Monday, February 14, 2011

Honolulu, HI – 1/31-2/18 Week 2

My second week in Honolulu was a non-stop whirlwind of various activities, mainly centered around the residency events of visiting ensemble CMEK (Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea).

"Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea (CMEK) was founded in 1998 for the purpose of creating new Korean music and to promote it to the world as one of the universal musical languages. CMEK mainly performs newly-composed ensemble pieces that use instruments and musical idioms of the two cultures. CMEK is interested in performing interdisciplinary works of music, performance and other genres and is recognized as one of the most promising ensembles of its kind. CMEK is considered a national treasure because of the new musical worlds it has opened up in Korea."

While the group consists of a dozen or so core members, only three members came to Honolulu for residency events this week; Ji-young Yi: kayagum, Chi-wan Park: piri, and Woong-sik Kim: janguu

The first event of their residency was held on Sunday, February 6th at the East-West Center, a concert of Korean Traditional Instrumental Music. I particularly enjoyed Chimhyang-moo (1974), composed by Byung-ku Hwang (b. 1936). I hadn't realized that he was a visiting artist at the East-West Center in 1965 when he was just 29 years old. After the concert, we went out to dinner at delicious Korean restaurant and I had an opportunity to chat with Ji-young Yi a bit.

On Monday, February 7th, CMEK presented an outreach event at the East-West Center for schoolchildren. The event was MC'd by my friend and colleague Sunhee Koo. In the evening they gave a concert at Kahala Nui, a retirement community close to the neighborhood where I used to live. 

On Tuesday, February 9th, I met Kenny Endo and his wife Chizuko for an udon lunch at Jimbo. I've known Kenny for ten years now, first meeting him in 2001 at the Earth Festival held on Sado Island off the coast of Niigata, Japan in the Japan sea. However, this was the first time that we sat down and enjoyed conversation over a meal. In the afternoon, there was a reading session of pieces composed by UH composers by CMEK. Despite the performer's constructive criticism of various passage in the pieces that they were requested to read through, I thought they did an excellent job of sight-reading through the pieces and giving a general idea of what it might sound like if they were worked up. These kind of opportunities are invaluable for young composers, especially when it involves writing for an instrument that one is not yet familiar with. In the evening, Kenny and Chizuko invited me to participate in a janguu workshop led by Woong-sik Kim at Halla Huhm, a Korean dance studio located on S. King St. I studied  janguu in 2005 for a four-week intensive in Korean Music held at the National Gugak Center, so most of what was covered was review for me. I even bought a janguu in Korea, though sadly, with few opportunities for performance, it sits in my living room as a decoration! 

Janguu workshop w/ Woong-sik Kim at Halla Huhm
Afterwards, Kenny invited me to observe a rehearsal at Kapiolani Community College of his ensemble, the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble, in preparation for an upcoming performance. Many of the pieces in the repertoire were familiar to me, such as Oroshi-daiko and others, since I studied them with Miyauchi-sensei in Ryōgoku from 2000-2002. Evidently Kenny and Miyauchi-sensei were in Oedo Sukeroku Taiko many years ago together and learned this repertoire there. I was moved by a saying that was posted on the blackboard of his studio: "Tradition is a base for innovation." In some ways this saying concisely expresses my approach when composing for non-Western instruments.

The Kenny Endo Ensemble in rehearsal
On Wednesday, February 9th I met with Harry Hansen, an extremely talented film composer from Australia who currently resides in Honolulu. I did some recording for him in 2003 and he is just crazy about shakuhachi. We got together, showed each other our flutes, chatted about life in the music business, and just enjoyed each other's company for a few hours. We went to Waioli Tea Room for lunch and I was flattered to find the following posted on the shakuhachi forum later on in the day: (scroll down to the bottom).

In the evening, I finally got a chance to get out of  Honolulu and went Kailua for  sunset swim with my friend Kathleen Sakaguchi, who is moving to Grand Forks, ND (!) this week. For dinner, we had a delicious meal at Buzz's Steak House

Kailua Beach Park sunset

On Thursday, February 10th, the three members of CMEK in Honolulu for residency events gave a workshop at the UH Music Department in composing for Korean instruments. Chi-wan Park discussed a number of wind instruments in addition to the piri. I had to cover my ears when he played the taepyeongso. Although it was the shortest of the three, I especially appreciated Ji-young Yi's presentation on the kayagum. She prepared a handout for us about contemporary notation for her instruments, and systematically demonstrated many techniques. Woong-sik Kim's presentation focused mainly on notation for the janguu, especially regarding how to indicate the relationship between the left and right hand mallet and bamboo stick parts in staff notation. In short, the less information the better (i.e. avoid notating rests in one part when the other part is playing).
Ji-young Yi discussing composing for the kayagum
In the evening I met two friends for dinner in Waikiki at Okonomiyaki Chibo. It wasn't all that bad but I found it terribly overpriced. I suppose it is unfair to compare prices in Honolulu to those in Tokyo, where you can have okonomiyaki for as low as 800 yen ($9.50). 
Waikiki Marina and Diamond Head from Magic Island

Ala Moana Shopping Center
On Friday afternoon I finally found an opportunity to visit two of my favorite places in Honolulu, Ala Moana Shopping Center and Magic Island. I managed to get in a quick swim before it started pouring, and snuck into Borders at Ward Center to pick up Na Palapai's latest album.

The CMEK residency activities culminated on Friday night, with a performance at Orvis Auditorium featuring compositions by UH faculty composers. My favorite piece on the program was below the sky, composed by Jon Magnussen (b. 1967), followed by Whence the Silence Pebble, composed by Takeo Kudo (b. 1942). In my opinion, Kudo's compositional language embodies the essence of musical understatement, and I find many of his works to be quite sublime. Not surprisingly, this sense of understatement permeates many of the Japanese arts and culture, including ikebana, theater, and even interior design. Perhaps his fascination with the shakuhachi since 1971 and his  identity as a second generation Japanese has influenced his compositional style...? The ensemble did an extraordinary job at bringing these new compositions to life, and it was sad to say goodbye to them at the end of the evening.

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