Orchestral musicians are used to touring around the world, performing in a variety of concert halls for a variety of audiences. But it’s not often that the Philharmonia Orchestra get the chance to perform in a venue that’s never seen an orchestra before, and to an audience that’s never heard Western classical music live. That’s exactly what happened in May of this year, when the Orchestra were invited by The Lady R Foundation to perform in the community centre of Sorok-do island, 5 hours drive south of Seoul in South Korea. Sorok-do is the home of around 600 people who suffer from Hansen’s Disease (better known as Leprosy) who were segregated from their families and forced to live in isolation as soon as they were diagnosed. Although Hansen’s disease is now treatable, The Lady R Foundation’s aim is to stop the prejudice and discrimination against Hansen’s people that persists, and invited the Philharmonia to Sorokdo to perform for the patients and help raise awareness. The Philharmonia’s Digital team were invited along with the Orchestra to make a short documentary film and travelled with them to Seoul and on to Sorok-do. The Orchestra were to perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as well as some numbers with Cho-Yong Pil all conducted by the Philharmonia’s Conductor Laureate Vladimir Ashkenazy.
This event was an incredible logistical challenge as the small community centre had to be prepared for a symphony orchestra, so the day before the event the team were filming as stages, lighting and sound equipment were set up; chairs, flowers, toilets and dressing rooms were brought in; 600 meal boxes for patients being made by the Korean Red Cross and about 40 police officers swept the building in preparation for the Prime Minister of Korea to attend.
The film aims to capture the atmosphere of the celebration – the arrival of the Orchestra, adjusting to a very unusual venue and staging an incredible performance to an extremely appreciative audience and a huge press contingent. It was a hugely rewarding experience, particularly having the opportunity to speak with the Hansen’s patients, watch their reactions to the Philharmonia’s music, and join them for food and a party after the concert. It was truly apparent how the music of the Philharmonia can really make a difference.