In January 2008 the Korean Cultural Centre UK was officially opened, and now five years later in 2013, their 5th Anniversary was celebrated with several exciting and unique events. Ever since its opening, the KCC UK has delighted its visitors with a huge array of cultural events from films and traditional art forms to modern exhibitions and music. With such a vast catalogue of past events under their belt, their Anniversary celebrations reflected the history and values of what had gone before, creating events that were both very enjoyable and informative.
The first of the main celebrations was the 5th Anniversary concert which took place at the prestigious Cadogan Hall, London. This concert saw traditional Korean Pansori and classical tenor and piano share a stage. The first performer was the seemingly understated and shy Kim Sun-wook, who took to the piano without any pomp. Kim Sun-wook is a genius piano player, who at the age of 18 won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2006, making him the youngest person to do so in 40 years. Although he seemed very quiet when he first walked onto the stage, he instantly shone as he sat on the piano stool. Watching Kim’s hands move along the piano keys was breathtaking, the movements were so fast and dexterous it was hard to keep up! Kim barely needed to look at his hands during his performances, almost as though his fingers were naturally drawn to the right piano keys as he played. We watched as the music loosened Kim, who had originally walked onto the stage so stiff, and as he performed you saw him getting lost into his own music. It was truly a pleasure to watch him play.
Tenor Park Ji-min later joined Kim on stage. Park is an award winning tenor who can sing impressively in several languages. He has performed in a huge amount of countries and won acclaim wherever he’s gone. One of the things we loved about Park was not only his spectacular set of lungs but his fabulous poses and facial expressions. Before each song began, Park did a little pose, which were all pretty fabulous. He was obviously a very confident man and a bit of a comedian. While he performed, Kim Sun-wook played on the piano as an accompaniment and the connection between them was admiration and respect from both sides. Park’s voice was fantastic, his projection and control over his voice was mesmerising, and he impressed us all with his skill as he performed effortlessly in German and French. Park appealed to everyone that night, even to those who did not think they liked opera due to his bubbling personality and stage presence.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Pansori and the KCC had prepared a very exciting treat for us all in the form of Pansori singer Lee Jaram and Pansori Master, Song Soon-seop. The very animated Park Geun-young joined them on stage as their Gosu, the drummer, for possibly the most special Pansori performance in the UK. All three performers are huge in their field, and Song Soon-seop is actually the ‘Important Intangible Cultural Asset No.5 for Pansori’! At over the age of 77, Song Soon-seop is still performing and teaching Pansori at Seoul National University. Lee Jaram is another big name in the world of Pansori and obviously a favourite of the KCC as she is invited back once again. She’s even a record breaker having been registered in the Guinness Book of World Records for completing an eight hour performance of Choonhyang-ga in 1999. A very impressive feat!
Lee Jaram started the Pansori stage with ‘The Battle of Red Cliffs’/적벽가, a retelling of a historical Chinese legend. As Lee Jaram recounted the tale, she enhanced her performance with beautiful fans and graceful movements. She was also very expressive with her body language which made it all the more enjoyable for non Korean speakers. Lee’s voice is captivating and the way she could manipulate it to adjust to different characters and situations was very interesting to witness. Along with Park Geun-young, who was possibly the most jolly Gosu we have ever seen, the performance was uplifting and exciting as they bounced off each others energy. As the Gosu, Park provided a steady rhythm for the Lee as well as short verbal shouts of support and encouragement. The interaction between the two was fabulous.
At the end of her rapturous performance, Lee Jaram very proudly introduced her Pansori Master Song Soon-seop. To get the audience more involved and experience a true Pansori performance, she taught us about chuimsae/추임새 and encouraged us to have a go in supporting her master during his performance. Chuimsae is where the audience will shout out certain words to the Pansori singer to encourage them in their singing, just like what the Gosu does. You can read more about this act here. We have seen many Pansori performances before but this was the first time for us to see a male Pansori singer and when Master Song took to the stage, you knew you were being graced with a distinguished presence. At over 77 he held his own on stage, blasting out note after note, his stamina and stage presence was inspiring. You could see the years of experience he had as he smoothly changed characters and scenes, deftly moving around the stage acting out scenes and engrossing the whole audience.
The Anniversary concert was a huge success and really paid tribute to the KCC UK and the performers. It was a wonderful night enjoyed by all and a very fabulous way to celebrate the KCC’s 5th Birthday!
After the performance, Master Song Soon-seop also presented the His Excellency Ambassador Suk Hwan Park a fan which we think he used in his performance. Smiles all around!