Staatskapelle Berlin orchestra delights local audiences despite last-minute conductor change

Staatskapelle Berlin, the resident orchestra of the Berlin State Opera, rehearses for its first concert in Seoul at the new concert hall of the Bucheon Art Center in Gyeonggi on Nov. 27. [MAST MEDIA]

When it was announced last month that world-renowned maestro Daniel Barenboim would not be able to make it to Seoul to perform with his Staatskapelle Berlin, the resident orchestra of the Berlin State Opera, the German orchestra’s upcoming visit was tainted for locals, though it was the 450-year-old orchestra’s first visit to Korea. Due to Barenboim’s health issues, the conductor was replaced by Christian Thielemann. Barenboim has been the music director of the ensemble since 1992. Following the news, many chose to get their tickets refunded. The most expensive seat was priced at 330,000 won ($248).

But Staatskapelle Berlin’s performance of Brahms Symphony No. 1 and 2 at the Lotte Concert Hall in southern Seoul on Monday evening ended with a standing ovation, with not that many empty seats in the auditorium.

Song Ji-hae, 37, from Seoul who came to the concert on Monday evening with her husband says she was “lucky to come to the concert tonight because of the refunded tickets [that became available].”

“I wanted to come to tonight’s concert but there were no tickets left for the B-seats which I could afford. But following the news of the conductor replacement I could buy them and be here,” she said, with excitement in her voice. “I don’t think Koreans really know about Staatskapelle Berlin because the orchestra has never been here, but it’s one of the greatest and oldest orchestras in the world, and although it’s not Barenboim’s baton, their inaugural performance in Seoul is not to be missed.”

It was important for Song to get her hands on tickets for the concert at the Lotte Concert Hall as the orchestra is in Korea to perform the complete cycle of the Brahms Symphony. The following two movements — No. 3 and 4 — will be performed on Wednesday at the Seoul Arts Center. Song was able to buy tickets for that.

Korean violinist Lee Ji-yoon, who was selected as the first Asian and first woman concert master of the orchestra, told local press on Nov. 27 during a rehearsal at the new concert hall of the Bucheon Art Center in Gyeonggi that the sudden replacement of a conductor is something that can cause a disconnect for the members of the orchestra. But the members of Staatskapelle Berlin all knew there was nothing to worry about with maestro Thielemann because they have already showed off perfect harmony with several performances this year.

“I believe a concert master is a diplomat between a conductor and the members of the orchestra,” said Lee. "Whatever happens during any performance, it is the responsibility of the concertmaster. My actions become more cautious since I represent the orchestra even outside the performance. I always think that the concert master is the face of the orchestra."

Maestro Christian Thielemann conducts the orchestra during a rehearsal on Nov. 26 at the concert hall of the Bucheon Art Center in Gyeonggi. [FABIAN SCHAFER]

Thielemann, who is one of the world’s most acclaimed maestros, is currently the chief conductor of Staatskapelle Dresden. He made a last-minute debut with the orchestra early this summer and performed Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony.

Thielemann said he’s also confident to perform the Brahms Symphony cycle with Staatskapelle Berlin as he knows there’s “great chemistry” between them.

“We have a very natural way of music making and the conductor should not talk too much,” he said. “He should show what he wants with his hands and that’s what I will do.”

The maestro also said it is important for the orchestra to have enough time rehearsing at a concert hall and that they were able to do so thanks to the Korean organizers of the concert.

“We were given enough time to rehearse in this great new hall before the concerts and this is very important as it’s different to rehearse in a concert hall to a rehearsal room,” said Thielemann. “We are so grateful for that.”

The orchestra’s performance of the Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 and 4 at the Seoul Arts Center begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, ranging from 140,000 won to 333,000 won, are still available at Interpark ticket.