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[Herald Review] Music Festival Pohang stands strong without conductor or chairs

By Park Ga-young

Published : Nov. 6, 2023 - 18:07

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The Pohang Festival Orchestra and pianist Sohn Min-soo perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 for the opening of the Musical Festival Pohang on Saturday at the Pohang Culture and Art Hall, in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province. (Musical Festival Pohang) The Pohang Festival Orchestra and pianist Sohn Min-soo perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 for the opening of the Musical Festival Pohang on Saturday at the Pohang Culture and Art Hall, in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province. (Musical Festival Pohang)

POHANG, North Gyeongsang Province -- When the Music Festival Pohang was launched in 2020, the timing could not have been worse. The world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the majority of music festivals -- both old and new -- were canceled.

The music festival, which aims to promote classical music, continues to stand strong as it returns for its third year, taking place in the port city known for its steel industry.

The festival's opening concert took place Friday evening at the Pohang Culture and Art Hall.

An orchestra filled the stage with the piano at the very center. However, two things were missing from the stage -- a conductor and chairs for the musicians.

In that setting, pianist Sohn Min-soo began performing Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58. As the music unfolded, it created the almost visible sensation of a wave.

Freed from the confines of a chair, each performer showed more emotion and expression, yet their movements and gestures did not detract from the music. Rather, the setting created inspiration for the audience as well as the performers.

Performing with a standing orchestra was a new experience for seasoned pianist and teacher, Sohn.

Pianist Sohn Min-soo performs Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 for the opening concert of Musical Festival Pohang on Saturday at Pohang Culture and Art Hall. (Musical Festival Pohang) Pianist Sohn Min-soo performs Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 for the opening concert of Musical Festival Pohang on Saturday at Pohang Culture and Art Hall. (Musical Festival Pohang)

“I feel like I had a very new experience with the energy emanating from the orchestra. Perhaps it was because they were standing and playing, which might have allowed them to perform with the spirit of a soloist,” Sohn told reporters after the opening concert. “Not having a conductor was one reason, but I also felt that all the members were gathering their own ideas and trying to create something together. I was truly inspired by that,” he added.

This was not the first time the Pohang Festival Orchestra has performed standing up, according to Park Yu-shin, a cellist and the music director for the festival. Park, a Pohang-native, said wanted to differentiate the music festival and hinted that this would be the festival's signature feature, setting it apart from other festivals.

Park said that as a new music festival, focusing on the quality of the music was the most important aspect, and in that vein, she invited international musicians in addition to inviting Korea’s top musicians, including violinist Chung Kyung-wha, soprano Park Hye-sang and flutist Cho Sung-hyun.

After Sohn’s performance, the orchestra returned with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor,"From the New World," Op. 95, for which the German violinist Tobias Feldmann led the orchestra. Feldmann was among other international musicians joining the Pohang Festival Orchestra, including violinist Alexandra Conunova, violist Lise Berthaud, violist Adrain Marca, cellist Jens Peter Maintz and cellist Tofleif Thedeen.

The music festival will run through Thursday, performing a variety of programs at the Pohang Culture and Art Hall and other venues around the city, including the Pohang Museum of Steel Art and the Poeun Central Library.

To wrap up the festival, “The Rite of Dance” will showcase a collaboration of dancers and classical musicians performing Mendelssohn’s String Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 and Bargiel’s String Octet in C Minor, Op. 15a.

Cellist and music director of Musical Festival Pohang Park Yoo-sin (center), pianist Sohn Min-soo (left) and flutist Cho Sung-hyun attend a press conference on Saturday at Pohang Culture and Art Hall. (Musical Festival Pohang) Cellist and music director of Musical Festival Pohang Park Yoo-sin (center), pianist Sohn Min-soo (left) and flutist Cho Sung-hyun attend a press conference on Saturday at Pohang Culture and Art Hall. (Musical Festival Pohang)