Jung-Ho Pak

It is my pleasure to introduce new SAA Honorary Board member, Jung-Ho Pak. One of the most able and flexible conductors of his generation, Jung-Ho is a passionate advocate for reinvigorating classical musical audiences of all ages, and he works miracles inspiring young musicians to play in orchestra with both discipline and love.

Since his graduation from the San Francisco Conservatory and USC, Jung-Ho has been a peripatetic conductor. I am happy to say that, when he was 24 years of age, I hired him for his first job as conductor of the jazz and wind ensembles at Lehigh University. While at Lehigh, he won a national competition to become the conductor of the Los Angeles Debut Orchestra. Thereafter, he has been Music Director of the University of Southern California Symphony, San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra, the International Chamber Orchestra at the Idyllwild School for Music and the Arts, and the UC Berkeley Symphony. His career with professional orchestras included the position of Music Director of the San Diego Symphony which he revived from bankruptcy and led to unprecedented financial success. He recently finished an eight-year tenure with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and is now its Music Director Emeritus. This year, he began his first season as Artistic Director of the San Diego Chamber Orchestra and was recently appointed Artistic Director of the Cape Cod Symphony. Members of the younger generation know him best for his years as the conductor of the Disney Youth Orchestra and for his activities at the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp where he serves as the Director of the Orchestras and Music Director of the World Youth Symphony Orchestra.

The following interview with Jung-Ho occurred in late April when he was guest conductor with the Lehigh University Philharmonic.

What projects are you involved with at the moment?

As usual I’m in the midst of a several things. Aside from the seemingly endless amount of programming for my professional orchestras, I’m preparing for this summer’s World Youth Symphony Orchestra programs where one of my big projects, aside from our performances of Mahler’s Second Symphony and another with violinist Joshua Bell, is the world premiere of a double concerto for sax and trumpet by Jim Stephenson. The soloists for that premiere are Branford Marsalis and his cousin, Rodney Mack. I’m also developing a radio show that introduces children to classical music in a hip and energetic way and shaping a new, theatrical and interactive set of concerts with the San Diego Chamber Orchestra to be performed at the California Center for the Arts. It never ends, thankfully!

Tell me what is the most satisfying aspect of your career.

I like to believe I’m helping change the public’s relationship with classical music. You might say I’m trying to make classical music more relevant and meaningful for young audiences under the age of 60 (laughs).

In your view, how is music education affecting the music industry?

Music education is giving kids their first understanding of their role as a performer. A child’s first experience can put him/her in touch with the basic purpose of music, i.e., to move the soul, or it can stop short and teach that child to be just a good mechanic. If we can instill at an early age that when a child touches an instrument, the sole purpose is to bring joy to one’s self and others, then we will have earned the privilege of practicing our art. With that kind of enlightened musician, we will be able to create innovations that will have impact and keep our industry fresh.

What trends do you see in music education?

What’s not generally appreciated by the public is all the great work already being accomplished in public schools. We are on the verge of a music education renaissance, but that renaissance will be muted if the professional world (orchestras, opera companies) can’t demonstrate its relevance to the next generation. If children go to concerts and see no one in their generation, it would speak volumes to them in terms of the viability of being able to make a living as a musician. I believe such a renaissance needs to begin with educators proving to their students that there is actually a viable future for classical music.

Have you been, or are you, actively involved in teaching?

Oh, yes, yes. For the last six years, I’ve been associated with Interlochen Center for the Arts and, in the past, served on the faculty at USC, UC Berkeley, and the San Francisco Conservatory. I will always teach, because teaching always gives me more than what I can give the students. Students keep me honest and inquisitive and optimistic.

Do you presently have any contact with the Suzuki method?

Very close contact! My daughter studied Suzuki violin with three different teachers, and I am a passionate believer that the Suzuki Method is the great egalitarian doorway for the general populace to experience wonderful art firsthand.

When you were asked to be a member of our Honorary Board, what prompted you to say “Yes?”

I have a passionate vision about how we can create a new generation of art lovers. By being an advisor to the Suzuki Association, I hope I can be a voice with a global perspective, a voice that can articulate how much our changing society needs a vital connection to the art of making music. Our society is becoming more of an aggressive consumer of music through recordings, but listening to recordings is (ironically) at its core, a dehumanizing experience. We simply need to put a greater value on live performance. Having been a professional conductor dealing with budgets, tickets sales, and the need to broaden the audience for orchestral music, I believe I can offer market savvy advice to the SAA that can help the Association’s and the Method’s growth in the future.

Anything else you would like to tell the Suzuki Association?

You watch over one of the most powerful devices for the dissemination of live music in the world. Yet, I feel there is even greater potential for the Method to be more broadly accepted in the consciousness of the American public and its marketplace. Having experienced the struggling world of classical music firsthand during the last two decades, I believe it would be foolhardy to trust that any music organization, including the Suzuki Association, will survive forever without continuous open dialog about how to improve and evolve. With lots of courage, an open heart, and a sensitive ear to how we can reach a drastically changing society, we can secure the future of the Suzuki Method for centuries to come. And in doing so, I sincerely believe that we can actually help save the art form itself.