Jason Bae is the first South Korean-born New Zealander to lead APO when they perform at the Sounds of Friendship concert. Photo/Michael Craig
Jason Bae was only born over 30 years after the Korean War, but growing up he heard many stories of how New Zealand helped establish his homeland.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and New Zealand – and 72 years since the start of the Korean War.
Around 3,800 New Zealanders served in K-Force and 1,300 in the Royal New Zealand Navy deployment. More than 30 lost their lives, 79 were injured and one was taken prisoner.
The Korean Consulate in Auckland is hosting a special concert celebrating the Diamond’s special anniversary on July 28 at the Trinity Cathedral in Parnell.
Bae, 30, will be the first Korean-New Zealander to conduct the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra.
Of the 5,000 troops who returned after the Korean War ended in 1953, only eight are still there and mobile enough to be there next Thursday.
Bae, who came to New Zealand aged nine, said he was honored to perform for veterans in what may be their last appearance at a public event of this nature.
“My grandfather was a Korean War veteran and my grandmother a war survivor, so growing up I hear so many war stories and the contributions from so many countries. as a person,” Bae said.
“I had the privilege of playing for many New Zealand Korean War veterans, K-Force, and I remember when there were 19 in 2008, and a few years ago 13… they have such a special aura about them.”
An estimated 100 surviving Korean War veterans remain, although the exact number is not known.
“I feel a deeper feeling with them than my own grandfather, they remind me why my homeland, the Republic of Korea, even exists today,” Bae said.
“Without their sacrifices, [South] Korea wouldn’t be where we are today and I might not even be here… to stand and perform in front of them is such an honor and a reminder to always be grateful for where my roots are .”
The Sounds of Friendship concert will feature the world premiere of the Korean folk song Arirang Fantasy and a special rendition of Pokarekare Ana – which was brought to Korea by New Zealand soldiers and adopted by many Koreans as their own.
Maori opera singer Te Ohorere Williams will sing both songs in Korean to music by APO.
“In Korea, we even have a name for Pokarekare Ana, and it’s Yeon-ga,” Bae said.
“New Zealand soldiers taught this song to children during the war and for this concert, I asked Seoul University to make a special arrangement just for this concert. This event is more than just a concert of music…it’s really a reflection of who both New Zealand and Korea are.”
Bae, a Steinway artist who moved from Daejeon to Auckland in 2002 aged 9, said he identifies as both “all-Korean and all-Kiwi”.
Consul General In-Taek Kim said the special concert where “Arirang meets Pokarekare Ana” should mark a milestone in diplomatic relations.
“We have carefully planned this concert to reflect 60 years of unity, harmony and friendship with New Zealand by adding Korean and Kiwi elements.”
Kim said the depth and breadth of friendship is clearly visible and grows even in interpersonal relationships within the community.
Korean food and culture was included as an event for the first time in Auckland’s premier winter festival celebrating the city’s culture, cuisine and creativity, Elemental AKL.
“Korean cuisine is growing in popularity in New Zealand, so it’s only fitting for Elemental AKL to include it in their Feasts of Legends series,” Kim said.
He said being included in major city events would help foster a better understanding of Korean culture among Kiwis.
Kim urged New Zealanders to come and celebrate the 60th anniversary of friendship by attending the free concert.
The concert will begin with the world premiere of Arirang Fantasy composed by Sunghwan Choi, which has been transcribed into an overture for soprano and strings by Junhyuk Park. Pokarekare Ana will be on the encore song list.
Also in attendance will be acclaimed musicians from the Korean diaspora, violinist Esther Nayeon Kim and pianist Hanul Kim.
Sounds of Friendship: Arirang meet Pokarekare Ana will take place on Thursday, July 28 at Trinity Cathedral. Free tickets are available at www.eventfinda.co.nz