At very short notice I head of a Korean classical music fusion concert entitled “Scent of Eastern Wind” at St James’s Piccadilly on 6 April 2006. I approached the concert with some trepidation, being nervous about the blending of eastern and western instruments, particularly in playing western music. I was partly right. The least successful piece in the concert, all works by Korean composer Song Heeseung (left), was a set of variations on Amazing Grace. The richness of the Bosendorfer piano tone, as it resounded in the warm St James’s acoustic, was at odds with the refined and slightly other-worldly sound of the daegeum (대금), which relied on amplification to be heard.
Much more successful were the soundscapes created by the daegeum with a modified classical string quartet (violin, viola, cello and double bass – with the bass providing a very interesting dimension to the spectrum); and daegeum with clarinet and cello: the two wind instruments blend together surprisingly effectively. Again, the daegeum required amplification to compete with the western instruments, and at times even then could not be heard (and there was an additional problem with a road digger earning overtime in Jermyn Street outside). With proper balancing in a studio, this is a combination which could be explored further. And maybe, for western keyboard instruments, the very private soundworld of the clavichord would be a good partner for the intimate daegeum.
The possibilities of the daegeum as solo instrument were best displayed in the solo composition which started the concert, where a wide range of techniques was demonstrated. Ultimately though, having a western ear untutored in the instrument’s capabilities and tradition, I found it difficult to penetrate into the heart of the music. If the musical world of Tan Dun is a hot bath and cocoa, Song’s is a bracing shower and soda water. It is a shame that we do not get more opportunity to grow accustomed to this kind of music.