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Concerto for Hyun and Kwan (2005)

for large Oriental/ Occidental Ensemble

The Concerto for Hyun and Kwan is a large ensemble work for 20 occidental and oriental musicians in which two players figure as the main protagonists: the Kayageum (Korean 12 string Zither) and the Piri (Korean vertical bamboo flute) - who also doubles on Taepyongso (a loud, double-reed instrument with a metal bell).

In Korean, Hyun refers to the plucked instruments and Kwan to the wind instruments.
In the concerto, Hyun and Kwan are used in two different contexts, a) in the context of the ensemble and b) in the context of the soloists. To the former category (Hyun) belong instruments - both occidental as well as oriental - such as the guitar, harp, kanun, mandolin, and zheng and to the latter (Kwan) instruments such as the flute, oboe, clarinet, duduk and sheng.

The concerto itself is an attempt at creating a co-existence between non-western and western elements. I have not attempted to create an environment in which the origins of the music are in any way disguised or designed to lead to a 'new genre' or meeting-ground between east and west, but rather an environment in which the intrinsic cultural identity of the instruments is allowed to be preserved.

As for these 'origins': the Concerto for Hyun and Kwan makes extensive use of certain aspects of Korean traditional music and even in one instance a literal quotation. Nevertheless, the piece does not attempt to be mindlessly faithful to these traditions. The Kayageum-writing, for instance, gradually moves further and further away from its natural writing as the work progresses, until it incorporates elements which are quite alien to its origins. The entire ensemble, on the other hand, gradually moves closer and closer to a hidden source. Two of these 'hidden sources', which served as inspiration for both melodic and chronological development as well as the quasi improvisatory heterophonic writing, are the so called Dae-Chi-Tah (king's procession music) and the Kayageum Sanjo : two classic Korean musical formats.

Structurally the composition can be divided into 17 sections with introductory passages. The instruments are divided into four groups. Apart from the two solo players: Wind instruments, Plucked instruments, Percussion and String instruments.

Each of these groups has its own thematic ideas, which appear at least three times in different sections.
The two soloists are both treated differently: the Kayageum fulfills a solo-function in the conventional meaning of the word, namely, as a true soloist, playing alone most of the time. The P'iri player on the other hand functions as the 'leader of a group' (the winds), only blossoming into a 'soloist' when he picks up the Taepyongso to lead the Dae-Chi-Tah music. This latter definition of 'soloist' could be - in my opinion - a typical Korean way of thinking. In a society where living together and blending together is strongly encouraged, there is always a leader who presides over others.

I would like to thank the Atlas Ensemble and the two soloists Yi Ji-young and Park Chi -wan - two extraordinary musicians in their respective fields - for this remarkable opportunity to delve into my origins. Even for me, as a native Korean, it has been a very educational experience, bringing me closer to my heritage. Remarkable though it may seemů in Korea composers are not required to become acquainted with the immensely rich culture that is Korean culture. It took traveling abroad and other opportunities for me to rediscover this cultural wealth. I hope this work may convey some of this wealth to the audience as well.



Dae-Ch(u)i-Tah was a music used mainly for the king's procession and army processions. Although this functional music existed already in the 4th century, it was in the Chosun dynasty ( 14-19 century) that the name was established as Dae-chi-tah. The set up was periodically added to or subtracted from depending on the taste of the king or for practical reasons. However, the standardized set up is as following: Taepyongso (double reed instrument), Yonggo (skin drum), Jing (Korean gong), Jabara (Splashing sounding shaman cymbal), Nabal (One tone trumpet), and Nagak (Conch shell). Musically, the Taepyongso is the only melodic instrument in this music, which sings a quite expressive melody over an isorhythmic pattern played by a group of percussion players. Nabal and Nagak alternates by one pattern, adding more dignity to the total. Sanjo is one of the musical formats in the Korean traditional folk music. It is a solo instrumental music which mostly consists of three movements: slow, moderate and fast. For Kayageum Sanjo a few more tempi have been inserted then usual, however, the general flow, from slow to fast, remains the same. Each tempo has a set rhythmic pattern which is accompanied by a drum.