Friday, April 22, 2011

Korea Society: 57th and 3rd Avenue, 8th Fl

I've lived in NYC for over 10 years and only recently I found out that there was a Korea Society here.  There is also a Korean Cultural Center (which I have not visited yet--their website was outdated which is not a good sign), and perhaps that diffusion of effort is why the Korea Society does not get the press it should--or perhaps it is because they have no street-level signage, being on the 8th floor of 950 Third Avenue.  Their little gallery is not really worth a separate visit (currently showing vintage commercial items from Korea), and it can be viewed before or after one of the numerous events that are very worth while.  Check out the website for a schedule of upcoming performances at Korea Society Info.

I attended a musical performance ($20/pp included light refreshments) entitled "Contemplative Traditions Music Series: Spring Court Music" last night that was educational, historical, and entertaining all at once.  Musician Heejung Han performed a traditional two-stringed instrument called the haegûm in the p’ungnyu style, which is supposed to be like musical poetry.

Her first piece called Yôngsan hoesang, was accompanied by a musician playing another historical instrument called the hyangp'iri (a kind of bamboo oboe) (see above left).  Her next piece was also traditional and played accompanied by a percussionist, Vongku Pak (see right), playing a traditional Korean drum called the changgu.  Finally, she concludes with a modern, jazzy Korean piece that includes an electric piano, a bass and the changgu but somehow highlights the unique sounds of the haegûm
(see below left).  My favorite piece was the last one; it was lyrical, playful, and just perfect to welcome spring.

After the performance, all the guests (of which there were about 100) were invited to continue taking refreshments and meet the artists.  It was relaxing, intimate, and the food was good too (traditional dduk (soft rice cakes) and boree cha (barley tea) was served along with fruit, cheese and crackers, and wine).

The only thing lacking from the evening was that the musicians did not engage with the audience.  It would have been great if they would have spoken a little about their instruments, the history of the traditional music, and the genesis of mix of old and new instruments in the last piece. I think that would have improved the audience's appreciation of the music, but it seemed to me that Ms. Han was shy (rarely looking up and never cracking a smile--unlike Mr. Pak who seemed to really enjoy the music -- see above).

I will be attending future performances, having joined the Korea Society as a new member.  It was definitely a bargain at $25, and I'm sure I'll be getting my membership's worth.

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