The Korea Herald


Long-lost Stravinsky ‘Funeral Song’ gets Asian premiere in Seoul

Markus Stenz debuts as SPO conductor-in-residence with milestone performance

By Korea Herald

Published : Jan. 19, 2017 - 16:55

    • Link copied

The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra is working to get back on firm ground a year after the departure of Chung Myung-whun at the end of 2015, following a maelstrom of controversies, and the task of stabilizing the orchestra has fallen on the newly appointed conductor-in-residence Markus Stenz and principal guest conductor Thierry Fischer.

“The team that approached me was very wise in wanting a stabilizing time,” said Stenz during a press conference held at the Sejong Center in Seoul on Tuesday.

“The idea was that I would spend regular time with SPO,” he said. As the conductor-in-residence, Stenz will perform four times a year while Fischer is slated to give eight performances.

The two conductors were appointed in an effort to stabilize the orchestra in the interregnum as SPO continues its search for a music director. The goal is to decide on a music director at least by the end of the year, according to SPO CEO Choe Heung-sik. However, it will take two to three years to make the official appointment, as classical music engagements are committed some three years in advance, he explained.

In the meantime, the newly created posts of conductor-in-residence and principal guest conductor are three-year assignments, designed to provide a smooth period of transition. Stenz, chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra since 2012, and Fischer, music director of the Utah Symphony Orchestra, have led the SPO in previous performances.

“I see SPO as a major international player. It has built an international reputation,” Stenz said, elaborating to say the orchestra’s international renown would not have been possible without the “intense work” of Chung.

Markus Stenz, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra conductor-in-residence, leads a rehearsal. (SPO) Markus Stenz, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra conductor-in-residence, leads a rehearsal. (SPO)

Markus makes his debut as SPO’s conductor-in-residence Friday night with a program titled “Romantic Revolutionaries,” featuring Schuman Symphony No. 2, Op. 61, Liszt Piano Concert No. 1 in E-flat major, S.124 with Hungarian pianist Dezso Ranki and Stravinsky’s “Funeral Song” Op. 5.

The performance of “Funeral Song” is an Asian premiere of the piece that has been performed only twice since it was written in 1908. Stravinsky wrote the 12-minute orchestral work as a tribute to his teacher Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and the piece was performed just once, in 1909, before it disappeared during the Russian Revolution. It was rediscovered in 2015 and performed for the first time by the Mariinsky Orchestra just weeks ago, led by Valery Gergiev on Dec. 2.

“If I needed proof this is a very much caring orchestra, I have it now,” said Stenz about the SPO’s quick response to the discovery of the Stravinsky piece. “It is amazing how quickly the orchestra moved,” he said.

Indeed, it is a coup of a sort that SPO is performing the Asian premiere of the piece that sheds new light on the work of the young Stravinsky before the ballet “The Thunderbird,” which launched his international career.

SPO’s composer-in-residence and artistic adviser Chin Un-suk likened the effort to stage “Funeral Song” to a “spy operation,” noting its drama.

The Asian premiere had initially been scheduled to be performed in February by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, guest conducted by Swiss maestro Charles Dutoit, but SPO beat them to it and had the score completed for SPO, according to Chin.

“It is a young Stravinsky full of harmonic imagination, incredible amount of substance, harmony, theater and color,” said Stenz of “Funeral Song.”

“Markus Stenz Cycle I: Romantic Revolutionaries” will be staged Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Lotte Concert Hall. For more information, visit or call 1588-1210.

By Kim Hoo-ran (