This past Fall I had the privilege of visiting Busan, South Korea, twice to work with the Busan National Gugak Center’s traditional orchestra. The group, led by conductor Kwon Sung-taek, had commissioned me for a new piece based on a piece of traditional music. The resulting work, Aura, is a concerto grosso of sorts, scored for 8 soloists and Korean traditional orchestra.

The commission itself was a tricky one: take a piece of traditional repertoire (Park Dae-sung’s solo ajaeng sanjo) and base a 20-minute piece around it. I had originally considered making only a passing reference to the original piece, but the more I listened to the sanjo the more I wanted to leave it untouched. Who am I to alter a revered work from another culture?

So I left it alone. The 8 soloists play the sanjo, and I composed a piece around the original. This “aura” surrounding the traditional music is meant to complement rather than to contrast, and it was something entirely new for me to feel I was collaborating with a composer I’d never met before. At the premiere I had the chance to meet the sanjo’s creator, Park Dae-sung, and I hope he was pleased with the elaborate picture frame I constructed around his work.

Here’s a sample of the work, which was just released on CD. The excerpt begins with an interlude that leads into a section of the sanjo where you can hear the soloists play with musical commentary from the orchestra. I’m really pleased with how the recording came out, and thanks to maestro Kwon and the entire Busan Gugak Center orchestra for putting so much into the piece.

The CD is available someplace, I’m sure – but I’m not sure where yet. So I’ll update if I find out. It has 4 brand new pieces: “Passacaglia” by Park Yong Nan, “Dancing with Spirits” by Donald Reid Womack, and “Eight Great Views of Hanyang” by Park Dong Wook.

Here are a few photos from the concert back in October.