Gugak in new forms and styles

By Korea Herald

Two concerts seek to broaden traditional music’s appeal to Koreans

  • Published : Sept 2, 2014 - 20:09
  • Updated : Sept 2, 2014 - 20:12
Efforts to popularize gugak, traditional Korean music, are everywhere. At almost every palace or historic site, there is almost always some kind of free gugak concert.

Young gugak musicians are churning out a new style of gugak, chasing their respective ideas of mixing the old and new or the East and West. Some of their music is categorized as a genre called “fusion gugak.”

When it comes to quality concerts with a broad appeal, however, the traditional genre seems to be in short supply.

Against this backdrop, two concerts stand out for their level of artistry and modern interpretations of the tradition. 

Creative Music Troupe’s chamber music concert

Members of the National Gugak Center’s Creative Music Troupe are holding a chamber music concert on Sept. 12, a rare chance for aficionados to hear some of the finest performers of the genre make their own music.

The musicians, split into five small groups, programmed the concert themselves, broadening their horizons beyond the usual role of performing what’s written by composers.

The result is a musical experiment.

One team mixes traditional tunes like “Yeongsan Heosang,” a traditional court music repertoire, with the familiar sound of a children’s song. Another challenges the public attitudes toward traditional instruments, presenting the newly arranged work “Geomungo (a six-stringed zither) is a percussion instrument.”

In gugak, there was originally no clear separation of a performer from a composer, says the troupe’s artistic director Ryu Hyeong-sun. What now looks like an experiment is, ironically, very true to the tradition.

“Performers were composers in the past. People composed music as they performed. The separation of the roles of composer and performer is a Western concept,” he said during an interview with The Korea Herald in April.

The concert takes place at 8 p.m. on Sept. 12 at Yeakdang (the main hall) of the National Gugak Center in southern Seoul. Tickets run from 10,000 won to 30,000 won. For details, visit www.gugak.go.kr or call (02) 580-3300. 

‘Stellar Whisper’

Every evening at a folk village in downtown Seoul, a gugak concert takes audiences on a journey from outer space to Earth, from nature to human and through various human emotions.

Titled “Stellar Whisper,” the daily “concert is a modern reinterpretation of Jongmyo Jeryeak,” royal ancestral ritual music designated as Korea’s Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 1, and many other works regarded as centerpieces of the genre. 
Musicians perform during the “Stellar Whisper” concert, presenting modern interpretations of traditional tunes with 3-D visual art. (Namsangol Hanok Village)

The program consists of seven musical pieces, arranged by Racheol Ji-young Yoon, dean of Hollywood-based contemporary music institution Musicians Institute, performed by contemporary gugak ensemble Jeong Ga Ak Hoe.

What makes this concert stand out is its unique, serene feel which creates a totally immersive musical experience. Three-dimensional media art plays out on the screen, reinforcing the theme of each piece. A minimalistic stage, designed by an award-winning stage designer Sohn Ho-sung, also adds to its appeal.

“Pyeong Rong: Stellar Whisper” runs until the end of this year at Namsangol Hanok Village near Chungmuro Station on Lines 3 and 4. It starts at 8 p.m. on weekdays (except Mondays) and at 5 p.m. on weekends. Tickets cost 50,000 won for adults and 30,000 won for students. For more information, call (02) 2261-0502 or visit hanokmaeul.seoul.go.kr.

By Lee Sun-young (milaya@heraldcorp.com)