Grace Jong Eun Lee brings her zither­like kayagum to sym­phonic mu­sic, not to men­tion taek­wondo demos

The Georgia Straight - - Front Page -


Korean mu­sic has the rep­u­ta­tion of sound­ing for­eign to western sen­si­bil­i­ties— in­stru­ments such as the zither­like kayagum and oboe­like piri stress dif­fer­ent tonal qual­i­ties than their gen­er­ally sweeter Euro­pean cousins, and tra­di­tional tun­ing sys­tems don’t ad­here to the tem­pered scale. But Grace Jong Eun Lee’s mu­sic is some­thing dif­fer­ent. Hav­ing spent most of her life in Canada, the teacher, pi­anist, com­poser, and kayagum virtuoso has de­vel­oped a kind of hy­brid form, in which Asian and western styles com­min­gle al­most seam­lessly. And, hav­ing a pen­chant for the clas­si­cal and ro­man­tic styles of 19th-cen­tury Europe, she also makes mu­sic that, from any perspective, is de­cid­edly easy on the ears.

“Mostly I write sym­phonic mu­sic, but bring­ing up a very im­por­tant in­stru­ment, kayagum,” Lee says in a tele­phone in­ter­view from her North Van­cou­ver home. “Peo­ple won­der how they work to­gether, but you have to see it. The east­ern and western styles unify very, very well. My mu­sic has a kind of western beauty in it, and it’s not re­ally ‘con­tem­po­rary’ mu­sic, as we speak of it. It’s mostly mu­sic in­tended to be heal­ing, peace­ful, and hope­ful. There’s care and love in it.”

The En­chanted Mu­sic of Grace Jong Eun Lee, a gala con­cert cel­e­brat­ing 55 years of Korean-cana­dian eco­nomic col­lab­o­ra­tion tak­ing place next week, is largely de­voted to this kind of mu­sic; one of the high­lights will surely be a new piece, Waves of Sun­set, which Lee plans to de­but that night.

“It’s set at the end of the day, but you’re ex­pect­ing an­other day to come, hop­ing that the fu­ture and to­mor­row will be bet­ter,” she ex­plains. “And I know every day can’t be happy times all the time; some­times we suf­fer and can be dis­cour­aged. But, in fact, at morn­ing we start again and gain much hope-andlove feel­ing. So the piece will have a lit­tle bit of a sad move­ment, but even­tu­ally it gets stronger. It’s a kayagum-and-or­ches­tra piece, with lots of brass in­stru­ments— horn and trum­pet and trom­bone all have so­los in it.”

But Lee stresses that, de­spite the evening’s ti­tle, it’s not all about her. Part of her in­tent is to show­case the strength and di­ver­sity of Asian cul­ture in Van­cou­ver, and so the sec­ond part of the con­cert will ex­pand to in­clude a wide va­ri­ety of guest artists. For opera lovers, she’s pre­sent­ing the Van­cou­ver Singing So­ci­ety: four Chi­nese-cana­dian male vo­cal­ists who’ve trained in Europe and else­where. She’ll be adding her mu­sic to a demon­stra­tion of taek­wondo skills, high­light­ing Korea’s na­tional form of mar­tial arts, and she’s also writ­ten new solo pieces for both pi­ano and kayagum to ac­com­pany Pop­pin’ JUNO, a Korean Youtube sen­sa­tion with a uniquely syn­co­pated take on con­tem­po­rary street dance. In ad­di­tion to fo­cus­ing on her pen­chant for beauty, Lee hopes to ex­press the “pow­er­ful, en­er­getic” side of the Korean char­ac­ter that has made the Asian coun­try such an eco­nomic and cul­tural pow­er­house in re­cent decades.

“It’s for my com­mu­nity, and also for mul­ti­cul­tural peo­ple,” she says. “And also it’s about my back­ground. I’ve been here over 30 years in Van­cou­ver, so in­side of me it’s par­tially Korean cul­ture, Asian cul­ture, and Cana­dian cul­ture. It’s all mixed up to­gether, and every day I’m re­ally thank­ful for that.”

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