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Korean Seasons to launch the summer

Sejong Soloists

The London concert-going public groans inwardly when it sees yet another advertisement for a candle-lit Vivaldi Four Seasons performed by a scratch orchestra at some central London church or other. Such a programme must put bums on seats or else promoters wouldn’t constantly recycle it. But we yearn for something a bit more innovative.

Well, here is that something. And it’s a seriously imaginative programme. Tchaikovsky is the familiar name which will pull in the punters, Piazzolla the fun composer who, if you have not heard any already, will hopefully be a delight, and the Sukhi Kang work (from 2006) which will likely challenge the listener in new directions. And the band is a crack group of international string soloists collectively praised as a “top notch conductor-less string orchestra” by the Washington Post.

Kang (b 1934) has been a prominent member of the international contemporary classical music scene for a while. He spent five years in Germany in the 70s studying experimental music in Hanover and Berlin, having already established himself in Seoul by organising a new music festival; he returned to Germany in the 80s for further composition work and was vice-president of the International Society for Contemporary Music for six years. His Four Seasons of PyeongChang is dedicated to Hyo Kang, leader of the Sejong Soloists, and premiered at the Great Mountain Music Festival in Gangwon Province last year.

There are people out there who gently make fun of Korea’s proud claim to have four distinct seasons. Well, in this concert, the sponsors (the Korean embassy and associated cultural organisations) are prepared to admit that Argentina might have four seasons as well. Piazzolla’s work, entitled Las cuatro estaciones porteñas (loosely translated as Four Season of Buenos Aires) was originally composed as four separate tangos for Piazzolla’s small ensemble which included the instrument for which he was most known, the bandoneon. Piazzolla died in 1992, and a year earlier the four pieces were rearranged into one suite for a slightly larger ensemble by Jacques Morelenbaum. And a few years later the suite went through a further rearrangement — and a certain amount of recomposition — by Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov, who reworked it for string ensemble plus solo violin, in the process interweaving some quotes from Vivaldi’s ubiquitous Op 8 Nos 1-4. Sounds intriguing.

Meanwhile Kang’s work, despite following the four seasons model, is in fact in eight movements. But then Vivaldi’s work was four separate concerti of three movements each. Here are Kang’s notes on the piece:

The four seasons in the mountains can be told simply by the colour and the scent of the grass. The clouds, winds, and energy of heaven and earth alter as the seasons change. The changes are all part of the life cycle of the forest. The budding, blooming, ripening, and the selflessly inevitable departure are all part of the inherent cycle of the four seasons. The slowly budding spring transforms into fickle and animated summer days. Autumn comes to us with a great sense of abundance, which then segues into winter full of intense tension and strain. Winter, the most emotionally charged season, contains all the potential of life in its dark and moist womb, waiting to burst into spring again. The tireless movement of life, the infinite cycles of truth, and the ending that is also the new beginning are all contained in the season of winter.

The Four Seasons of PyeongChang is composed of eight movements. Of the notes used, the harmonics create the backdrop for the overall tone of the music. In some cases, different modes and whole tones are used and in others, complicated twelve-tone modes are used. At some points, the rhythmic repetitions make up the overall scheme. In other parts, the rhythms are used either in unison or to create rhythmic time differentials.

Great Mountains International Music Festival presents Sejong in 3 Music Moments in Time at the Cadogan Hall, 10 June at 7pm. Programme as follows:

Tchaikovsky: Serenade in C major, Op.48
Piazzolla/Leonis Desyatnikov: The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
Sukhi Kang: Four Seasons of PyeongChang


Thanks to Jane Vial Jaffe for biographical and musicological information, which I hope I have not mangled too much.

(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

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