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Hymn for the present times of social distancing

Posted June. 02, 2020 07:45,   

Updated June. 02, 2020 07:45


“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalm 2)

“The nations’ conspiracy” seems to be in progress. Tensions between the two largest countries in the world are ever-growing. The year 2020 will be remembered not only as the year of the COVID-19 outbreak but also as the year in which the world powers take on new paths.

Psalm 2 was often sung with a melody both in ancient and more recent times. The 40th song – an aria for bass – of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Messiah,” as well as a hymn by Thomas Tallis, a composer representing the Renaissance music in the U.K., are well-known examples. U.K.-based composer Ralph Vaughan Williams composed “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” in the early 20th century based on the theme melody of Tallis’ hymn. In Ralph Vaughan Williams’ song, delicately divided string parts create deep sounds resembling an organ.

The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra played the above song at the “#thankstoyou” concert held at the concert hall of the Seoul Arts Center on Friday. The performance was originally scheduled to be staged in front of a limited number of audience members but later decided to be broadcasted live instead without an audience as COVID-19 has spread again in Seoul and the nearby region. Performers and conductor Osmo Vänskä also exercise social distancing on stage by sitting at least 1.5 meters away from each other and wearing masks. Transparent panels were also installed around each wind instrument player who joined in Symphony No. 39 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The conductor must have had complex emotions. Vänskä is serving as the music director for both the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra. Minneapolis, where the Minnesota Orchestra is located, has been in flames due to the death of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a police officer. “The nations” are strolling with many internal problems even at the moment. The deep sound of the Renaissance hymn arranged by Vaughan Williams resonated like a desperate prayer.

The concert can be watched at the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra’s YouTube page. The original song of Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” can be also found by searching “Why Fum’th in Fight” on YouTube.