss(!) can be seen in YouTube-Videos!
    Source: http://www.luisrafaelsalomon.com/cv.htm and http://www.luisrafaelsalomon.com/corsi.htm

    All just coincidence … ?


    • Very interesting. And probably no coincidences. One could suppose that North Koreans would like to work with long established relationships – just like everyone else. Perhaps Salomon was one of them.

      I looked at some of the Valsesia competitions. I was surprised to see so many Koreans there, most from the south, of course.


  3. Hwang Un Mi – Soprano
    The programme booklet of the UO – Paris concert contains the following data of soprano Hwang Un Mi:
    born in 1984
    graduated from Academia Santa Cecilia, in Rome, Italy in 2008
    is a People’s Artist (in NK)

    in 2006 she was already a studying in Italy and in the same year she participated at the Giuseppe di Stefano singing competition in Trapani, Sicilia, where she won a prize (to perform the same year in Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan tutte” at the opera of Trapani, what she actually did!)
    Here is the KCNA report about Hwang Un Mi participating at the competition:

    “May 22, 2006 Juche 95
    DPRK Student Emerges Winner at International Concours
    Pyongyang, May 21 (KCNA) — Korean student Hwang Un Mi studying at Santachechilia Conservatory in Rome, Italy emerged a winner at the 13th Giuseppe di Stefano International Vocal Concours. The concours held in Trapani, Italy from May 3 to 7 drew more than 80 men and women singers from 15 countries and regions including Italy, Russia, China, the U.S. and Japan.
    The participants competed in contralto, soprano, tenor, baritone and bass.
    After proving successful in preliminaries and semi-finals, Hwang fully displayed her artistic skill at the final with rich voice and graceful tone, thus winning a high appreciation of the jury.
    Hwang thus came first in the contralto group set to select only one singer.
    A best prize of international concours was awarded to Hwang at the prize-awarding ceremony and she was declared qualified to play a main part in opera by Mozart.
    The chairman of the concours organizing committee, addressing the prize awarding ceremony, highly praised Hwang, saying that she was selected with a unanimous approval of the jury at preliminaries, semi-finals and finals.”

    And here is the report in an Italian newspaper about her performance as Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte in Trapani in 2006:

    She is to my knowledge the only North Korean singer to perform in a complete opera production in (Western) Europe.
    Details about her vocal education – as middle school and university student – in North Korea I wrote already in previous postings.

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      • I began to wonder why was she mentioned in the Paris concert booklet, as none of the singers appeared on stage. Also according to the videos showing their departure, the singers remained in Pyongyang.

        How should we translate 인민배우 inmin beu, like in the title for Hwang? North Koreans seem to make a distinction between art created on stage in front of spectators, and art created in studios, such as composing, writing, photography etc. The title for the latter seems to be 인민예술가 inmin yesulga. One sometimes sees this difference translated as people’s actor/actress vs. people’s artist. What do you think of this?

        In Soviet Union, as far as I know, the concept used was only “artist”, but NKorea has this distinction.


      • Re. the “People’s Artiste”,
        To follow the NK sources, the KCNA in Korean language differentiates between 인민배우 and 인민예술가, but in English language the KCNA translates both as “People|s Artiste”.
        The same procedure for “Merited Artiste”


      • And the KCNA always uses the French style “Artiste” (with the -e ending) instead of “Artist”, I don’t know why …


      • Ok, good. The meaning of actress/actrice/Schauspieler appears to be more narrow than that of 배우. Perhaps a more correct translation to 배우 would be performing artist, rather than actor/actress. If I think in this way, then the situation seems sensible to me.


      • The French language booklet, which the UO distributed at the UO Paris concert is more like a general introduction to the UO (it does not contain any information about the actual pieces played at the UO Paris concert).
        But it introduces various musicians of the UO and uses in French the following titles:

        Ri Myong Il – artiste Emérite (chef d’orchestre)
        Yun Pom Ju – artiste Emérite (chef d’orchestre et compositeur)
        Mun Kyong Jin – artiste du Peuple (chef de pupitre)
        Kim Yong Bom – acteur Emérite (corniste)
        Jong Son Yong – actrice Emérite (violiniste)
        Yu Won Chol – acteur Emérite (trombone)
        Jon Yong Su – acteur Emérite (clarinettiste)
        Hwang Un Mi – actrice du Peuple (chanteuse)
        So Un Hyang – actrice du Peuple (chanteuse)
        Jang Yong Ok – actrice Emérite (chanteuse)
        Ro Un Byol – actrice Emérite (chanteuse)
        Jang Jo Il – prix Kim Il Sung, artiste du Peuple, directeur de l’Orchestre Unhasu

        Mun Kyong Jin and Jong son Yong are both violinists: he is an “artiste”, but she an “actrice” !?
        Hwang Un Mi: in English – “People’s Artiste”, but in French: “actrice du Peuple” !?


      • Interesting. Perhaps different translators interpret the vocabulary differently. Here they also had taken into consideration the status difference between chef/directeur vs. ordinary musicians, adding one more complication.

