Beethoven knocks on leprosy's door

Thu May 6, 2010 4:17am EDT
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By Jonathan Thatcher

SOROKDO, South Korea (Reuters Life!) - On this small island, long a place of desolation, classical music's most famous first four notes -- played by one its most famous orchestras -- pounded into the warm spring day.

"I felt the flow of music was wonderful. My heart seemed to be purified," said one elderly man in this once-isolated leper colony.

He was speaking to a visiting reporter after a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's fifth symphony by Britain's Philharmonia Orchestra this week under the baton of renowned conductor and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy.

In a reminder of living so long as an outcast in this island in the far south of South Korea, the man, his limbs twisted by leprosy, asked not to be named or filmed.

"You can never be indifferent listening to this symphony. It lifts you up every time ... It is one of the greatest pieces ever composed by one of the greatest composers who ever lived on this miserable earth," said a beaming Ashkenazy, who donated time out of his Asia tour with the orchestra for the concert.

The symphony's startling introduction has been likened, supposedly by the composer himself, to fate knocking on the door. Ashkenazy politely rebuffed attempts to allot a meaning.

"If you say that, fine. But it's still great music. We still feel what it's supposed to mean ... Because music can't be put into words," he told Reuters.

He also led the orchestra for two songs by one of South Korea's longest surviving pop stars, Cho Yong-pil.   Continued...

<p>Conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy (C) and members of Britain's Philharmonia Orchestra acknowledge the audience before their performance in a leper colony in Sorokdo, an island in Goheung county in the far south of South Korea, for a charity to raise awareness for treatment of Hansen's disease, May 5, 2010. REUTERS/Lee Jae-won</p>