My third work based on gugak, the traditional music of Korea.

sanjo gayageum and string quartet / 10 min.

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Program Note

One of the most characteristic sounds of the gayageum – a plucked string instrument – is the wide, resonant vibrato called nonghyun, that can be applied after plucking a string. A great artist can embody ineffable emotion in that sustained but fading vibration, and that is the sound world this work explores. The western string instruments are required to treat pitch as flexibly as the gayageum. They pluck and slide from one pitch to another, so that much of the piece takes place between attacks. When they play with their bows, they widen their vibrato so that harmonies become cloudlike. My Nonghyun alternates between highly rhythmic plucked passages that exploit the tangy flavor of nonghyun, and lyrical, almost unmeasured, bowed passages inspired by nonghyun’s emotional qualities.

Nonghyun appeals to me as a title also because its two syllables can be translated as string play – an apt description of my attempt to create a unified sound world for such differently constructed instruments.

I composed Nonghyun in spring and summer 2017 for the Pacific Rim Music Festival.