        My Chinese friends complain that in the Chinese translations of Rodong Sinmun and KCNA the characters used for writing names and sometimes also concepts can change abruptly in different days to something quite different. Their guess was that various people are used as translators, all of them not very skillful, nor used to the established traditions of the work. They further guessed that university students may be employed. The French booklet of course has been created by more professional people, but the translator anyway has to try to be both understandable in the target language and culturally sensible in respect to the original language. Interpretations vary.


      • “인민배우” or “공훈배우” are just titles for (a special type) of artists … but do not contain a special meaning in it.

        The general NK word for “singer” in a sentence is: 성악가수
        e.g.> “The singers of MBB are …” is in Korean: “모란봉악단의 성악가수들 …”


      • 성악가수 = 声楽歌手 = vocal music singing professional. A rather accurate concept.


  4. Ri Hyang Suk 리향숙 – Soprano

    In 2004 (the very same year, when Paek Mi Yong, Kim Ki Yong and Sok Ji Min visited Italy to take part at singing competitions) Ri Hyang Suk took part at the 11th „Concorso Internationale Canto Lirico di Giuseppe di Stefano” in the Italian town of Trapani, Sicilia. The KCNA informs that she won a “special prize” at that competition:

    „May 27, 2004 Juche 93
    Best Prize Awarded to Korean Singer
    Pyongyang, May 26 (KCNA) — Ri Hyang Suk, a soprano of the DPRK, was awarded special prize Giuseppe di Stefano, the best prize at the 11th Giuseppe di Stefano international concours. The concours was held from May 19 to 23, drawing at least 100 famous singers from more than 20 countries and regions including the DPRK, Italy, Russia, Britain, Germany, the United States and Japan.
    She was highly regarded at the preliminary and semi-final. At the final on May 21 she was highly appreciated by the jury as she fully displayed her artistic skill she acquired, bringing her talent into full bloom under the care of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
    At a prize-awarding ceremony she was awarded the special prize Giuseppe di Stefano.
    The ceremony was followed by a concert. She sang two songs to be warmly acclaimed by the audience.”

    Actually the prizes given to the winners at that competition were to participate at an opera performance of the Trapani opera house. I have no information wether Ri Hyang Suk sang in Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro”, which was the prize for the winners.

    In 2012 Ri Hyang Suk was awarded the North Korean honorary title 인민배우 (Inmin Beu) – People’s Artist. Here the KCNA report:

    „January 06, 2012 Juche 101
    Commendations Awarded to Creator and Artiste of Merit in DPRK
    Pyongyang, January 6 (KCNA) — Order of Kim Il Sung was awarded to Cha Yong Do, who created narrative of the October Concert “We Will Travel One Road Forever”, given by the Unhasu Orchestra, and many other art works encouraging the army and people in building of a thriving socialist nation.
    Meanwhile the DPRK’s title of People’s Artiste was conferred on Ri Hyang Suk, head of a department of Pyongyang Kim Won Gyun Conservatory who has well sung those optimistic and militant songs of rich emotion at stages of performances to be loved by the army and people and contributed to training artistic talents.
    Decrees of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly on awarding the commendations were promulgated on Dec. 7 last year.”

    This article also informs us, that in 2012 (possibly already in 2011, above article was published on 6th Jan. 2012) she was the “head of a department of Pyongyang Kim Won Gyun Conservatory”!

    Some information about earlier performances of Ri Hyang Suk:
    Please look at the following photo:

    The lady in the pink “chosonot” to the right is Ri Hyang Suk! The conductor is Kim Il Jin (North Korea), the lady in black is Yoon In Sok (a soprano from South Korea) and the second lady from left (wearing the “Hanbok”) is An Sook Son (a famous South Korean “pansori” singer).

    This photo is showing the final curtain call at the 1998 North-South Korea joint Yun Isang Commemorative Concert, held from 3rd to 5th November 1998 in Pyongyang!
    More information about that concert in this “Hankyoreh Shinmun” article (in Korean language only):

    And in 1999 Ri Hyang Suk visited Germany. A few musicians of the (North Korean) Yun Isang Ensemble (accompanied Ri Hyang Suk) were invited from 2nd to 18th May 1999 to a concert tour to Germany. They gave concerts in Berlin, Wiesbaden, Hanover, Elmau castle and Rheinsberg.
    The “Berliner Zeitung” lauded the fabulous voice of Ri Hyang Suk at the Berlin concert.
    Here the full report (in German language only):

    Ri Hyang Suk sang at these concerts Yun Isang’s song „Teile Dich Nacht. Drei Gedichte von Nelly Sachs für Sopran und Kammerensemble (1980)“ a really challenging 10-minute piece …


    • Many North Korean singers won prizes in international competitions at that time. This makes one wonder how many were sent. A situation where every single singer sent abroad receives a prize, even if only a special one, would be strange statistically. Inter-Korean joint performance during the sunshine years is important information, as well as the German trip, and her later work place at the KWGUM as a department head. North Korea rewards and takes care of its musicians after they disappear from the front stage.


  5. Paek Mi Yong 백미영 Mezzosoprano

    She was probably the first North Korean singer to win a prize at an International singing competition in Italy. She won a second prize at the Maria Caniglia singing competition 2003 in Sulmona, Italy.

