Unsuk Chin’s latest ensemble work, Gougalon, explores a colourful sequence of musical snapshots alluding to Korean street theatre.
Unsuk Chin describes how the title of her new ensemble work Gougalon has multiple meanings: “to hoodwink; to make ridiculous movements; to fool someone by means of feigned magic; to practice fortune-telling.” All these come together in her ‘Scenes from a Street Theater’, given its first performances by Ensemble Modern in Berlin and Frankfurt last October, conducted by Johannes Kalitzke, and travelling on to Essen on 10 April.
It was a Chin residency in the Pearl River Delta funded by the Siemens programme that unexpectedly triggered her childhood memories of street theatres in South Korea before the modernisation. A travelling troupe would stage a play with singing, dancing and stunts as a ploy to attract villagers to buy fake medicines. The composer describes how “this was all extremely amateurish and kitschy, yet it aroused incredible emotions among the spectators: this is hardly surprising, considering that it was practically the only entertainment in an everyday life marked by poverty and repressive structures… These memories merely provide a framework and my piece is more about an ‘imaginary folk music’ that is stylized, broken within itself, and only apparently primitive.”
“…a very vivid, brilliantly witty entertaining piece... One couldn’t help but hear the Lament of the bald singer in the cheap pathos of the solo violin and stopped trombone, or the teeth of the ‘grinning fortune teller’ in the xylophone and metallophone clappers. Most marvellous of all is the lightly swaying Dance around the shacks, a virtuoso intertwined dovetailed tangle, tonally dominated by glissandi imitating the sound of Asian stringed instruments.”
Neue Musik Zeitung
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Photo: Weonki Kim
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