Multiple award-winning composer Chin Un-suk’s “Choros Chordon,” which got its Korean premiere by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at Seoul Arts Center on Monday night, could have been as difficult to understand as the composer had anxiously “warned” audiences in local media interviews. But she need not have been so worried.
Perhaps her warnings had served their purpose. One just listened without feeling obligated to try to understand the 11-minute piece, which she described as having to do with the creation of the cosmos.
“Choros Chordon,” or “Dance of the Strings” in English, commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic Foundation and which Chin dedicated to conductor Simon Rattle, was what she said it was. It created “diverse cosmological scenarios.”
Simon Rattle (left), raises composer Chin Un-suk`s arm after the Korean premiere of "Choros Chordon" by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at Seoul Arts Center on Monday. (Kumho Asiana Cultural Foundation)
Perhaps it was the programming that made “Choros Chordon” less strange even to ears unfamiliar with contemporary classical music. The evening began with the concert version of Igor Stravinsky’s “Petrushka,” a piece which called upon the audience to imagine puppets dancing.
By the time “Choros Chordon” opened with harp, what sounded like the crumpling of paper and the grating sound of high notes on the strings, the audience was ready to engage in a different way of “understanding” music, through the mind‘s eye. This may have been Chin’s take on Shakespeare’s “music of the spheres”: The piece climaxed into a wondrous, brute cacophony before the buzzing strings abruptly went silent, like a bright star that expired suddenly into the darkness.
“It is a sensational jewel box of sounds and ideas,” Rattle had said in describing “Choros Chordon” at a press conference in Seoul on Sunday. “I always wondered who would take the mantle of Ligeti. I think she has taken it on wonderfully,” he said, in what was surely a great compliment to Chin, a student of the late Ligeti.
After the performance was over, Rattle called Chin to the stage from the audience and the composer joined the maestro and the orchestra onstage, bowing to the wildly applauding audience. It was a moment of well-deserved recognition for the internationally acclaimed composer, whose latest recognition, the Wihuri Sibelius Prize, put her firmly on the pedestal as one of the most outstanding classical composers of our time.
Chin really need not have worried about the audience finding her work too difficult. It might not have been her intention, but the audience appears to have understood her music intuitively.
By Kim Hoo-ran (firstname.lastname@example.org