    Here is the eulogy of the KCNA:
    „November 12, 2003 Juche 92
    DPRK Female Vocalist Proves Successful at International Vocal Concours
    Pyongyang, November 11 (KCNA) — DPRK female vocalist Paek Mi Yong placed second at the Maria Canilia International Vocal Concours held in Italy in October. A new contralto star, she was acclaimed by the audience for her rich emotion and voice and high artistic talent.
    She was awarded a diploma at the concours.”

    Here she is listed in the archives of the competition among the army of South Korean singers:
    Her participation and success at the 2003 Maria Caniglia competition is also mentioned in an Italian newspaper article:

    I guess, she is the only North Korean singer, who was two times a prize winner at a singing competition in Italy: because in August 2004 she won a first prize at the Taurianova singing competition (Kim Ki Yong won also a first prize at the same competition!); here is the KCNA report:
    „August 13, 2004 Juche 93
    DPRK Vocalists Successful at International Concours
    Pyongyang, August 12 (KCNA) — Female contralto Paek Mi Yong and male bass Kim Ki Yong of the DPRK won first prizes at the third Taurinoba International Lyric Song Concours in Italy. Competing at the concours from August 5 to 8 were more than 30 excellent vocalists from various countries including the DPRK, Italy and Japan.
    The Jury was deeply moved by their singing, the female singer successfully presenting the song with her distinguished artistry and the male singer with his peculiar rich volume of voice.
    Certificates of first prize were awarded to Paek Mi Yong and Kim Ki Yong at the awarding ceremony on August 8.
    At the concert of prize winners on the same day, the singers of the DPRK sang world-famous songs impressively to be enthusiastically applauded.”

    The two competitions were within one year. I do not know if she travelled two times from NK to Italy to participate at the competitions or if she stayed for a year (or longer) in Italy and took there some (singing) lessons or attended a music school?

    In the “Ameblo”-list of 2007(?), she is mentioned as member of the PEE and the „National Ensemble” (국가중주단).

    We can hear her singing in several (early) “DPRK Music”-videos as “Pochonbo-Unhasu” member, she participated at three(?) UO concerts and in 2012 she must have been a member of the State Merited Chorus SMC, when she received the honorary title “People’s Artist” (인민배우Inmin Beu ), see the following KCNA report:

    „February 07, 2012 Juche 101
    Title of People’s Artiste Awarded to Singer
    Pyongyang, February 7 (KCNA) — The title of People’s Artiste was conferred on Paek Mi Yong, singer of the State Merited Chorus, according to a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK Tuesday.
    She made a contribution to encouraging the servicepersons and people who turned out in the advance of a great surge in building a thriving socialist nation through successful performing art pieces with high ideological value and artistry.”

    Paek Mi Yong received her early music education at the Pyongyang Pothonggang Middle School (Current name of that school(?): “Central District Tongan Middle and High School” 중구역동안고급중학교). Later she studied singing at the Pyongyang University of Music and Dance (current name: Pyongyang Kim Won Gyun Conservatory).

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    • She clearly is an important artist in the history of NK music. For me she has been thus far an obscure visitor, and I see that I had succeeded in placing her to the list of singers twice without noticing. When I now recount her appearances with UO, the number that you give, three, is correct.

      Uriminzokkiri has published in 2012 a video about the Middle School. https://youtu.be/zdhTAmwlG7M
      If I read it correctly, it shows students giving a concert at the Pyongyang Station at 00.30, but may be the school building itself is shown at 02.32. From 06.09 onwards alumni of the school seem to be shown, although reading the texts is difficult. One heroine of the video is the teacher 리수향 Ri Su Hyang, who has not yet come up in your investigations.


      • Comparing the building shown at min. 02.30 in the video, the Tongan Middle school could be this building:

        It s not so easy to understand the context of the North Korean media:

        Here is a report concerning the early singing education of Paek Mi Yong and Ri Hyang Suk from a KCNA-article from 2004(!):

        “June 09, 2004 Juche 93
        Schoolchildren’s Vocal Music Training Centre
        Pyongyang, June 8 KCNA) — The schoolchildren’s vocal music training center at Pyongyang Pothonggang Middle School plays a big role in training singers in the country. The centre, set up in Juche 72 (1983), gives vocal lessons to schoolchildren selected from schools in the city. Their lessons include such scientific vocal principles and methods as basic music theories, sound detection and sight reading.
        Over the past two decades the centre has trained many talented singers.
        Among them are Ri Hyang Suk, a soprano who won the top prize at the 11th Giuseppe di Stefano International Concours, and Paek Mi Yong, who proved successful at the Maria Canilia International Vocal Music Concours held in Itay in last October.
        Many of those who were trained in the centre are now active in the State Merited Chorus of the Korean People’s Army, the Pochonbo Electronic Band, the Wangjaesan Light Music Ensemble, Phibada Opera Troupe and other major art troupes.”

        In 2004, Paek Mi Yong and Ri Hyang Suk must have been already famous singers and North Korea. The special middle school they attended, the “Pothonggang Middle School” was set up in 1983.

