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Concert notes: Jeong Ga Ak Hoe at the British Museum

Jeong Ga Ak Hoe

Although the official opening concert of K-Music 2016 is Nah Youn-sun with Ulf Wakenius on 20 September, the British Museum’s Chuseok celebrations in collaboration with the KCC have given us several performances by the contemporary gugak group Jeong Ga Ak Hoe.

Jeong Ga Ak Hoe

They presented a programme of traditional music in the Korean Gallery on the morning of 15 September, and moved to the more spacious venue of the BP lecture theatre for a well-attended programme of more modern arrangements in the afternoon. More was to follow over the next two days. It was a shame that the programme notes for the Thursday afternoon did not give us more information about the arrangements. Presumably they were by the band themselves And the running order was different from that laid out in the programme, so that if you had done your homework beforehand you might have found yourself a little confused.

Jeong Ga Ak Hoe

Those are my only gripes about the performance which was astounding, immediately drawing you in and transporting you to another world. Folk songs from places as far afield as Jeju island and Seodo in the northwest of North Korea were the inspiration for the music. Pansori also featured, in an unusual and evocative scoring of an extract of the Simchongga for gayageum, ajaeng, daegeum, saenghwang and percussion: one of the many highlights of the afternoon.

Jeong Ga Ak Hoe

The longest piece, at 15 minutes, was Alio version 1. With elements of beompae (Buddhist chanting), pansori and also – if the complex cross rhythms as the musicians clapped in accompaniment to the vocals were anything to go by – a heavy dose of flamenco. This piece, according to the programme notes, was an interpretation of Arirang, but I didn’t manage to detect any of the familiar phrases of either the Jindo or Kangwondo versions which are the best known outside of Korea. No matter. This was an emotional performance that started in quiet meditation, grew into a passionate swirl of music before subsiding back into calmness.

Jeong Ga Ak Hoe

If the rest of the K-music festival’s performances match up to Jeong Ga Ak Hoe we are in for a succession of treats.


One thought on “Concert notes: Jeong Ga Ak Hoe at the British Museum

  1. I only caught their last performance (on Saturday afternoon) and by – at the latest – halfway through their second piece I was very much wishing I’d been at all their British Museum performances, a view which is very much reinforced by your review.

    That Saturday afternoon performance was of what seemed like modern arrangements (and I think I detected an Arirang version somewhere in their set), and almost all the pieces had an immensely strong rhythmic drive. At the time I thought they might be very much appreciated if they appeared on the BBC2 television programme “Later…with Jools Holland”, and I still think that! So how do we make that happen?

    I was also at Hyelim Kim’s two taegum performances on Saturday, both excellent as you’d expect, and in the second she played a very good contemporary piece for solo taegum which included a short spoken Korean section in the middle: I, for one, would love to hear that piece again. In fact, afterwards I suggested to Hyelim that she should record it and send copies to several contemporary British composers to get them interested in the taegum.

    That might well be pushing at an open door: to my surprise and delight, of the six contemporary UK composers I’ve spoken to about Korean music, four already knew about and were very interested in it, and the other two were hearing Korean traditional music for the first time, and were impressed. In fact, I think Nicola LeFanu said she had seen Pansori in the USA, and had used elements of Pansori in her piece “The Old Woman of Beare” for soprano and large chamber ensemble, written in 1981!
    It’s on a Lorelt CD and download “LNT101: British Women Composers, Vol. 1”, with the very strong forces of Jane Manning soprano and the Lontano ensemble conducted by Odaline de la Martinez.

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