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Shin's Upon His Ghostly Solitude, which premieres with the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Osmo Vänskä in April, is a musical meditation on the cycles of history, drawing inspiration from WB Yeats and Alban Berg.

On April 7-8, Donghoon Shin’s orchestral work Upon His Ghostly Solitude receives its world premiere with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by longtime champion Osmo Vänskä. The work was co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, and Bamberg Symphony.

> April 7-8: Donghoon Shin, Upon His Ghostly Solitude (World Premiere) with Osmo Vänskä and the LA Phil

The 17-minute orchestral work inspired by WB Yeats’s “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen,” a poem that meditates on the cyclical nature of history. The concept evoked a strong musical structure for Shin, who introduces a four-chord harmonic theme (he calls it the “core engine” of the piece) that reappears in each movement in altered versions of itself. He ties this to a line in the poem: “Whirls out new right and wrong / Whirls in the old instead.” Another line—“All men are dancers and their tread goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong”—moved Shin to compose a march (inspired by Berg and Mahler) in the final movement, building to a climax that is violently cut off by the sound of a “barbarous gong.”

Passionate about literature and poetry from a young age, Shin first encountered Yeats’s “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” as a teenager in Seoul. Unable to fully understand the untranslated poetry at that time, he recalls that the text nevertheless made a deep and lasting impression on him. Years later, he came across the poem again during the pandemic, and was surprised by how similar today’s world felt to the one described by Yeats a hundred years prior. Shin states, “I felt like it was fate, all these years later, that I would finally write a piece of music inspired by this poem.”

Shin also noticed similarities to Berg’s music in Yeats’s poetry: “I found more and more resemblances with Alban Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces, written around the same time (1915). Like Yeats’s poem, that score also tries to depict the terror and the despair in the crippled world through Romantic, Expressionist gestures.”

Shin, who has long admired and been influenced by the music of Alban Berg, explains, “This piece is a love letter to Yeats and Berg, who suffered in the wounded world but tried to keep their voices and ideas intact even when everything ‘falls apart, and the centre cannot hold’.”

Shin has a long history of working with conductor Osmo Vänskä, who has previously conducted his music with the Minnesota Orchestra and Helsinki Philharmonic. Vänskä will also give the German premiere of Upon His Ghostly Solitude with the Bamberger Symphoniker on May 5–6. On December 21–22, Jaap van Zweden and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra will give the Asian premiere of the work.

Concert Info
Friday, April 7 at 8 PM PT
Saturday, April 8 at 8 PM PT
Walt Disney Concert Hall | Los Angeles, CA
More info

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Osmo Vänskä, conductor
Inon Barnatan, piano

BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 1
Donghoon SHIN Upon His Ghostly Solitude WORLD PREMIERE
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 3

>  Further information on Work: Upon His Ghostly Solitude

Photo: Lee Tae Kyung, the Chosunilbo

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