        In the following KCNA article from May 2012 we learn, that the same artists received their early vocal education now in the Tongan Secondary (= Middle?) School:

        “May 23, 2012 Juche 101
        Tongan Secondary School, Producer of Talented Artistes
        Pyongyang, May 23 (KCNA) — Pyongyang Tongan Secondary School has risen to fame in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for training reserve vocalists.
        Over the past nearly 30 years, the school has turned out a number of talented vocalists. Many of them won international concours prize and the February 16 Art Prize and starred in the revolutionary operas, “The Sea of Blood” and “The Flower Girl”.
        Among the school graduates are Ri Hyang Suk, a female soprano soloist, who was awarded the top prize at the 11th Giuseppe di Stefano International Vocal Concours and Paek Mi Yong who was renowned at the Maria Canilia International Vocal Music Concours held in Italy in October Juche 92 (2003).
        Most of the graduates are active at well-known art troupes including the Mansudae Art Troupe and the Phibada Opera Troupe. …”

        I am sorry, but the third KCNA article with similar contents from 9th June 2015 is in Korean language only:
        (평양 6월 9일발 조선중앙통신)

        조선인민 누구나가 사랑하는 모란봉악단의 성악가수들중에는 노래 《바다만풍가》와 《철령아래 사과바다》를 멋들어지게 불러 사람들속에 깊은 인상을 남긴 독창가수가 있다.

        그가 바로 평양시 중구역 동안고급중학교 조기성악반 졸업생 김설미이다.

        학교 조기성악반에서 앞날의 명가수가 될 꿈을 안고 배움의 첫걸음마를 떼던 소년,소녀들이 오늘은 인민의 사랑을 받는 예술인들로 자라났다.

        그들가운데는 국제콩클수상자인 인민배우 리향숙과 2.16예술상수상자인 인민배우 장영옥,공훈배우 김일황 등 재능있는 독창가수들과 5대혁명가극의 주단역들을 훌륭히 맡아 수행한 명배우들도 있다.

        동안고급중학교는 조기성악교육의 모체학교로 전국에 널리 알려져있다.

        위대한 김정일동지께서는 주체72(1983)년 5월 20일 조기교육이 가지는 중요성을 깊이 통찰하시고 천성적인 음악적소질이 있는 학생들을 선발하여 체계적으로 키울데 대한 조치를 취해주시였다.

        그이의 세심한 지도에 의해 조기성악반은 튼튼한 교원력량을 꾸리고 그 우월성과 생활력을 뚜렷이 발휘하였다.

        1988년부터 정기적으로 진행되는 전국학생청소년예술개인경연에서 높은 실력을 보여주었으며 지금까지 120여명의 학생들이 입상자의 영예를 지니였다.

        1989년에 첫 졸업생이 나온때로부터 26기에 걸쳐 천수백명의 가수후비들이 조기성악반을 졸업하였다.

        1995년 5월에는 전국의 10여개 학교들에 널리 조직되여 조선로동당의 조기성악교육방침의 정당성과 생활력이 더욱 높이 발휘되고있다.

        성악가수후비육성에서 전국의 앞장에 서있는 동안고급중학교 조기성악반에서는 오늘도 학생들을 뛰여난 예술적재능을 지닌 가수후비들로 키워내기 위해 힘과 열정을 다하고있다.(끝)”.

        This article is also about early music education at the Pyongyang Central District Tongan Middle School.
        First, Kim Sol Mi, as soloist of the MBB, is mentioned to have graduated from that school. A few paragraphs down, also People’s Artists Ri Hyang Suk, Jang Yong Ok and Kim Il Hwang are shown as graduates of that school.
        But the name of Paek Mi Yong is already replaced by the other singers.

        After reading these three reports I wonder if Paek Mi Yong and Ri Hyang Sook really attended both Middle schools (the Pothonggang and Tongan Middle School) or none of them or first the Pothonggang and later the Tongan Middle school?
        (I cannot imagine that the Pothonggang Middle School changed somewhen ist name into Tongan Middle School, because the Pothongang is far away from the Tongan quarter)


      • Interesting new names came up. You translate the name of the school as Tongan Middle and High School; could it be possible that students from other middle schools could be admitted to this one for their high school education?


  6. I know of four North Korean female singers, who studied or took part at singing competitions in Italy around the year 2005. They are:
    Ri Myong Gum 리명금
    Paek Mi Yong 백미영
    Ri Hyang Suk 리향숙
    Hwang Un Mi 황은미

    I want to start with Ri Myong Gum:
    Ri Myong Gum studied singing at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome and in December 2006 she took part at the Giacomo Lauri Volpi singing competition in the town of Latina, 50km south of Rome.

    Here is the proud report of the KCNA about her participation at that competition:
    “December 14, 2006 Juche 95
    Korean Student Proves Successful at International Concours
    Pyongyang, December 13 (KCNA) — Ri Myong Gum, DPRK girl studying at Santa Chechilia Conservatory in Rome, won a prize at an international concours for Giacomo Lauri Volpi Prize held in Latina, Italy, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3. The concours drew 80 renowned male and female singers from the DPRK, Italy, Russia, China and other countries and regions.
    Ri competed in the adult group that comprised 47 famous professional singers and came second to receive a prize and a diploma.”

