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[Herald Review] SPO holds in-person concert after four-month pause


Returning to the stage after a four month virus-mandated absence, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra’s reunion with its audience was full of emotion for both sides.

The SPO performed “Related Giants – Mahler & Sibelius” at the Lotte Concert Hall in eastern Seoul on Thursday. It was the first time the SPO had performed in front of a live audience since February.

Though the concert had been much anticipated, the concert hall was relatively empty, as the SPO limited the number of people in the audience for safety reasons. There were around 500 people at the concert as a seat had to be left empty between every audience member.

Arriving at the concert hall, audiences were checked of their body temperature, and were ushered to a booth where they could fill out a health check form. When seated, concert house ushers told the audience to keep their masks on at all times.

When Music Director Osmo Vanska came on stage, wearing a mask, a loud applaud -- but half the usual -- filled the concert hall.

The program was Sibelius, Pelleas et Melisande suite, Op. 46 and Mahler, Symphony No. 4 in G major for soprano and ensemble or chamber orchestra (arranged by Klaus Simon in 2007).

A total of 50 performers, all wearing masks except for woodwind instruments, went onstage to present Pelleas et Melisande suite, based on the story written by Maurice Maeterlinck about the forbidden love between Melisande and her brother-in-law Pelleas.

Though the score was written for a doomed love story that includes deaths of the title characters, the music was beautiful. Vanska swiftly led the orchestra, creating delicate sounds.

After an intermission, Mahler, Symphony No. 4 in G major followed. The symphony usually involves more than 80 performers. However, as it was impossible to bring a big orchestra onstage for distancing, the SPO presented a chamber music version of the symphony with 14 performers.

Though it was not a symphony performance that exuded the distinctive charisma of Mahler, the orchestra still delivered the powerful energy of the composer. Soprano Im Sun-hae joined the stage for the fourth movement.

By Im Eun-byel (