Dip in a well starts musical discoveryAs Korea’s foremost composer and a leading virtuoso of gayageum, or a 12-stringed zither, Hwang Byung-ki’s discovery of his talent was an extraordinary event, to hear him tell it.
“I felt like I was a thief climbing down a rope into a deep well and found a hidden treasure there,” recalls Hwang, 67, in his biography, “Conversations with Gayageum Master Hwang Byung-ki,” published in both English and Korean. “The first time I heard the sound of a gayageum was when my family was taking refuge in Pusan during the Korean War. Before that I thought the gayageum only existed in the history books.”
Born in 1936, Hwang studied gayageum and composition at the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, starting in 1951. While majoring in law at Seoul National University, he continued to study traditional music against his parents’ wishes. Hwang debuted by winning the traditional music competition in 1954. A law student of Seoul National winning first prize at a music competition attracted attention. In 1962, Hwang released “The Forest,” his first composition written in modern form for gayageum. It was acclaimed as a masterpiece of gayageum music. Soon after he was appointed a professor of traditional music at Ewha Woman’s University, and his works began to take on an even more striking coloration. In his composition of “Chimhyang-moo” which means, “Dance in the Fragrance of Aloes,” he reveals a new form of gayageum music by presenting his own version of sanjo, the traditional extended solo music for gayageum and accompanying janggo (hourglass drum).
With pieces such as “The Silk Road,” “ The Labyrinth” (1975) and “The Haunted Tree”(1979), Hwang’s compositions broke new ground for a centuries-old form. “The Labyrinth” in particular is considered the most avant-garde piece in Korean music history with the accompaniment of human chanting. “A successful modernization of traditional music is important. But what matters in my music is to soothe the soul in the high-speed world.”
In 1986, Hwang lectured at Harvard as a visiting professor of Korean music.
Hwang’s recital tonight comprises his seven compositions, four of them performed by his students. They will demonstrate a diverse range of Korean traditional instruments, including the daegum a large transverse flute and the geomungo, a 6-stringed zither. Hwang will perform “The Labyrinth” with vocalist Yoon In-sook and “Chimhyang-moo” and “The Silk Road” with the accompaniment of the janngo.
Hwang Byung-ki’s gayageum recital will be held at Kumho Art Hall at 8 p.m. tonight. Tickets are 40,000 won or 50,000 won. For more information, call (02) 6303-1919.
by Kim Hae-young