KOREAN MUSIC FESTIVAL Gateway to the Orient South Bank Centre, London
Wednesday 23 July 1997
On Tuesday, a concert given by Korea's National Centre for Traditional Performing Arts began with the hieratic "Sujech'on" (court music), dating from before the seventh century; an ensemble clad in impressive crimson robes and awesome headgear played stringed, wind and percussion instruments in slow, stylised music that already had the hallmarks of an intense, throbbing pulsation within the melodic line, and sudden explosive drum punctuations. The same qualities were evident in "Pyongch'ang" and "Kagok" singing, the former featuring the typically Korean sound of the Kayagum zither. The "Salp'uri" folk dance, deriving from shamanist rituals, featured an unearthly dancer in flowing white, accompanied by an incredibly virtuosic bass bamboo flute. In contrast, shattering and mesmeric "Samullori" percussion music ended the first half. After the interval, lighter material included a delightful fan dance by 20 or so winsome maidens, and proceedings came to an incandescent end with "Pungmullori" folk music in which brightly clad dancers (Korean costumes feature colours that are as strong and vivid as their music) managed to cavort energetically while playing precise and very robust rhythms on handheld drums - all the while accompanied by an ecstatic and apparently seamless oboe line, like some sort of ultimate free-jazz solo.
On Friday, the excellent Kumho Asiana String Quartet demonstrated the standard of modern Korean string-playing. Any slight rough edges in Mozart's K575 quartet were soon smoothed out, and in that and Schubert's Death and the Maiden, again a very Korean feeling for rhythm and the innate quality of every single note produced fresh and compelling interpretations. A rather drastic last-minute change of programme meant that we did not have a chance to hear Isang Yun's Quartet No 4 - but we were treated to a work by the contemporary Dae-Woong Baik for Kayagum and strings, featuring soloist Hae-Sook Kim. Unfortunately, the mixture of intonations was not too successful, and with rather conventional western harmonies and none too inspired material, the effect was curiously kitschy - like Debussy on the banjo. The highlight of the evening, however, was the real Debussy's Quartet in G minor, performed with a very decided rhythmic verve and a beautifully understated intensity.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits record low as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Germany sees 'visible rise' in support for far-right extremism in response to perceived 'Islamisation' of the West