Unhasu Orchestra

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Unhasu Orchestra
Chosŏn'gŭl 은하수관현악단
Hancha 銀河水管絃樂團
Revised Romanization Eunhasu Gwanhyeonakdan
McCune–Reischauer Ŭnhasu Gwanhyŏnaktan

The Unhasu Orchestra is a musical group based in Pyongyang, North Korea.[1][2] It performs primarily with Western instruments, sometimes performing alongside traditional Korean soloists.[3] The orchestra has a concert hall, the Unhasu Theater in Pyongyang (39°01′10″N 125°47′21″E / 39.0194°N 125.7891°E / 39.0194; 125.7891), dedicated for its use.[4] Ri Sol-ju, the wife of Kim Jong-un, is a former singer in this group.[5][6]


On 14 March 2012, the South Korean conductor Myung-whun Chung led the combined orchestras of Unhasu Orchestra and the Radio France Philharmonic in the Salle Pleyel concert hall in Paris, France.[1][2] The pan-Korean folk song called "Arirang" was played.[1][2]

Rumored executions and alleged disbandment[edit]

On August 29, 2013 The Chosun Ilbo reported, based on anonymous sources in China, that key members of the Moranbong Band and Unhasu Orchestra were made to watch the execution by firing squad of certain members of the Unhasu Orchestra, including violinist Mun Kyong-jin, members of the Wangjaesan Light Music Band, and the singer Hyon Song-wol (since seen alive on NK television in 2014), on the orders of Kim Jong-un.[7] According to the Chosun Ilbo report, the Unhasu Orchestra was then disbanded.[7] The executed members of the band have been named by the music journalist Norman Lebrecht as the concertmasters Moon, Gyeong-Jin, and Jung, Sun-Young.[8] Other reporters are skeptical of The Chosun Ilbo report, such as Chad O'Carroll of NK News, a North Korean analyst website. O'Carroll told Business Insider, "You've got to remember that a lot of the time the source is South Korean and it's in their interest to distort or perhaps weave the truth every now and then." [9] John Delury from the Yonsei University in Seoul, told The Guardian, "This stuff gets planted regularly in media outlets and then quickly goes viral. There's a global appetite for any North Korea story and the more salacious the better. Some of it is probably true – but a great deal of it is probably not." Delury also added: "The normal standards of journalism are thrown out of the window because the attitude is: 'It's North Korea – no one knows what's going on in there." [10] Hyon Song-wol, the focus of many of the reports, was later shown to be alive and well.[11][12]

Alejandro Cao de Benós said that the news was false and the orchestra would perform on September 9, 2013.[13] However, the orchestra were not present at the North Korean National Day celebrations on September 9, being replaced by the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces Song and Dance Ensemble, leading to further speculation and concern about the fate of Unhasu Orchestra members.[14]

Nam Jae-joon, the chief of the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS), said, on 8 October 2013, he was aware that “about 10 members of the Unhasu Orchestra were executed for involvement in the scandal.”[15]

A performance by the orchestra was broadcast by North Korean radio in October 2013.[16]

Rumors of executions resurfaced in 2015 when South Korean lawmaker Shin Kyung Min revealed NIS' findings on recent executions.[17] According to NIS, four top members of the orchestra were executed in March 2015 for spying for South Korea. Among them was the unnamed director general of the orchestra who was identified as a "Russian-trained composer and producer in his late 60s who came from Japan's pro-North Korean community". According to one of NIS' sources, the four were stripped naked before they were executed with machine gun fire. The execution took place in Pyongyang and four to five hundred members of Pyongyang's artistic community were forced to witness it. The execution was described as unusual with respect to both its cruelty and the fact that the families of those who were executed were reportedly spared from repercussions.[18]

Former members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d ADAMSON, THOMAS; Masha Macpherson (March 13, 2012). "Unhasu Orchestra And Radio France Philharmonic Prepare For Major Paris Concert". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c "Unhasu Orchestra play with Radio France Philharmonic". BBC NEWS. 15 March 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  3. ^ "The Sea of Blood Opera Show: A History of North Korea's Musical Diplomacy". The Atlantiic. Mar 19, 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  4. ^ "Unhasu Orchestra in Paris". North Korea Economy Watch. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  5. ^ a b KIYOHITO KOKITA (September 7, 2012). "Kim Jong Un's wife shined before marriage as a singer". Asahi Shimbun Weekly. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Taylor, Adam (September 21, 2012). "Kim Jong-un Is Trying To Erase His Wife's Popstar Past". Business Weekly. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "Kim Jong-un's Ex-Girlfriend 'Shot by Firing Squad'". The Chosun Ilbo. August 29, 2013. Retrieved August 29, 2013. 
  8. ^ Norman Lebrecht (August 29, 2013). "Dreadful news: Concertmasters executed in North Korea". Arts Journal. Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  9. ^ "Why You Shouldn't Necessarily Trust Those Reports Of Kim Jong-un Executing His Ex-Girlfriend". Business Insider. August 29, 2013. Retrieved August 29, 2013. 
  10. ^ "North Korea criticises 'reptile media' for saying Kim Jong-un ordered executions". The Guardian. September 23, 2013. Retrieved September 28, 2013. 
  11. ^ May 17, 2014, 11:34 am. "Executed singer alive and well, Pyongyang TV shows - The West Australian". Au.news.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2014-05-17. 
  12. ^ "North Korean singer "executed by firing squad" shows up alive and well in Pyongyang | NK News - North Korea News". NK News. Retrieved 2014-05-17. 
  13. ^ Alejandro Cao de Benós (30 August 2013). "Twitter: Tweet by @DPRK_CAODEBENOS". Las noticias de la orquesta son totalmente falsas. La orquesta Unhasu tocará en Pyongyang por el 9 de Septiembre, fundación de la República. 
  14. ^ Norman Lebrecht (12 September 2013). "Executed concertmasters’ orchestra fails to appear on North Korean national day". Arts Journal. Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  15. ^ "NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 282 (October 10, 2013)". Yonhap News Agency. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  16. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/17/north-korean-singer-rumoured-executed-appears-tv
  17. ^ Cho Jong Ik (2015-04-30). "NIS: 'Kim Jong Eun Has Executed 15 Officials This Year'". Daily NK. Translated by Jihae Lee. Retrieved 2015-04-30. 
  18. ^ "North Korean Art Troupe Leader, 3 Others Publicly Executed in Pyongyang". Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA's Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Paul Eckert. Radio Free Asia. 2015-04-29. Retrieved 2015-04-30. 

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