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Empty seats dampen Lim Yun-chan, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra concert

[Herald Review] Some seats of sold-out concert left empty by no-show free ticket holders

By Park Ga-young

Published : July 5, 2023 - 18:33

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Pianist Lim Yun-chan performs with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra on Sunday at Seoul Arts Center. (Vincero) Pianist Lim Yun-chan performs with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra on Sunday at Seoul Arts Center. (Vincero)

Piano sensation Lim Yun-chan's performance with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra was eagerly anticipated. It was Lim’s first concert with an overseas orchestra in South Korea and the first performance in six months here as the youngest winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition has been traveling around the world. It’s also Switzerland's oldest orchestra’s first return in four years, this time with new artistic director Michael Sanderling.

Together, they graced the stage twice, once for the evening performance at Lotte Concert Hall on June 28 and then again for the afternoon concert on Sunday at Seoul Arts Center.

The tickets for both concerts were sold out immediately upon their release. Lim's devoted fans fought tooth and nail to secure tickets, turning the process into a fierce battle of “piketing,” a term that combines the Korean word "pi," meaning "blood," and ticketing.

The sponsors for the two performances served as a testament to Lim's soaring popularity. The Lotte Concert Hall concert was supported by Mercedes-Benz Korea as part of its ninth Mercedes-Benz Selection launched in November 2017.

On Sunday, luxury brand Chanel was the main sponsor, and numerous attendees proudly wore the brand's clothing, handbags and accessories.

The Swiss orchestra began the night’s festivity with "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Mendelssohn.

After the first piece, a dozen late arrivals were seen entering through one gate, the number of tardy people seemingly more than usual. It turned out to be a precursor for yet another movement of the concertgoers -- those who left after Lim's performance.

Pianist Lim Yun-chan performs with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra on Sunday at Seoul Arts Center. (Vincero) Pianist Lim Yun-chan performs with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra on Sunday at Seoul Arts Center. (Vincero)

After the first piece, as Lim stepped onto the stage, the atmosphere seemed to shift with his fans erupting into excited applause.

As the orchestra began playing its second piece, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, guided by the leading notes of the orchestra, Lim leaned slightly on the left side of his stool, showing his back to the audience, seemingly absorbed in the orchestral melody.

A few moments before his solo entrance, he turned his upper body, perhaps to catch a glimpse of the audience.

What he might have seen were many empty seats in rows 16-20 that would have sold for 260,000 won ($200) each. These empty seats were reportedly marked off for attendees with Chanel invites.

According to an industry expert, it is unavoidable for sponsored concerts to include seats designated for invited guests, resulting in a considerable number of empty seats. The expert added that the empty seats on Sunday received a heightened spotlight due to the attention on Lim.

While this situation serves as a reminder that the distribution of resources does not always align with the level of individual need or desire, there is still a way to make the most out of it.

For instance, for the June 28 concert, Mercedes-Benz Korea returned some of the invitation seats that were left unclaimed after the RSVP process, enabling the redistribution of these coveted tickets.

After all, leaving those seats empty brings no benefit to anyone involved, including the organizers, performers and audiences alike.

Some just take for granted that many invitation tickets go unused. What if those unused tickets for concerts were provided to those who have little chance of enjoying classical music?

Lim once said he wanted to share his music and open up a new universe for people, especially the underprivileged. While the people who organized the event seemed oblivious to the young pianist's wish, the empty seats were a reminder of how people organizing such events could help the musician achieve his goal.

Lim captivated the audience with his rendering of Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466. During the cadenzas of the first and third movements, the 19-year-old pianist showcased his unique interpretation of Beethoven's version.

For the encore, the pianist treated the audience to Tchaikovsky's "The Song of the Skylark" and "Troika" from "The Seasons," before signaling the end with a hand gesture, returning the stage to the orchestra. Four days earlier, his offered Mozart's Requiem in D minor solo piano, K. 626 'Lacrimosa' and Dvorak's Humoresques.

Conductor Michael Sanderlin guides the audience's applause while performing Conductor Michael Sanderlin guides the audience's applause while performing "Hungarian Dance No. 5" in an encore on Sunday at Seoul Arts Center. (Vincero)

Despite Lim's efforts to return the stage to the orchestra, when the second part of the concert began without Lim after the intermission, it seemed that more than the usual number of audience members had left the concert, with about 10 seats in the choir seats becoming empty. After the main program ended, another exodus occurred, which was another disappointment of the afternoon.

Nevertheless, Sanderlin and the orchestra had the remaining audience in high spirits as they performed the rousing "Hungarian Dance No. 5" for the encore, giving the audience an electrifying opportunity to be part of the performance by clapping to the rhythm.