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Sibelius expert becomes SPO’s new music director

After turbulent years, orchestra on verge of returning to normalcy

Conductor Osmo Vanska, who specializes in Sibelius, has been appointed as music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, ending the orchestra’s four-year leadership vacancy.

SPO CEO Kang Eun-kyung revealed the appointment -- made after a three-year screening process -- at a press conference Thursday to mark the one-year anniversary since she took office.

“I had the confidence that Vanska is the person that the SPO needs, seeing the devotion he had shown to the orchestras he worked with. The orchestras’ innovations gave him the nickname of an ‘orchestra builder,’” said Kang during the press conference at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul. 

Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra CEO Kang Eun-kyung speaks during a press conference at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra CEO Kang Eun-kyung speaks during a press conference at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

“Vanska treats orchestra members with affection and with broad-minded leadership. The followership that the members show toward him is remarkable. Of course, his musicality and capability were considered. He is a conductor that does not require an explanation.”

Vanska, from Finland, is currently the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra and conductor for the Lahti Symphony Orchestra based in his home country. He will take office from January next year under a three-year contract.

SPO’s music director position had been vacant since artistic director Chung Myung-whun left the orchestra in 2015. In 2014, the orchestra’s CEO Park Hyun-jung was accused of sexual harassment and poor personnel management.

Considering Vanska’s expertise, the SPO plans to work on developing Sibelius-focused repertories through performances and recordings, the CEO revealed.

“Watching him and the orchestra rehearse together, whatever repertoire is given to him, he creates a unique color for the orchestra,” Kang said, referring to how the conductor has collaborated with the SPO as a guest conductor on numerous occasions since 2015.

“Usually during such performances, the relationship between the conductor and the orchestra can be uncomfortable, because of the intense rehearsal schedule. But for Vanska, I can see the affection in the eyes of the orchestra members. I realize that he has a very special, artistic leadership.”

Currently residing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Vanska will visit Korea multiple times next year and stay here for a total of six to eight weeks for at least two concerts slated for next year.

Meanwhile, the orchestra will extend its contracts with two principal guest conductors -- Thierry Fischer and Markus Stenz -- whose terms were to end in December 2019 -- for another year.

Wilson Ng, who was appointed as the orchestra’s associate conductor in January, showed great expectations for Vanska.

“For me, personally, I am a Sibelius fan, and he is the master of Sibelius. I can expect that I would be able to discuss and learn from the master. I wish I have the opportunity to work with the maestro, help whatever he asks of me,” he said.

The SPO has also newly appointed artistic adviser Wolfgang Fink, who will support the orchestra’s programming, help it set a vision and work out strategies.

In October, the orchestra will embark on a tour across Russia to celebrate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Korea in 2020.

By Im Eun-byel (