    Ri Myong Gum is also listed in the prize winner archives of G. Lauri Volpi competition:

    Ri Myong Gum must have been among the best North Korean singers to receive a government scholarship to study in Italy. But I am puzzled, except these few sources about her participation at the Lauri Volpi competitionin 2006 in Italy I could not find any hint to her further (music related) life and career. Nothing in North Korean sources, nothing in South Korean sources, nothing …


    • This is also an interesting result. Apparently in 2006 she is young, as she is referred to as a girl. She is given a good education presumably in Pyongyang, then sent to study more in Rome and take part in an international competition, where she fared handsomely. Then she is supposed to have returned home, and disappeared from sight. Perhaps this should be seen as one more instance where the DPRK does not employ its artistic resources in the best possible ways.


    • Thanks. In winter I searched for a while with Talmont’s name in various languages, but never came across this one. He has not boasted about his visit very much. Now we know the dates.


  7. Kim Ki Yong was the second male Korean singer who won a prize at a singing competition in Italy.
    He won a first prize at the 3rd “Concorso Internazionale Lirico di Canto Taurianova” in August 2004.
    Taurianova is a small town somewhere in Calabria, Southern Italy. The singing competition in Taurianova is a little known event in the music scene.
    It is striking that both Kim Ki Yong and Sok Ji Min were in their 50ies, when they took part at the competitions in Italy. In general, students or young singers participate at music competitions. Probably Kim Ki Yong’s and Sok Ji Min’s appearance at these small scale singing competitions in Italy might be understood as internal award program for North Korean artists?
    Anyhow, Kim Ki Yong is/was(?) among the most famous bass singers in North Korea, he belonged to the Merited Chorus of the North Korean Army, but he sang also in UO and MBB concerts …
    I have no information about his family background (children …)
    According to an article in “Korea Pictorial” No. 689/2013, p. 18 – Kim Ki Yong received his singing education at the Pyongyang Kim Won Gyun conservatory (he probably studied at the Pyongyang University of Music and Dance, that is the former name of the Kim Won Gyun conservatory)
    Any information of his participation in concerts in 2014 or later is welcome …


    • Thanks for these many new pieces of information. Family relationship indeed seem to have an influence in the career of offspring. A relation with the arts easily guides also the children towards the arts, as seen in the career of Sok Ji Min.

      As you understand spoken Korean, you could probably clarify the relationship between Kim Ki Yong and Kim Kyong Ho; the announcer says something about them in the UO 20120308 concert at the beginning of the song 28.30 광한루로 어서 가자 Let’s go to Kwanganru. As practically all of the little Korean that I understand is written, I cannot get the meaning out of the introduction of the announcer.

      Ri Hyang Suk clearly is a more important singer than I had understood before. She left UO early and partly for that reason tended to be a little in the shadow of Hwang Un Mi and So Un Hyang.

      I have now many things to correct on the site; I’ll try to do it a little later. I need more peace of mind than I have now and a leisurely feeling of time to be able to it.


      • By the way, Kim Ki Yong and Kim Kyong Ho waering a traditional Korean garb in the song “let’s go to Kwanghallu” is due to the Contents of that song: it is part of the famous Korean epic folktale “Chunhyang”. The Kwanghan-pavilion is situated in Namwon, City, Cholla-province, South Korea.


      • Ok, so it must be this one, 춘향전 春香傳 Tale of Spring Fragrance. In that case the characters probably a the young hero and his servant. Kim Kyong Ho is most likely playing the role of 이몽룡 李夢龍 I/Ri Mun Ryong Plum Dream-Dragon, while Kim Ki Yong must be the servant 방자 Pang Ja.


  8. Now I want to continue with the North Korean singers, who studied – or took part in singing competitions – in Italy between 2000 and 2007.

    I know of only to male singers who were in Italy at that time: Kim Ki Yong and Sok Ji Min.
    Let me start with Sok Ji Min 석지민:

    Bass singer Sok Ji Min was the winner and won the first prize at the „Concorso lirico Citta di Nettuno“ in June 2004. Here is the report in the KCNA:

    “June 23, 2004 Juche 93
    DPRK Vocalist Placed First at Internat’l Concours
    Pyongyang, June 22 (KCNA) — DPRK vocalist Sok Ji Min placed first at the Fifth International “Netuno Prize” Vocal Concours held in Netuno of Rome from June 19 to 21. The concours brought together at least 50 famous singers from various countries including the DPRK, Italy, Russia and Bulgaria.Bassist Sok was acclaimed by the jury for successfully representing songs with rich voice and high artistry.
    Sok was awarded the certificate of the first place at the prize awarding ceremony.
    He also received a special prize which qualifies him to perform at the Mozart concert to be opened in Rome in the coming August.At the concours Italian contraltos placed second and an Italian baritone singer third.”

    In the linked file you can read an Italian report about the competion and see a photo with Sok Ji Min at the award presentation ceremony:

    From that report we learn that Sok Ji Min won the first prize at that competition with his presentation of the aria “Ella Giammai M’amo” from Verdi’s opera “Don Carlo”.
    As special prize he was awarded to perform in the role of the “commendatore” in Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” at the 10th New Opera Festival of Rome. ( I have no idea if he accepted that special award)

    He was one of the most acclaimed singers at that time in North Korea. He probably would have later joined an UO-concert, unless the following tragedy happened:

    “November 21, 2005 Juche 94
    Kim Jong Il Sends Wreath to Bier of Late Sok Ji Min
    Pyongyang, November 19 (KCNA) — Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army Kim Jong Il today sent a wreath to the bier of the late Sok Ji Min, people’s actor of the State Merited Chorus of the KPA, expressing deep condolences over his death.”

