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Trendy 'gugak' festival 'Yeowoorak' spotlights artists

June 24, 2024 - 17:51 By Hwang Dong-hee
Pansori singer Kim Jun-su (left) and Gyeonggi minyo folk singer Song So-hee speak during a press conference held at the National Theater of Korea's Haneul Round Theater on June 5. (NTOK)

The iconic summer "gugak," or traditional Korean music, festival "Yeowoorak" is back from July 4 to 27, marking its 15th edition.

Derived from the Korean phrase "Here is our music," Yeowoorak is the National Theater of Korea's flagship summer festival, showcasing musicians who explore and experiment with gugak. Since its inception in 2010, the festival has attracted over 77,000 people to the National Theater of Korea on Namsan.

Geomungo player Park Woo-jae, second from left, speaks during a press conference held at the National Theater of Korea's Haneul Round Theater on June 5. (NTOK)

In the previous editions, Yeowoorak focused on exploring the possibilities of Korean music through collaborations among multiple artists and teams. This year, however, the festival is concentrating on 12 individual artists, highlighting each artist's unique artistic world under three concepts: Circle, Line, and Point.

"This edition will fully show the artistic worlds of musicians without predefined frameworks. The audience will witness the fundamental elements of our music colliding and expanding," said geomungo player Park Woo-jae, who serves as the artistic director of this year's festival, at a recent press conference.

Clockwise from top left, geomungo player Park Woo-jae and Heo Yoon-jeong, composer Won Il and ajaeng player Lee Tae-baek (NTOK)

In the "Circle," audiences can see new challenges from veteran musicians. Kicking off the festival on July 4, Park will present original compositions in collaboration with a 24-member gugak orchestra and pioneering Korean choreographer-dancer Kim Mae-ja. Park is noted for his unique geomungo playing technique and his wide-ranging artistic world spanning music, dance, film and media art.

Geomungo player Heo Yoon-jeong, leader of the jazz and gugak crossover ensemble Black String, will combine her late father's play "Dashiragi" and the traditional folk drama "Jindo Dashireagi" in "Dasi: Nagi (Born Again)" (July 5-6), a work that presents a different perspective on death and features a special appearance by flamenco singer Ana Brenes.

Veteran ajaeng player Lee Tae-baek, the first ajaeng specialist and a practitioner of Namdo (southern region of Korea) music, will bring together artists he has collaborated with to create the "Origin Sound" (July 10).

Composer and conductor Won Il will stage a post-modern shamanistic ritual "Dionysus Robot: Reboot" (July 19-20), paying homage to video art pioneer Nam June Paik.

Clockwise from top left, singer-songwriter Song So-hee, pansori singer Kim Jun-su, female talchum (mask dance) performer Park In-sun and gayageum player Lee Jun (NTOK)

In "Line," audiences can experience the musical worlds of four leading young gugak artists.

Singer-songwriter Song So-hee, best known as a Gyeonggi minyo folk singer, will perform all the tracks from her album "Aerial Dance: Hwaganjeobmu" released in April, at the titular show (July 13-14).

Star pansori singer Kim Jun-su will showcase a variety of his previously performed music in his first solo concert entitled "Chang: Dreaming" (July 26-27). He has rearranged numbers from his roles in the National Theater's "changgeuk" (traditional Korean opera) productions and some songs he performed on TV programs like JTBC's "Phantom Singer."

Lee Jun will present the raw resonance of the gayageum in "Interface" (July 9), while female talchum (mask dance) performer Park In-sun will deliver a lecture performance on masks and mask dance in "Park In-sun Show" (July 24).

Clockwise from top left, yanggeum player Yoon Eun-hwa, percussionist Bang Ji-won, digital artist May Kim and Seodo folk song vocalist Chu Dae-hye (NTOK)

In "Point," audiences get a glimpse of experimental creators.

Yanggeum player Yoon Eun-hwa will break the boundaries of the hammered string instrument by merging the characteristics of string and percussion instruments in her innovative performance "Pave" (July 17).

Percussionist Bang Ji-won will present "Reverberation: Song of Tree" (July 12), featuring creative compositions that deconstruct and reassemble ritual and traditional play music.

Seodo folk song vocalist Chu Dae-hye will perform "Buguideongdeong" (July 20) on the outdoor stage, blending shamanistic music with psychedelic, hip-hop, soul and funk.

Digital artist May Kim, also the festival's art director, will collaborate with gayageum player Park Sun-joo and geomungo player Hwang Jin-ah to present "Sceneries" (July 27), showcasing the musical collision and harmony of the two string instruments with her media art.

For detailed schedules and programs, check the official festival website.