K-Music: The National Orchestra of Korea

LONDON Barbican
Silk Street


After major concerts around the world, the National Orchestra of Korea finally make their London debut with this Barbican concert, which opens K–Music 2013, a London-wide celebration of the best of Korean music.

Under their new musical director and conductor Won Il, one of Korea’s most exciting composers, this acclaimed Orchestra have developed a special voice in Korean culture – drawing on ancient instruments and the shamanistic traditions of Korea, but encouraging innovation.

You just have to see the 60-strong National Orchestra of Korea laid out on stage to understand what the idea is – to create something like a Western orchestra from traditional Korean instruments. It is an intriguing hybrid of Western and Korean traditions which showcases the artistry of Korean instrumentalists.

The layout of the orchestra mirrors that of a symphony orchestra, with the string section of violins, violas and cellos replaced by haegeum fiddles and the various Korean zithers – plucked gayageum, struck geomungo and bowed ajaeng. In place of flutes and oboes are the daegum (bamboo flute), piri (bamboo oboe) and fruity taepyeongso (shawm). Behind them is a spectacular percussion section, including a big dragon drum with its distinctive red, yellow and blue swirls. The only Western instruments are a few cellos and double basses filling out the bottom end.