Although it takes time for the Korean wave to flood the Bulgarian shores, its presence in our country today is indisputable – from the dancing groups near the National Palace of Culture and Serdika to the official events, competitions and concerts, K-pop has found solid ground in Bulgaria. But on June 14, 2021, we had the rare opportunity to delve deeper into Korean culture, beyond the popular and into the world of Korean classical music.
The concert Night Flight over Korea presented to the Bulgarian audience five works by contemporary Korean composers for the first time. Part of the Fifty-second Sofia Music Weeks International Festival, it focused on the Korean school of composition through performances, delivered by Negina Stoyanova (violin), Kristiyan Kaloyanov (clarinet), Teodora Atanasova (cello), Margarita Ilieva and Alexander Lialios (piano). The event was organised by the music producer Sumi Kim, with the assistance of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Bulgaria and the Association of Korean Composers.
The “flight” takes the listeners on a faraway journey over the Korean night, yet well-known stars of the world culture, such as Kandinsky and Saint-Exupery, suddenly rise on the Far East skies. Located in the farthest point of the traditional East, Korea opened to the Western world relatively late – only at the end of the 19th century, but managed to embrace the highest cultural achievements with impressive speed, while simultaneously building its own unique cultural image which would make the country an equal partner in the dialogue for the cultural future of the world. What is more, any dissolution of the global in a local context inevitably modifies and enriches it and under the Korean skies East and West meet in a complex mixture.
They say that in Western classical music the tone resembles a pencil line, while in Eastern traditional music it is more like a trace of a calligraphic brush. While in the West the tone has to connect with other tones horizontally and vertically in a given shape in order for a repeating motif to build a composition, in the East a tone comes to life on its own, unfolding with many ornaments, like breeze gently passing over the grass, until it fades to give way to the next one. Some avant-garde composers have dedicated their work to combining these originally different approaches to music, with one of the pioneers in this field, Isang Yun, making Western instruments sound like their distant Korean relatives.
In this case, however, the local, the Korean, is conveyed through the language of classical Western composition, and woven finely and delicately into it. In the first work, “Variation on the Song for Rice Planting in Sangju” for piano solo, Geon-yong Lee places a traditional Korean work song at the heart of a composition in the typical classical genre of variation. In “Fantasie Dorazi Ta-ryong” for clarinet and piano by Soungwon Bahk the dialogue between the two instruments unfolds on the basis of a widespread folk song about the campanula flowers. Soo Jeung Lee’s composition for violin and piano “White Shadow” in turn draws inspiration from the poem of the same name by the great national poet Dongju Yun, which sings of the longing for those white shadows that the darkness of dusk inevitably devours.
The works of Jeong Yang Park and Hyukjin Shin address the universally valid questions, standing before people and artists all over the world, regardless of their geographical position. In “Points, Lines and Planes” for cello, violin, and piano, Jeong Yang Park transmits the ideas of the father of abstract art, Kandinsky, through the most abstract language possible, the language of music. And Hyukjin Shin‘s “Night Flight” for clarinet, cello, violin, and piano refers to Saint-Exupery’s novel of the same name, which juxtaposes the individual’s life and the devotion to an immeasurably greater goal.
The concert undoubtedly paves a new and long-awaited road for a deeper understanding of contemporary Korean culture – a road, which would be great to walk on through many more such opportunities.