A New Melody: Welcoming St. Olaf Orchestra Conductor Chung Park
In his first semester at St. Olaf College, Chung Park hasn’t missed a beat.
He led the St. Olaf Orchestra on a tour of the Pacific Northwest just six weeks after classes started. He conducted the ensemble’s popular annual family concert, where he oversaw the first-ever competition among instrument sections and delighted young (and old) Harry Potter fans with an appearance dressed as Severus Snape. And he took his place in front of audiences at the renowned St. Olaf Christmas Festival, held for the first time this year at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
But perhaps more importantly, he has placed an importance on nurturing the sense of community that has long been at the heart of the St. Olaf Orchestra. Before the home concert that concluded the fall tour, he extended an invitation to his office for coffee, providing chocolate and espresso to the Orchies who gathered in a circle on the floor. He hosted a holiday gathering at his home, where the smell of the fresh bread he made for members of the orchestra filled the entire main floor. And in his pre-concert talks, he focused on his care for the well-being of the student musicians and encouraged laughter.
“I can’t think of a better person to take on the role of conductor at a place like St. Olaf where community is such a big part of the campus,” says St. Olaf Orchestra President Sam Ivory ’23. “He has embraced our ‘Orchie love’ and all of the orchestra’s time-honored traditions, and in return, the orchestra has fully embraced him back.”
I can’t think of a better person to take on the role of conductor at a place like St. Olaf where community is such a big part of the campus. He has embraced our ‘Orchie love’ and all of the orchestra’s time-honored traditions, and in return, the orchestra has fully embraced him back.St. Olaf Orchestra President Sam Ivory ’23
That embrace has included a willingness by members of the St. Olaf Orchestra to challenge themselves and continue to grow as musicians in new ways under Park’s leadership.
“Any good conductor has the ability to keep an orchestra together and push them technically, but Dr. Park has been able to prompt us to look inward and bring some of ourselves into the music and share that with our peers around us and with an audience,” says St. Olaf Orchestra Vice President Grace Alexander ’23.
The result of that work was on display during the very first concert of the Pacific Northwest tour this fall, Ivory says. The St. Olaf Orchestra performed at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, and it was the first time the ensemble had really played under the baton of their new conductor.
“It felt like everything clicked, and I felt myself becoming lost in the music,” Ivory says. “I believe the audience was equally transfixed because by the time we got to the end of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique’ symphony, the audience was silent for a full 10 seconds before roaring applause. It was at that moment when I realized this year would be full of amazing music-making.”