Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - January 27, 2012

A new take on tradition

Pan-Asian Music Festival performers give centuries-old instruments a modern twist

by Rebecca Wallace

Jin Hi Kim could make a fourth-century Korean zither sound at home in a Grateful Dead jam session. She would also fit right in at a blues club, if no one noticed that her instrument was 5 feet long.

Kim has made it her goal to bring traditional Korean instruments to the wider world, performing her compositions in venues as disparate as jazz festivals, Carnegie Hall and Korean national television. In her latest projects, she continues to bring the long stringed komungo into the present — and future.

As a featured performer in the eighth annual Stanford Pan-Asian Festival, which runs Feb. 3 through Feb. 11, Kim plans to perform two of her pieces, "Digital Buddha" and "Eternal Rock." Her work epitomizes this year's festival theme, "Transforming Tradition."

To transform tradition in "Digital Buddha," Kim brings in a video screen and her electric komungo. She can be seen on her website playing the work, her face impassive, her sounds alternately contemplative, bluesy, birdlike and intensely rhythmic.

With the help of speakers, wires and other addenda, technology contributes texture to the electric komungo and sometimes an eerie timbre or dove-like sound. Occasionally the music resembles a human voice, like humming made deep in the throat. Abstract shapes swirl on the video screen. One resembles a sun shooting off feathers of smoke.

The New York Times has described Kim's work as "thoughtful, shimmering East-West amalgams in combinations that are both new and unlikely to be repeated."

Kim will be in good company in celebrating the new this month at Stanford. Musicians and speakers are bringing traditions from Korea, China, Japan and other parts of Asia and demonstrating the myriad ways they make these ages-old stringed instruments modern.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Zhou Long, for instance, contributes his "Pipa Concerto." It features the pipa, a Chinese stringed instrument, combined with a contemporary symphonic orchestra. The concerto is part of the concert program "Re-imagining the Musical Tradition," which also includes Kim's "Eternal Rock" and is scheduled for Feb. 11 at Stanford's Dinkelspiel Auditorium.

Kim will play "Digital Buddha" at a Feb. 10 concert in Dinkelspiel titled "Old Traditions, New Approaches, New Sounds." The other guest artists are also known for their innovation on time-honored Asian instruments; they are Kojiro Umezaki on the Japanese shakuhachi, Faraz Minooei on the Persian santur and Yunxiang Gao on the pipa.

Other performers scheduled during the festival include the Stanford Symphony Orchestra with visiting musicians Yuan Sha, Kazue Sawai and Ji Aeri; and various Asian youth ensembles from the Bay Area. Festival founder and artistic director Jindong Cai, a Stanford professor, conducts the Stanford Symphony Orchestra.

Three free "Elegant Gatherings" will have traditional tea ceremonies and speakers, and a free Feb. 4 opera workshop will feature "Der Jasager," a Japanese Noh drama setting by Weill, Brecht and other artists. Performers in the opera event will include the Stanford Opera Workshop and Chamber Orchestra, and Stanford Taiko.

Info: For a complete schedule of events at the Stanford Pan-Asian Music Festival on campus, go to http://panasianmusicfestival.stanford.edu . Concert tickets are $5-$10. Call the ticket office at 650-725-ARTS.

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