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[Herald Interview] Osmo Vanska offers delayed farewell with last part of Sibelius cycle

By Park Ga-young

Published : March 25, 2023 - 16:01

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Conductor Osmo Vanska conducts during a rehearsal in the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra's rehearsal room at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts on Tuesday. (SPO) Conductor Osmo Vanska conducts during a rehearsal in the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra's rehearsal room at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts on Tuesday. (SPO)

Conductor Osmo Vanska, who led the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra for three years until last year, is returning to Korea to conclude the Sibelius cycle. Unfortunately, his tenure coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in early December last year, he suffered a fall that shattered his pelvis and broke his right shoulder.

After spending several weeks recovering, the 70-year-old conductor progressed to a wheelchair and by the end of January he was able to conduct while seated.

This incident changed him not only physically but also mentally, he said during a recent e-mail interview.

“[The incident] gave me a chance not only to run to the next week but to think about many, many issues in life including music,” he said.

One of the thoughts he’s been having recently is that he wants to be a “nicer conductor.”

“I have been a difficult conductor because I don't want people to play badly. So going forward, I want to show more about the music I love. Instead of forcing them to play better, I want to invite them and lead them so that they could perform better,” he said when asked about his future plans.

Despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic, which forced the cancellation or postponement of many concerts and projects, Vanska did his best to make the most of the situation and was able to create valuable experiences with the orchestra, which he considers world-class.

He picked SPO’s European tour and recording an album of the late Korean conductor Yun I-sang as among the experiences he deems the most special and of which he is most proud.

“It was an opportunity for the orchestra members to come together and showcase their talent and pride in being part of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra,” he said about the tour. The orchestra performed in Salzburg, Amsterdam, Vienna, and London during its tour in Europe last year.

Vanska, who has emphasized that it is important for Finnish orchestras to perform works of Finnish conductors, said that recording Yun I-sang’s album is one of the accomplishments he is most proud of of as SPO’s music director.

“Initially, many people hesitated to perform Yun’s music but I convinced them of its importance and convinced the orchestra to play Korean music,” Vanska recalled. “I am proud that we were able to do that recording and that the orchestra played that difficult music so well. Now, the feedback coming from outside of Korea is telling us that it was a great choice."

To conclude the Sibelius cycle, which has introduced the relatively unfamiliar Finnish composer to Korean audiences and offered new perspectives, Vanska will be presenting two programs across four performances. This will be a rare opportunity to compare two versions of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47.

“The motive is to find where he started and then to compare that to the last version,” he said.

The concerto was finished in the autumn of 1903, but the premiere was a fiasco. The composer then unveiled a drastically mended score in the summer of 1905.

On Friday and Saturday at Lotte Concert Hall, Georgian-born German violinist Lisa Batiashvili and the SPO will perform Sibelius' Karelia Suite, Op. 11, the 1905 version of Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 and Sibelius' Symphony No. 6 in D minor, Op. 104.

On March 30 and 31 at Seoul Arts Center, Vanska and violinist Elina Vahala will take to the stage with the SPO to perform the Korean premiere of Sibelius’ original version of Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 and after the intermission, Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43.

Conductor Osmo Vanska conducts during a rehearsal in the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra's rehearsal room at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts on Wednesday. (SPO) Conductor Osmo Vanska conducts during a rehearsal in the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra's rehearsal room at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts on Wednesday. (SPO)