The Korea Herald


With competition and star musicians, classical music scene to remain vibrant

By Park Ga-young

Published : Jan. 15, 2024 - 21:12

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From left: Jaap van Zweden (SPO), David Reiland (KNSO), Pietari Inkinen (KBS Symphony) and Kim Sun-wook (Gyeonggi Philharmonic) From left: Jaap van Zweden (SPO), David Reiland (KNSO), Pietari Inkinen (KBS Symphony) and Kim Sun-wook (Gyeonggi Philharmonic)

The year 2023 was characterized by visits from world-class orchestras and the realization of numerous previously postponed concerts. While there will be fewer such performances this year, South Korea's classical music scene is anticipated to maintain its vibrancy with competition among top domestic orchestras and star performers.

Two of the four leading South Korean orchestras now have new artistic directors -- Jaap van Zweden for the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and Kim Sun-wook for the Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra -- and are expected to introduce their new sound.

The SPO and Zweden, the former artistic director of the New York Philharmonic, are set to begin the new season on a high note, as tickets for the two inauguration concerts featuring pianist Lim Yun-chan sold out in just one minute. The season will be a year of the conductor and orchestra getting to know each other via well-reputed symphonies like Mahler Symphony No. 1, Beethoven No. 5, Brahms No. 2, Mozart No. 40, Bruckner No. 7, Shostakovich No. 7 and Dvorak Nos. 7 and 8.

The Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra and its new artistic director Kim Sun-wook, pianist and conductor, will present Brahms and Mahler's Symphony No. 1 and Beethoven's Symphonies Nos. 3 and No. 9, in addition to Richard Strauss' monumental symphony, "A Hero's Life," this year.

The Korean National Symphony Orchestra also enters its third year with artistic director David Reiland, who is poised to perform French and Russian composers such as Ravel, Debussy, Berlioz, Chabrier and Elgar. Reiland and the KNSO have been fostering future conductors with its workshop and will continue the endeavor this year as well.

The KBS Symphony Orchestra, led by Pietari Inkinen, kicks off its season with a New Year’s concert on Jan. 26, featuring violinist Josef Spacek. Inkinen, who enters his third year with the orchestra, is expected to present Strauss' "Alpine Symphony," a challenging piece to encounter frequently, and Respighi's "Roman Trilogy" that depicts the festivals, fountains and pine trees of Rome for its 800th regular concert slated to take place in March. Following Mahler's Symphony No. 3 in late May, the orchestra will perform Bruckner's Symphonies Nos. 7 and 9 in September.

Overseas orchestras visiting South Korea this year include the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, debuting in Korea in June, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, led by Simon Rattle in his new role as artistic director. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra will tour for five performances in October, covering all nine Beethoven symphonies.

Lim Yun-chan (SPO) and Cho Seong-jin (Vincero) Lim Yun-chan (SPO) and Cho Seong-jin (Vincero)

Among many top South Korean classical musicians, Cho Seong-jin and Lim Yun-chan will meet domestic fans in collaborations with both overseas and domestic orchestras.

Cho, ranked as the No. 3 busiest pianist in the world last year according to statistics based on performance numbers by classical site Bachtrack, will continue at the same pace in 2024. Apart from serving as an artist-in-residence at the Berlin Philharmonic, he is set to join the Tokyo Philharmonic under the direction of Chung Myung-whun in May. Come October, he will grace the stage alongside the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Andris Nelsons. Then in November he is scheduled to showcase his talent in collaboration with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

After performing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor," with the SPO on Jan. 25 and 26, Lim will embark on his first recital tour in Japan, performing all 12 of Chopin's Etudes. In June, he will hold a solo concert in Korea, and in July he will participate in the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. He also will participate in a domestic collaboration with Fabio Luisi and the German Chamber Philharmonic in December.