Last summer, the Korean Artists Association put on an evening of performances at the Korean cultural centre. The evening was well attended and popular, but somehow you felt that they could do better. They came back 15 months later and did just that.
Recognising that the visual artists did not get much of a look-in last time (their work was projected onto the walls of the KCC’s multi-purpose space after the post-performance drinks had commenced), they were put at the beginning of the evening this time round. Five visual artists each showed two works on a powerpoint slideshow, while the evening’s presenter gamely attempted to do their work justice. The quality and variety of the visual art was picked up later in the evening by the quality and variety of the performers. Soon Yul Kang’s peaceful and lyrical tapestries, Kim Young-shin’s bold and imaginative bindings for special Folio Society commissions, Kitty Jun-im McLaughlin’s paintings, fusing east and west with the use of both canvas and hanji paper; Sunju Park’s bold glass sculptures combining so many different techniques, and finally Song Bada’s thought-provoking and humorous sculptures, again exploring east west. All the work shown would have been better appreciated if it were physically present in the room, and it is hoped that an exhibition will be organised for 2010.
As a transition to the musical performances, poet Park Hye Kyung recited her poem “the Rain that Fell in Season” to an atmospheric aural backdrop.
The first musician to perform, splendidly attired in traditional costume, was Hwang Dong-yoon, who played a 15th century piece for solo daegeum, followed by a contemporary fusion piece with the benefit of backing soundtrack, which had a distinctly latin flavour. Gugak fusion is a way of increasing the repertoire for traditional instruments in a way that is accessible for modern audiences – particularly western audiences unfamiliar with the idiom of Korean traditional music, and this particular example, like some of the pieces played by Sorea, was highly enjoyable.
The fusion theme bridging East and West, traditional and modern, was continued by the next performers, Lee Heimi from the Royal Academy of Music opera course, with her accompanist Ku Jian. Starting with a modern take on the traditional folk melody Arirang, Lee then dazzled the audience with her vocal pyrotechnics in an aria from Bellini’s I Puritani, set in the English civil war.
Next, a change of mood, and a multimedia experience. Jung Ji-eun, performed her own kayageum composition, accompanied with Jeon Sung-min on guitar and Hwang Dong-yoon on Sogeum. Meanwhile, on the main wall of the multi purpose space an evocative portfolio of black and white photographs by her father was projected. There were scenes of rural life, market day and the seaside from 30 years ago. One member of the audience from Busan said it took her right back to her childhood.
Younee announced her arrival on stage with the thunderous first few bars of Chopin’s Revolutionary Study, which morphed into her opening number summing up the theme of the evening: “East West”. A slower song followed, and then finally the title track from her new album, “True to You”. The keyboard, on loan from a Korean church in South London, can’t have had that much exercise since leaving the factory. The songs worked well accompanied with just the keyboard, enabling one to focus on the music, while the CD recording is sometimes too busy with added effects. Younee appreciated the chance to perform “East West” before a live audience prior to her upcoming gigs at Pizza Express. “I was very happy to see their eyes, and contact them through the music,” said Younee afterwards.
Finally, a healing dance from Park Sunnee, partly envisioned during a Son meditation retreat the previous month. Sunnee was accompanied by Piero Pierini on percussion and Therese Bann on flute. Both Park and Pierini have a strong interest in the healing aspects of shamanism. The part-improvised choreography and music brought feelings of both elation and meditation in turn, and the performance was a fitting end to the evening.
After all the work behind the scenes, the evening passed off seamlessly, encouraging people to expect even more next time.