    Actually he died in a car accident and was buried at the Patriot Martyrer’s Cemetery in Pyongyang next to the grave of his father Sok Kwang Hi, who had died three years before.
    And now we get the link to the UO and MBB: Sok Kwang Hi was a well known North Korean poet. He wrote the lyrics to many “war songs” (전시가요). Until now one of his most famous song is „결전의길로“ (on the way to the decisive battle) . It was performed in the 20130727 UO-concert and the 20120727 MBB-concert.

    In this youtube-video we may hear the voice of Sok Ji Min: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYb-3DMF-LA


    • Re. the early history of the Unhasu Orchestra,

      in the prehistory you mentioned the 국가 중주단 and translated it as „National Chamber Orchestra“.
      Maybe the term „Chungjudan“ does not refer to instrumentalists, but to singers who might have formed that group. The Korean word “Habjudan” might refer to a bigger ensemble (more than a dozen), while the word “Chungjudan” might refer to a smaller ensemble (less than a dozen members?)
      I would translate국가 중주단with “National Ensemble” (the music library of Standford University says: “State Concert Ensemble”
      I could not find any reference to that “National Ensemble”, but in my opinion the members of the “National Ensemble” are our well known singers Ri Hyang Suk, Paek Mi Yong, Sok Ji Min, Kim Ki Yong and (tenore) Ri Song Chol, the best singers (of classical music) in North Korea at that time.

      All I could find are five CD-recordings with the “National Ensemble”: from 2003 to 2005 the North Korean Kwangmyong Label produced five CDs with the titles:
      국가 중주단 제1집, …, -제5집 (National Ensemble Album 1, … – Album 5)
      The first three CDs are stored at the music library of Stanford University, the last two CDs in the North Korean Materials Center of the South Korean Ministry of Unification:

      국가 중주단 제1집 (other title: Ri Hyang Suk Solos 1; 2003)
      국가 중주단 제2집 (other title: Paek Mi Yong Solos 1; 2003)
      국가 중주단 제3집 (other title: Ri Hyang Suk Solos 2; 2003)
      국가 중주단 제4집 (with Sok Ji Min, Ri Song Chol, Kim Ki Yong; 2005)
      국가 중주단 제5집 (with Hong Kyong Hun, Kim Ki Yong, Ri Song Chol; 2005)

      As you wrote already the „ameblo“-webpage (created in 2007) lists the singers Ri Hyang Suk and Paek Mi Yong also as members of the „National Ensemble“:
      백미영(국가중주단, 보천보전저악단,녀)

      Any additional information and corrections to learn more about the “National Ensemble” are welcome …


  9. … I now would like to continue with the UO musicians, who studied (or took part at music competitions) in Western Europe, mainly in Italy and Austria …
    But prior to this, let me get a bit off-topic and let me introduce a North Korean singer: Jo Chong Mi 조청미
    According to my knowledge, she was the first North Korean singer to take part in a music competition in Western Europe. She won a third price at the “ Concours International de Chants” in Toulouse, France in Oct. 1987.
    Her biography in the North Korean version you may read here: http://www.kcna.us/2002/03/13/news-11/
    Slightly different for those who can read Korean: http://minjog21.com/news/quickViewArticleView.html?idxno=779

    But, must important to know, Jo Chong Mi is related with the song “Imjinkang” !!
    Imjinkang, in Korean: 림진강, is the river that separates North from South Korea close to Panmunjom !
    She is – according to my knowledge – the only known North Korean singer, who sang this song in public in the North!
    This is the North Korean song „Imjinkang“ , which describes the brokenness of the Koreans (of the country and society) and thus probably can more easily be interpreted by a third party ?
    My own trial of a translation into English language of the song “Imjin-River”:
    “The clear water of the Imjin-river flows down
    all birds can freely move over the river …
    I want to go to my home town in the south, but I can’t,
    the Imjin-river and my sorrows are drifting down …

    On the other side of the river I hear sad songs of the birds in the reed,
    I want do dig out the roots of the dried earth,
    Aren’t the ears of our (common) field dancing in the wind?
    the Imjin-river and my sorrows are drifting down …

    I want to go down to my home-town in the south, but I can’t
    The Imjin-river and my sorrows are drifting down the river…!”

    About the history of this song:
    Text: Pak Se-Yong
    Music: Ko Chong Hwan
    Pak Se Yong (1902-1989) was a poet. He was born in Kyonggi-province, close to Seoul. In 1925 he entered the KAPF (Korean Proletarian Literature Front), after 1945 he moved from South to North Korea.
    Pak Se Yong also wrote the text of the “Aegukka”, that is the current North Korean anthem!
    In 1950 he wrote the verses of “Imjin-River”, which were set in tunes in 1957 by Ko Chong Hwan.

