Posted by: rbbadger | November 22, 2008

Korean Traditional Orchestra

This afternoon, I once again went to the National Center for the Traditional Korean Performing arts to attend one of their weekly concerts.  This beautiful performing arts complex is devoted solely to the traditional Korean performing arts.  Each Saturday at 5:00 PM, they put on a concert featuring several different genres of traditional Korean music.  Tonight’s program featured one of my all time favorite pieces in the entire repertoire, the Ajaeng Sanjo, a solo work for ajaeng, a six stringed bowed zither and janggu which is a type of a drum.  Here’s a photo from a few months ago of the main hall (여악당) of the National Center for the Traditional Korean Peforming Arts.

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Orchestral fare was on the program this evening.  The concert opened, as it habitually does, with some orchestral music from the Joseon dynasty.  The last two works on the program were works by living composers.  To keep the traditional instruments alive as viable instruments and not just museum curiosities, the NCKTPA has commissioned new works for traditional instruments for a long time now.  Seeing as orchestral sized ensembles are nothing new, there are several orchestras made up solely of traditional instruments.  The traditional orchestra of the NCKTPA performed Sae, a piece written by the composer Won Il and a medley of traditional folk songs from the Gwangju area for singers and orchestral accompaniament.  The orchestra is about the size of a small symphony orchestra but it sounds nothing like one.  There is a conductor and a concert mistress, namely the first chair haegeum player.  (A haegeum is a two stringed fiddle that is held on the lap and played vertically like a cello.)  Hearing the sounds of them tuning up before the performance began was quite a different experience for me the first time I heard it.  It sounds nothing like a western symphony orchestra tuning up. These pieces that the NCKTPA are not composed in a strict traditional style.  They utilise every compositional trick in the trade quite often.  They are unique hybrids between east and west.

Of course, the NCKTPA is not the only group of traditional musicians to use the traditional instruments in new and unique ways.  The Sookmyung Women’s University Gayageum Ensemble is sort of famous for their arrangements of Beatles’ songs for Gayageum ensemble among other things.

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