Maestra: Strings of Truth
tvN (2023 - 2024)
12 Episodes
Suspense Melodrama, Classical Music
Grade: B+
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)

I deeply admire gorgeous, brilliant Korean veteran actress Lee Young Ae (Saimdang: Light's Diary, Dream Racers, and classic films Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, Joint Security Area, One Fine Spring Day) for her artistry and intelligence in developing her drama and film characters in many vibrant and sympathetic ways. When I learned she would be playing an orchestra leader in a field mostly filled by men I was quite excited and even signed onto streaming Disney+ to watch it. The derivative screenplay by Hong Jung Hee (Taste Of Curry) was based on a French TV series called Philharmonia so I was hopeful the screenplay would be excellent, with an international flavor. What I wasn't quite prepared for was that this drama just used classical music as a backdrop to what was essentially a dark soap opera, merging into a type of murder mystery that didn't seem too original to me. At least for me it became obvious early on who the murderer was in the story so some of the suspense factor seemed rather transparent in its execution. The acting was all excellent, by Lee Young Ae and all the supporting cast, but I have to be honest in saying I wanted the emphasis in the story to be more on an orchestra's love for classical music, and not on internal friction and fighting among the musicians and those around them. To be fair it would be nearly impossible for any Korean drama supposedly focusing on classical music to compare with a true masterpiece like Beethoven's Virus and also the amazingly fun and creative Tomorrow's Cantabile. The characters in those dramas put their love for classical music first. In Maestra I just wasn't too convinced they were truly passionate about the music, except for our leading actress character, who had to navigate some difficult circumstances in order to keep her orchestra together. In preparation for her musical role Lee Young Ae studied conducting and violin playing for a year before the cameras rolled. She must have worked very hard because everything she does in the drama musically looks totally realistic and natural.

Lee Young Ae (Dream Racers, 1995, Above) and Maestra, 2023, Below)
Still Beautiful, No Matter What Her Age

The Story:

Cha Se Eum (Lee Young Ae) is a world famous violinist turned conductor who is known for her serious and disciplined nature. Much sought after by the world's professional orchestras, she decides to return to South Korea after several years spent working for an American orchestra, and accepts the conductor job with the Hangang Philharmonic. She is also returning to an estranged husband named Kim Pil (Kim Young Jae, A Love To Kill, Mother, Numbers) who has tried for years to become a professional composer, with limited success.

Also on the horizon is an ex-lover named Yoo Jeong Jae (The Glory 1 and 2, Something In The Rain, The Crowned Clown) who is now a CEO of a company called UC Financial which is sponsoring the orchestra. It is obvious he has never gotten over Se Eum, and early on he acts up and tries to insert himself into the tentative marriage reunion between Se Eum and Kim Pil. He should have just bided his time for soon enough we discover that the husband has been having an affair with a woman in the orchestra named Lee Ah Jin (Lee Si Won) and that the woman is even newly pregnant with his child.

Husband and Ex-Lover: Who Will Win Her Heart Again?

The marriage between Se Eum and Kim Pil is on really shaky ground after that news surfaces. Kim Pil tries to rid himself of the pesky mistress by saying he will pay child support but doesn't really want to be with her on a permanent basis. Eventually Se Eum tries to break up with Kim Pil permanently, realizing honestly that part of the reason the marriage faltered was that she was simply not around to take care of him for so long. Wives should not desert husbands, and vice-versa. She does continue to encourage Kim Pil in his work as a composer, however, and surprisingly his compositions actually begin to improve. Se Eum even says she will have her orchestra play one of his best pieces, and he is thrilled. What a strange marriage! 

Actors Lee Young Ae, Yoo Jeong Jae, Kim Young Jae, Hwang Boreumbyeol

On the orchestra front the musicians are slightly scared and intimidated at first by Se Eum as their new leader / conductor. She seems to get along pretty well with the orchestra's affable CEO named Jeon Sang Do (Park Ho San, My Mister, Would You Like A Cup Of Coffee?, Liar Game) but she makes some controversial decisions that upset most of the orchestra members. Essentially firing an older male first violinist and replacing him with a new young female brilliant violinist named Lee Ru Nah (Hwang Boreumbyeol, superb performance, she kept reminding me in looks and mannerisms of a very young Song Hye Kyo!) didn't help the other orchestra members initially warm to Se Eum. However, Se Eum doesn't seem to care about the gossip and plunges ahead with her directing and conducting artistry, doing what she thinks is best professionally for the orchestra overall. To promote the orchestra she even arranges for a free outdoor concert for the surrounding city dwellers to enjoy, which receives great publicity in the press.

Se Eum's daddy, a kindly instrument maker named Cha Ki Baek (veteran actor Jeong Dong Hwan, who played the villain so unforgettably well in Nine: Nine Time Travels) and her best female friend named Lee Hye Jung (Kim Young Ah, When My Love Blooms) are Se Eum's best emotional support during her trials and tribulations adjusting back to life and work in Korea. We also learn that Se Eum's mother Bae Jung Hwa (veteran actress Ye Soo Jung, Jirisan, Mother) is still alive, though profoundly mentally unstable and in a nursing home / hospital setting. We also discover that privately Se Eum begins to suspect she might have inherited some of her mother's mental afflictions, including a condition called Remington's disease aka Huntington disease which slowly kills brain cells. She keeps her fears secret from others, which was probably not such a wise thing to do, for it turns out that she might actually be the potential victim of a killer who could be poisoning her food and drink! Someone else in the orchestra dies under mysterious circumstances. Could a serial killer actually be lurking around the orchestra, waiting to kill their primary target, conductor Se Eum? Could it actually be someone in the orchestra itself, a musician, even someone who professes to care very much about Se Eum? Strange happenings, indeed! Will the killer ever be exposed and stopped, before it's too late?

The actual orchestra performance scenes were very well done, I just wish there had been a lot more of them. As a pianist myself I'd much rather listen to Beethoven and Brahms being performed than to immerse myself into yet another soap opera / serial killer style melodramatic story. Maestra was well done and it kept my attention, nonetheless, due to the incredible talent and strength of its cast. If this drama attracted you because you also love classical music I would again stress that the masterpiece Korean drama to watch in this genre of storytelling remains Beethoven's Virus (still available to watch streaming on Viki.com). That's the top restaurant sirloin steak to devour! Everything else is similar to a regular steak you can buy at your grocery store. Still enjoyable but not the Top Dining Experience. ;)