Seiji Ozawa Denies Report That He Was Courted by Kim Jong Il

Classic Arts News   Seiji Ozawa Denies Report That He Was Courted by Kim Jong Il
"I've never heard of such a thing."

With those words, delivered by a spokeswoman in Japan, conductor Seiji Ozawa has denied a report that Kim Jong Il tried to recruit him to lead the National Symphony Orchestra of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

According to the Associated Press, the Seoul newspaper JoongAng Ilbo published a story yesterday reporting that the North Korean dictator, having been impressed by videos of Ozawa in performance, sent an invitation/job offer to the conductor last May via emissaries within Japan's Korean community.

(The conductor, then 70, was in his homeland at the time recovering from severe bouts of bronchitis and shingles which had debilitated him for much of the winter.)

Ever polite, Ozawa averred that he was contracted as music director of the Vienna State Opera through 2009-10, according to the JoongAng. But Kim reportedly persisted, restating his offer last August along with his consent for Ozawa to work for both organizations.

But Ozawa turned Kim down a second time, according to the paper, saying "the political environment in North Korea is not one that would allow me to focus on music."

A fine story, but a fictional one, according to Maki Takashima, spokeswoman for Veroza Japan, Ozawa's management there. "We were baffled," she told the AP, "because a direct offer from the leader to conduct the national orchestra would be a big deal. We asked Mr. Ozawa, and he told us it was the first time he heard about it too."

An official of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, a pro-North organization which purportedly transmitted Kim's proposals to Ozawa, told the AP that he couldn't confirm the report.

Kim Jong Il is known to be a fan of the arts, particularly opera and cinema. In fact, the "Dear Leader" has published a book entitled Kim Jong Il on the Art of Opera: Talk to Creative Workers in the Field of Art and Literature, September 4-6, 1974. One customer review at describes the work as "Proof (if any were needed) that high tessituras and hardline Stalinism can make for a fruitful cocktail ... The best work of its kind since Pol Pot's Maria Callas: The Bel Canto Years."

More seriously, though, Ozawa could be forgiven for feeling a bit nervous about the report: the Kim regime has a history of abducting Japanese citizens to North Korea and keeping them captive. Such activities, especially during the 1970s and '80s, remain a serious point of contention between the two countries today.

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