The Korea Herald


Monthlong summer Yeowoorak Festival explores future of traditional music

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : June 29, 2023 - 18:01

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"Chugaengjirdang" (National Theater of Korea)

The National Theater of Korea's summer music festival Yeowoorak Festival kicks off Friday, featuring collaborations across generations, cultures and genres that seek to redefine traditional Korean music.

Under the theme of “Homo Festivus,” the festival presents 12 performances until July 22 at the Daloreum Theater, the Haneul Round Theater and the Cultural Plaza.

Master pansori singer Yun Jin-cheol and shaman Kim Dong-eon will perform “Break a Common Law” on Friday. In this rare performance where pansori meets shamanistic ritual, the two will alternately perform two different renditions of the classic pansori "Simcheongga."

A total of 15 masked dancers and 11 musicians have teamed up for “Masquerade” to showcase the beauty of Talchum -- a traditional form of Korean mask dance -- which was designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2022. Prior to their Tuesday and Wednesday performances, the team will host a class at the Cultural Plaza on Saturday where participants can learn Talchum.

The lineup also includes a contemporary pansori titled “Paper Flower Garden,” which explores the myth of Jeju Island, on Saturday and Sunday, and a nongak performance, or traditional Korean music performed by farmers, on July 19-20.

While some performances will allow audiences to rediscover the charm of the traditional arts, others are dedicated to breaking down the boundaries of culture and genre.

"Paper Flower Garden" (National Theater of Korea)

New York-based drummer Satoshi Takeishi and percussionist Hwang Min-wang, who first met at the 2015 Yeowoorak Festival, will reunite after eight years in “Beats,” on July 8-9.

King Ayisoba of Ghana and Samulnori Newdot will bring together their energies and rhythms in “Rhythm Catharsis” on July 13-14, while haegeum player Kim Bo-mi from the rock band Jambinai will join forces with four-member indie rock band Squash Vines in “Divine Spirit” on July 6.

Electronic music band Modular Seoul will perform using four musical instruments used in Buddhist rituals in “Lull-Floating” on July 18. Monk Inmook from the Jogye Order, who is considered the highest authority on Buddhist rituals, will make a special appearance.

Pianist Son Yeol-eum and daegeum player Lee A-ram will grace the finale with “Polarnacht” on July 21-22. The two musicians will perform a diverse repertoire from the works of Estonian composer Arvo Part, reinterpreting them as classical pieces and experimental avant-garde music. Son will show off her skills on a toy piano, prepared piano and harpsichord, while Lee will play the daegeum, danso and tungso, all traditional wind instruments.

Pianist Son Yeol-eum (left) and daegeum player Lee A-ram are scheduled to perform “Polarnacht” on July 21-22 at the 2023 Yeowoorak Festival. (National Theater of Korea) Pianist Son Yeol-eum (left) and daegeum player Lee A-ram are scheduled to perform “Polarnacht” on July 21-22 at the 2023 Yeowoorak Festival. (National Theater of Korea)

Young emerging musicians will also have a chance to experiment with the future of traditional music.

Five soloists -- cellist Kim Sol Daniel, cheolhyungeum and unra player Han Sol-ip, flute and electronic sound player Mok Ki-rin, percussionist Jo Bong-guk, and pansori singer Kim Bo-rim -- will collaborate to create a unique musical experience in “Synergy," taking the stage on July 8.

Under the theme of water, the five-member band Tune, known for presenting creative music rooted in traditional melodies, and SE:UM, a group that combines Korean traditional music and jazz, will perform together in "Free Port" on July 12.

A special performance, “Yeowoorak Home Coming,” will take place at the Cultural Plaza on July 15, featuring singer Shin Yu-jin, gayageum duo ReMidas, piri band JC Crew and female percussion group Dori.

Tickets to all performances are 30,000 won, while the “Yeowoorak Home Coming” performance is free of charge.