When we arrived, together with the traditional Korean music performers, on the opening day of the "Korea-U.K. Mutual Visit Year" events, the Asia House of London, located near the Oxford Circus, was abuzz with final preparations, decorating the building with traditional Korean lanterns, cheongsachorong, and laying out a red carpet to welcome the guests. Though it was a rainy day, a stream of government officials and cultural figures from Korea and the U.K. started to arrive at the venue as the 6 o'lock hour approached. To open the event, there were video congratulatory messages from Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon and U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.'Korea-U.K. Mutual Visit Year'
"Think Korea 2006" is theme being used at all Korea-related events being held around the U.K. this year. Since the number of Koreans visiting the U.K. far exceeds that of the U.K. citizens who visit Korea, it is hoped that the "Think Korea 2006" theme can help to even out this imbalance. As such, efforts are being made to encourage the English people to acquire an interest in Korea by presenting various Korea-related cultural events and Korea's representative cultural resources in London and other major cities of the U.K. throughout the year of 2006.
The Korea Foundation selected Hwang Byung-ki's gayageum performance as the initial cultural resource to be showcased. Prof. Hwang, selected six works, including Chimhyangmu, Soyupsanbang and "Sound of the Night," a self-composed piece that reflects Korea's nature and national sentiments. Five other Korean musicians, including geomungo and daegeum players, joined Prof. Hwang in performing traditional Korean music works. The performance was positively received by the English audience, who described the music as intriguing and breathtaking.
At a second performance held at the Brunei Gallery of the SOAS, University of London, so many people turned out that they exceeded the seating capacity. A majority of the audience was students who had seen the advance PR materials. Of note, they were serious listeners throughout the performance, focusing intently on the unique melodies. Their avid interest in Korean music delighted the performers and the organizers of the event. I also heard that this event was regarded as one of the most successful Asian cultural events held at SOAS.120th Anniversary of Korea-France Relations
The next stop was France, which was celebrating the 120th anniversary of Korea-France diplomatic relations. To commemorate this anniversary, Korea and France are staging numerous events to introduce diverse aspects of each other's culture and society in both countries, under the themes: "Korea into Your Heart" and "Aja! France." The Korean side's first official music concert, as part of these anniversary events, was Hwang Byung-ki's gayageum performance at the House of World Cultures in Paris. More than 80 percent of the audience was French.
While looking over the French audience, who seemed to be so deeply immersed in their enjoyment of the lyrical resonance of the gayageum, I thought to myself that France well lived up to its reputation of being an advanced nation in the cultural field. When the performance was over, there was a standing ovation along with many people who lingered in the lobby for a while, praising the elegance of Korea's traditional hanbok attire and taking turns having photos with the performers.
The final performance was held at the Asian Museum of Nice. The museum's gorgeous and resplendent white-marble building was surrounded by a large lake where a variety of birds of brilliant colors could be seen, creating an extraordinarily memorable setting.
After the last performance, Prof. Hwang remarked, with a broad smile: "This tour has been a great success, hasn's it?" Although this was true, it seems that the value of traditional Korean music is appreciated more abroad than at home. I sincerely hope that the success of Hwang Byung-ki's gayageum performances in the U.K. and France will be helpful in getting more local residents to attend Korea's other cultural events that are being held throughout the remainder of the year in these two countries.
Though the Korean musicians performed the same repertoire at each concert, each presentation was distinctive due to the varying characteristics of the individual venues. What lasting impressions might these gayageum performances have had on these European audiences? The image of Korean culture can be invigorated and widely promoted through overseas performances and exhibitions, provided that adequate preparation and care go into their packaging and presentation.