Gayageum master to perform Tuesday nightFor decades, listeners have found themselves using visual images to describe the music Hwang Byungki creates on the gayageum, the traditional Korean stringed instrument.
The New York Times once called a Hwang performance the musical equivalent of “mystically inspired watercolors,” and said that Hwang’s finely spun webs of sound, produced by extremely delicate strumming, illustrated the concept of translucency.
Music critic Han Myeong-chul compared Hwang’s music to “the elegance of orchids and apricot blossoms.” Gang Seok-gyeong, a writer, said it was “like a landscape in the twilight.” Then there is the more general metaphor that’s been used to describe Hwang’s style: that of a crane in flight.
One of the first contemporary composers of gugak, a form of traditional Korean music, Hwang, 68, will give a concert Tuesday night at Kumho Art Hall. He last performed in Seoul about a year ago.
Hwang began studying the gayageum, which has been described as a zither with 12 strings, while a law student at Seoul National University. He has been performing and touring since 1964.
His compositions range from the traditional to the avant garde. In 1962, he composed “Sup” (Forest), the first contemporary Korean composition for solo gayageum. One of his more experimental pieces is “Magung,” which simulates the sound of a woman humming, laughing, moaning and, eventually, violently crying.
“The Silk Road,” based on a seven-note scale, was inspired by the discovery of Persian glass vessels in ancient tombs from the Silla Dynasty. “Sanjo,” which literally means “scattered melodies,” is a variation on a classic Korean song.
In 1990, Hwang led a group of South Korean musicians who performed in Pyeongyang at a music festival dedicated to reunification.
For his concert Tuesday, Hwang has invited a number of musicians to perform some of his major pieces, including “Sup.” For “Sounds of Night,” a 12-minute piece for gayageum and janggo (a Korean drum), he will perform with Kim Woong-sik. “Sounds of Night” is based on a story about a man living in a forest who is waiting for someone under the moonlight.
by Park Soo-mee
“A Portrait of Kayageum Master Byung-Ki Hwang” starts at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are 40,000 won and 50,000 won. To get to Kumho Art Hall, take subway line No. 5 to Gwanghwamun station, take exit 7 and walk 200 meters toward Saemunan Church. For more information, call (02) 6303-1919.