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Conductor Osmo Vanska hopes to formulate ‘Seoul strategy’ for SPO

The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra is set to take the next leap in 2020 under the baton of Osmo Vanska, building a “Seoul strategy” together.

Vanska was appointed as music director of the SPO in May. He has been chosen for his “affection for orchestra members and broad-minded leadership,” according to SPO CEO Kang Eun-kyung. 

Conductor Osmo Vanska poses for photos before a press conference held at the Sejong Center in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)
Conductor Osmo Vanska poses for photos before a press conference held at the Sejong Center in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

Also, Vanska’s fame as an “orchestra builder” was taken in account, Kang said. Leading the Minnesota Orchestra for about 20 years, Vanska took the music institution to another level, earning the nickname. He is also the conductor laureate of Finland’s Lahti Symphony Orchestra.

Vanska will take the baton starting 2020. The musician, born in Finland, has led the SPO on several occasions as a guest conductor since 2015.

“The members of the SPO are in one way hungry to make good music,” Vanska said during a press conference held Monday at the Sejong Center in Gwanghwamun.

“As I already told you, this orchestra is very ready to go, I feel that there are no limits. And people are waiting for musical ideas or instructions -- on where to go,” he said. “That is not always the case when you go to so-called famous orchestras.”

“They are ready to go and there are a lot of skills in this orchestra. For me, (to be with people) who would really like to learn, that is like ‘Wow, OK. Let’s go,’” Vanska said.

Based on his experience with the Minnesota Orchestra, Vanska will be focusing on three things in Seoul: concert halls, recordings and international festivals. There are, however, also other values that the orchestra should strive for.

“It is important for us to go to fancy places, London, Berlin or New York. (But what is) as important as that is to go to some small places in Korea. I think the whole idea is that we would like to find people who do not have any idea about orchestras. We cannot wait for them to come to us, we have to go,” he said.

On the subject of the concert hall, CEO Kang hinted there might be a new hall for the SPO soon. Though she refused to go into details, she mentioned there may be “good news in the near future.” The SPO currently does not have a resident concert hall.

“There might be a new concert hall closer to this area (Gwanghwamun). (It is important for) the orchestra to rehearse at the same place where they are playing their concerts,” Vanska said. “All American and most of European orchestras, they rehearse where their concerts are. That’s a huge thing for the quality of the orchestra.” Also, Vanska is interested in building up new repertoires.

“(Great orchestras) are very much aware about what is interesting today. I think we needed to be that kind of an art institute,” he said.

“We should know how to play Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. But we also need to know how to play the composers no one knows. We must be connected to the big names but also the young names who might get to be great names in the future.”

The 66-year-old conductor shares many values with the SPO. For example, he is concerned about building a wider audience for classical music.

“Many countries are facing the same challenges, (how we can) get new people to listen to us. We cannot expect everybody to come to listen to us. We need to find places where we can go -- sometimes in smaller groups, if not the whole orchestra, but some places where we can meet new people,” he said.

“If we can get good reviews from outside Korea, (that will also make) local people come listen to us. The more famous we are outside of Korea, the more famous we will be in the country.”

The inaugural concert led by Vanska will held in February 2020. The program has yet to be revealed.

By Im Eun-byel (