    From the text of that song we realize, that the contents didn’t deal with an ideology or the leader of a country. That may be the reason, why this song is nowadays not so well known in North Korea.
    But in South Korea it got quickly well known, that is why the former military president of South Korea, Park Chung-Hee, prohibited this song to be performed publicly in the South.
    From 1965 until 1968 there existed the band “Folk crusaders” in Japan, who translated the “Imjin-River” song into Japanese and this song gained some popularity in Japan.
    Then in 2004(?) the movie “Bakchigi” was made in Japan. “Bakchigi” in English is: to crash with the heads together. This movie is portraying the life of young Koreans in Japan. At the main scene of that film, the football-teams of a North and a South Korean school crash against each other … and the song of “Imjin-River” is played:
    (very sad scene…) !!! I have no idea, if that movie was ever shown in the north?

    Here the older version of the song Imjin-River, which was sung by Jo Chong Mi:


    • A beautiful song, and she crossed the river in the end of the video. A very educative post again. Thank you.


  10. … to continue with North Korean singers in Russia:

    In April 2007 the 15th “Bella Voce” singing competition took place in Moscow. The only South Korean at this competition was a certain Lee Yeon Seong 이연성, a bass vocalist, who actually was a member of the jury(!) of that competition.
    He reported that two North Korean singers won the 1. prize for their presentations: Kim Kum Ju and Shin Hye Yong !
    More information (in Korean only) you can find here:


    Shin Hye Yong is a mezzosoprano; when she took part at the “Bella Voce”-competition, she was only 20 years old and had been studying at the “Gnessin Music Academy” in Moscow. I could not find any reference to her in North Korean media, the only link I found is a video where she sang with the State Merited Chorus of the North Korean Army:

    A very beautiful voice, but her pycnic physique is/was too different to perform with the UO or MBB singers …

    Regarding Kim Kum Ju:
    She did not perform with the UO, but she was a member of the early nof the PEE “Unhasu” ensembke::
    We can hear her at the DPRK Music 64 and 116 youtube-videos.
    Kim Kum Ju is a soprano and in 2007 she was 21 years old and had been studying singing at the Tchaikovsky Music Conservatory.
    In June 2007 she also took part at the Tchaikovsky competition (the very same year as violinist Mun Kyong-Jin took part) and she made it at least into the second round … according to the information provided by the South Korean ministry of foreign affairs:


    She too is much more inclined to the classic music than the popular/light music.
    Her most interesting performance one my find on the internet is probably her soprano part in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with Japanese conductor Inoue Michiyoshi and the DPRK State Symphony Orchestra in March 2013 at the People’s theater in Pyonyang.
    The following video of the Korean-Japanese “chosonsinbo” shows parts of this remarkable performance and a rather long interview with Kim Kum Ju!:

    By the way, the alto-part in this performance was sung by Han Ok Hui, another singer who performed with the UO …


    • I am again surprised. No one but you can find this type of information. You probably must be a 会員 of Choson sinbo to be able to know that the alto singer’s name is Han Ok Hui. Apart from the hidden depths of that journal that information appears to be nowhere visible.


      • The source for Han Ok Hui and Kim Kum Ju as soloists with the “Beethoven’s 9th Symphony concert” in March 2013 in Pyongyang is in a special Korean “wiki”-Webpage in point 4 (exchange with foreign countries):
        ” … 이노우에는 2013년 3월에 두 번째로 방북해 관현악 ‘아리랑’과 베토벤의 교향곡 9번을 지휘했는데, 이노우에의 말에 따르면 이 공연이 베토벤 교향곡 9번의 북한 초연 무대였다고 한다. 공연은 북일 교류 음악회 형식으로 진행되었고, 합창은 만수대예술단 합창단이, 독창은 북측에서 역시 만수대예술단 소속 성악가들인 김금주(소프라노)와 한옥희(메조소프라노)가, 일본 측에서 나가타 미네오(테너)와 마키노 마사토(베이스)가 섭외되어 출연했다. …”
        (here also the Japanese male singers are mentioned!)

        Source: https://namu.wiki/w/%EC%A1%B0%EC%84%A0%EA%B5%AD%EB%A6%BD%EA%B5%90%ED%96%A5%EC%95%85%EB%8B%A8

        Liked by 2 people

    • Re. the current location of the Kim Won Gyun conservatory and the Unhasu theater:

      The location of the Pyongyang University of Music and Dance was from 19xx to 2006 here:

      About 10 years ago a new campus (between Munsu Water Park and Elite Residential area) three km north of the existing location was built. In 2006 the new campus of the Pyongyang University and dance was opened and renamed into Kim Won Gyun conservatory. Here is the location of the new Kim Won Gyun conservatory: http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=39.040338&lon=125.785393&z=17&m=b

      Here the KCNA Report about the “new” Music Conservatory:
      ” July 01, 2006 Juche 95
      Newly Built Kim Won Gyun Pyongyang Conservatory

