The Utah Symphony's Thierry Fischer is taking on a side job: principal guest conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, South Korea's flagship orchestra. Along with newly named Seoul Philharmonic conductor-in-residence Markus Stenz, he will appear with the Korean orchestra for three seasons. His first concert there is in March.
Fischer will continue as music director of the Utah Symphony, a position he's held since 2009; his contract here runs through 2019. In a phone interview from his home in Switzerland, in the midst of guest engagements in that country as well as Scotland and Sweden, he emphasized his commitment to the Utah orchestra. His time in Korea will be "six weeks — not even a half-job," he said.
"My absolute highest priority remains, as ever, the Utah Symphony," he said. "It's a huge pleasure to be in Salt Lake working with this fantastic orchestra and great community."
The SPO's previous music director, internationally renowned conductor Myung-Whun Chung, resigned amid conflict with the former CEO at the end of December, according to Korean newspapers. Fischer declined to comment on that controversy — "I just worry about the music," he said — but he noted in a news release that he's determined to uphold Chung's "incredible legacy." Fischer added he conducted the Seoul Philharmonic as a guest in 2013 and was "immediately struck by the very high level of musicianship, the total commitment from the players and the flexibility of the ensemble." He's also excited to check out Lotte Concert Hall, the orchestra's new home, which opened last month.
Is there a language barrier? "Everybody speaks English," said Fischer, whose first language is French. "From what I remember, at least half the players are totally fluent."
Utah Symphony | Utah Opera CEO Paul Meecham said Fischer's work in Korea will be "really complementary to what he's doing here." He noted that it's common for conductors to hold jobs with more than one orchestra. (When Fischer arrived in Utah, he was wrapping up two other contracts: as chief conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic in Japan, where he now serves as honorary guest conductor, and as principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.)
"We are thrilled that Thierry Fischer and Markus Stenz, two first-class conductors of international stature, have accepted the invitation to work more closely with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra," SPO CEO Heung-Sik Choe said in the news release announcing the appointments, which were made by a committee of seven — including musicians from inside and outside the orchestra. "We truly look forward to a new chapter of ambitious musicmaking and creative programming."
The Seoul Philharmonic, founded in 1945, is one of Asia's longest-standing orchestras. Fischer is anticipated to conduct five or six of the SPO's 40 subscription concerts each season (which runs concurrent with the calendar year, rather than with the academic year as is standard in the United States). His 2017 concerts will include works of Haydn, Brahms, Berlioz, Mahler, Shostakovich and other composers. He'll close the season with a performance of Beethoven's Ninth involving three major Korean choirs.