For the third event in the KCC’s concert series this year we were presented with Sooeun Kwak’s gayageum ensemble, “La-on G”.
The ensemble’s name is a combination of the Korean word for “pleasant”, and “G” standing for any and all of Gayageum, Green, Global and Generation. The music performed by the ensemble is all composed by Kwak herself, and aims to explore the capabilities of the 25-string gayageum in a serious but accessible way. There were no modern add-ons in the KCC concert, which consisted of compositions from their latest CD, no modern percussion or electric instruments to distract you from the delicate acoustic sound of the gayageum – though in one piece the dainty sound of small handbells complemented the sound of the plucked strings.
Some of the compositions had traditional court or folk music as a starting point, while others were of entirely modern inspiration. These were always approachable, sometimes soothing, sometimes haunting and sometimes overtly virtuosic. The melodies exploit the traditional aspects of gayageum technique – the variation of pitch created by increasing and decreasing the tension in the string with one hand – while also taking advantage of the more modern harp-like effects made available by the increased number of strings compared with the traditional 12-stringed instrument.
Hwang Byung-ki, the doyen of all gayageum player / composers, is enthusiastic about Kwak’s compositions:
Sooeun Kwak’s songs with the 25 stringed gayageum seem different from the songs of others. It expresses the sensitive characteristics of the gayageum. It would seem that the gayageum itself finds expression.
Lee Jae-suk, another veteran player has this to say:
The music which Sooeun Kwak composed is new and accessible. It allows her to communicate with the public through a traditional performance style. I think she was able to strike a balance thanks to her experience in professional performance and her rich musicianship.
La-on G’s appearance in London was as part of their first European tour. They received an enthusiastic welcome at the KCC, and it is to be hoped they return to the UK before long.
- La-on G website, http://laon_g.blog.me/