Singing to the Sky (하늘을 향한 노래)

concerto for daegeum, cello and Korean orchestra
(2020) 17′


Over the past decade or so, more and more of my composing has been dedicated to music for Korean instruments, and it’s been a rewarding adventure learning about Korean music, collaborating with gugak musicians, and exploring a fascinating sound world from a rich musical culture. And while I’ve enjoyed every experience I’ve had composing for Korean instruments, there is something unique and special about the opportunity to compose for Korean and western instruments together. This kind of intercultural combination provides plenty of fertile creative ground for a composer, and allows one to highlight the instruments’ similarities and their contrasts. So when I was commissioned by the National Orchestra of Korea to compose a concerto for daegeum, cello and Korean orchestra, I jumped at the chance.

As with any creative endeavor, though, the difficulty is in getting things started. And so, facing a blank page of manuscript paper, I contacted one of the soloists, Kim Jeong Seung, asking him for any ideas he may be able to suggest that would get my creativity off the ground. He suggested that I look to Korean shaman rhythms, and also that I mix these with a “beatbox” technique for the daegeum, in which he would be both a flautist and a percussionist. This proved to be more than enough inspiration, and I quickly got to work on a piece in seven sections:

I. Gathering Energy: Distant voices emerge from the haze.

II. Incantation: The soloists enter, chanting and singing in slow tones.

III. Swaying and Spinning: Melodies dance atop shaman rhythms (in this case a Puneori rhythm.)

IV. A Prayer: The motion from the previous section comes to a halt, and the soloists sing long, lyrical lines.

V. Ghost Song: The shaman rhythms return (this time a deuleung-gaengi rhythm), as the energy builds.

VI. Possession: This is the cadenza of the piece, in which a third voice emerges from the two soloists.

VII. Frenzied Fervor: The energy intensifies as the orchestra rejoins the soloists, the two groups calling back and forth to each other. Here the shaman rhythms return, building to the energized finish.

Singing to the Sky was commissioned by the National Orchestra of Korea and is dedicated to its musical director, Kim Sung-jin, and to the versatile soloists, for whom it is a pleasure to write: Kim Jeong Seung and Hong Jin-ho.

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