Special performance lifts spirits at leper colony

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Special performance lifts spirits at leper colony


Korea’s “national singer,” Cho Yong-pil, performs with the London-based Philharmonia Orchestra led by legendary maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy at Sorokdo National Hospital on Sorok Island, Goheung, South Jeolla, on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

Sweet sounds filled the air of a lonely island on Wednesday, as the London-based Philharmonia Orchestra performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor for victims of Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy.

Some 500 residents of Sorok Island in Goheung, South Jeolla - a place of exile and silent death for generations of people with the disease since the days of Japanese colonial rule - gathered at a state-run hospital to see the performance led by legendary maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy. Following the symphony, Cho Yong-pil, dubbed Korea’s “national singer” for his influence on the K-pop scene, appeared gratis to sing his hit songs “Friend” and “Dream.”

The rare opportunity was made possible by the support of the Lady R Foundation in Britain. Its founder, Dowager Viscountess Rothermere, “has been dedicated to raising awareness of Hansen’s disease and those who suffer from it,” according to the foundation.

The viscountess, who has a Korean name, Lee Jeong-shun, is a Korean citizen who was born and educated in Japan. She is also a trustee of the Philharmonia Orchestra.

The viscountess has visited the island four times for volunteer works, the foundation said.

Britain’s Prince Charles delivered a video speech, saying he hoped the concert would bring solace to the patients at the island. Chung Un-chan, prime minister, Joo Ho-young, minister for special affairs, Yoo Chong-ha, president of the Korean Red Cross and some 100 volunteer workers attended the event.

On Monday and Tuesday the Philharmonia Orchestra performed in Seoul with pianist Kim Sun-wook and violinist Kyung-wha Chung.

By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]
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