      Pyongyang, June 30 (KCNA) — The construction of Kim Won Gyun Pyongyang Conservatory was completed as a grand seat for musical education in the Songun era. The conservatory, another monumental edifice, covers a plottage of five hectares on the bank of the River Taedong.
      Standing in front of the main building is the bust of Kim Won Gyun, famous composer, (1917 – 2002) who dedicated himself to the development of music and the training of reserve artistes of the country with distinguished artistic talent.
      The conservatory has a main building, buildings for a special education, annexes, a concert hall, several auditoriums, a gymnasium and cultural and welfare facilities. The nine-storied main building is occupied by faculties and chairs of social sciences, rooms for teaching general subjects, foreign languages and computer, a library, the composition faculty and a musical institute.
      With the help of computer MIDI program, the students of the composition faculty can conduct creative activities and appreciate what they have just composed without musical instrument players.
      In the two seven-storied buildings for special education, students are given lectures on special subjects in the form of individual lesson. There are the national instrument faculty and the vocal music faculty in the building for special education No. one and the doctoral institute and the instrument faculty in the building No. two. All the rooms of the buildings for special education are equipped with sound-proof devices and video and tape recorders.
      The concert hall with an 800-seating capacity is arranged in splendour. The 60-, 80- and 300-seated auditoriums and the gymnasium are furnished with all necessary facilities. ”

      The then empty concert hall of the former Pyongyang Univ. of Music and Dance was remodeled in 2009 and used as Unhasu theater from 2010 to 2013 (current usage unknown).

      Thus, the 201005xx UO-concert was staged in the new 800-seat auditorium of the “new” Kim Won Gyun conservatory
      and the 20110719, 20111011, 2012010 and 20120619 UO-concerts were performed at the Unhasu Theater.


      • Thanks again. Looking at this geography was very interesting. For the first time I also found some use for my own photos of Pyongyang.


    • Ok, the pictures are not too close, and do not give 100% sure evidence, but would be good if that was she.


  11. Yes, the younger Ham Gum Ju who was singing in UO was probably born at that time; in the 1980s anyway. We could think about giving the name of a famous opera singer to the new girl baby as a possible link here. I do not know how common 함 is as a surname in Korea.


    • Interesting finding. However, I suspect that you have found a soprano with a name identical with the UO Ham Gum Ju. According to the information on the site, Korean Gramophone Records pressed vinyls from the 1960s to the early 1990s, when their markets disappeared. Our Ham certainly had a career behind her in the Mansudae Art Troupe because at least by 2011 she held the title of people’s actress, but still in the 2009 photo she looks so young that she cannot have been a grown-up solo soprano in, say 1992. Also the lady in the LP picture looks different to me.


  12. Could well be. Sometimes she looks to me like her, sometimes a bit like Kim Hyang, sometimes neither. But then again like Kim Kyong-hui. The screen says only Mansudae Yesuldan. If she indeed is the sister of Kim Kyong-ho, and the daughter of Kim Ki-yong, she is a very interesting person to show up.


    • Very good. This is the whole concert, 20 minutes longer than the DVD. Both the beginning and the end are shown here. Again some renovation to be done in the site.


  13. So it appears to be. I tried to use this site a couple of years ago when I started to think of composing the Moranbong Discography, but at that time what was on offer was limited. If you wanted to access the historical areas, you had to pay money. Thus it was more sensible to go to the original site, and I never came back to KCNA Watch. Probably not may people paid, so they have opened the whole thing.


  14. Never seen any concert videos, either in YouTube or Youku. Could exist of course somewhere, at least pieces, but I have never encountered any. Nor did I know about it, never went through all KCNA articles when I had access. Good to know now.


  15. One question, knows anyone something about the 2012.7.27 concert? The only thing I have found was a kcna report about the concert.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I found the KCNA report about the respective performance which mentions the “Pyongyang Indoor Stadium” as venue:

    February 16, 2012 Juche 101
    Grand Performance Given in DPRK on Day of Shining Star
    Pyongyang, February 16 (KCNA) — A grand performance for commemoration of leader Kim Jong Il’s birthday “We Will Be Loyal Down through Generations” was given at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium on Thursday.
    Present to view the performance was Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the state and army of the DPRK.
    It was also enjoyed by Kim Yong Nam, Choe Yong Rim, Ri Yong Ho and other senior party, state and army officials, officials of party, armed forces and power bodies, social organizations, ministries and national institutions, scientific, educational, cultural and art, public health and press organs and men and officers of the KPA and the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces.
    Present to watch it on invitation were overseas compatriot delegations and individuals including a delegation of Koreans in Japan to commemorate the Day of the Shining Star, the chief of the Pyongyang mission of the Anti-Imperialist National Democratic Front, representatives of embassies of different countries and international organizations and members of the military attaches corps here.
    The performance began with orchestral music and chorus “We Will Be Loyal down through Generations”.
    Its numbers included mixed duet and chorus “Cantata to Comrade Kim Jong Il”, an all-people hymn sung by the Korean army and people in every period of the revolution. Among them are also choruses “Old Home Covered with Snow” and “The General Is the Son of the Guerrillas”, piano duet and chorus “O Korea, I Will Add Glory to Thee”, female solo and chorus “Snowflakes Falling in the Night Sky”, male solo and male chorus “Song of Comradeship”, male chorus “The General Uses the Art of Compressing Space” and male solo and mixed chorus “We Will Never Forget”.
    The performers sang of the brilliant life of the peerless patriot, who was born as the shining star over Mt. Paektu amid the blessing of all people and laid a solid foundation for eternal prosperity of Kim Il Sung’s nation, adorning the protracted course of the Juche revolution with proud victory and glory.


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