For his last concert in Toronto, Mr. Kim treated the audience to a feast of driving rhythms, haunting song, and lively group dance. The renowned Korean percussionist and singer, who was supposed to pursue a career in technical engineering before discovering music, has been at the University of Toronto for the past semester as the Faculty of Music's Artist in Residence. Mr. Kim gave his final performance at the MacMillan Theatre, surrounded by his students and by his dear friend Josh Pilzer, fellow musician and professor, and the person who brought about Mr. Kim's residency.

The title of the concert, "Chaosmos", represents the fundamental basis of Korean philosophy in life, and in music as well. Chaos and order must exist together, because you would not have one without the other. The recurring theme of opposites yielding to harmony were even apparent in the instruments themselves. In an interview with the newspaper, Mr. Kim touched on the dual nature of his favourite drum, the janggo. The hourglass-shaped drum is the most popular Korean percussive instrument, and produces a captivating contrast of sound from its two leather surfaces.

"The lower sound is the yin. The energy of a yin is like a mother's hug, which is lower, which embraces the rest of it, and which protects you, and provides everything to you…the sound from the higher pitch leather, we say yang, is like a father's strong arm. The father goes out, working outside, and hunts, and farms, and protects and provides for you, but is more aggressive, more sharpened, more remarkable."

This exceptional instrument was the focal point of many of the numbers in "Chaosmos." Among them was a piece called Hae Maji Gut (by composer Joon-Il Kang), the first piece Mr. Kim ever played with world famous cellist and Silk Road creator, Yo Yo Ma. The piece features a trio made up of a piano (played by Mira Jung), cello (Andrew Ascenzo), and janggo (Mr. Kim). Hauntingly beautiful, the piece explored the connection all types of music can have to each other, if created and performed in a genuine way.

The idea of the connection of cultures is important to Mr. Kim not only in music, but in the community as well. As someone who was once arrested and imprisoned for drumming in a protest, Mr. Kim clearly ascribes to the fundamental principles of peace, unity, and diversity. "Cultural diversity is huge and beautiful, but among the diversity, there is something common we can share. For example, if I sing a sad melody, something very Korean traditional, Jewish people, European people, African people, they can recognize that it's not familiar, but the emotion of the music, they can recognize it."

As someone so attuned to the necessity and beauty of diversity and harmony in music, Mr. Kim was also quite taken with the diversity of the city of Toronto, a place he would very much like to return to one day. "I love the cultural diversity in Toronto. It's wonderful, excellent. The people I've met, all of them represent the cultural diversity."

Mr. Kim is not only intent on the performance aspect of his music career; he is also a music educator. This fact was abundantly clear in most of the night's numbers, as his many students and friends joined him on stage for such numbers as Gamelnori, a collaboration between Korean percussion and Balinese instruments. This piece in particular was something Mr. Kim never conceived of happening. "Sometimes it just happens without imagination or without preparation, but the way it happens is really, really beautiful."

Other memorable numbers included Mr. Kim's improvisation collaboration with jazz students playing saxophone, guitar, bass and piano, using "Korean traditional musical principles as an anchor."

Perhaps the most electrifying performance of the night was the Pangut, a traditional farmers' drumming and dance connected to Korea's very long agricultural history. Mr. Kim explains: "Working in the rice fields is really hard work. So, drumming was a kind of encouragement." It was a sight to behold: a large group of students, with Mr. Kim, at the helm, danced, jumped, and weaved their way around the stage while singing out phrases. Mr. Kim ended the night with an interactive encore, something unplanned yet really beautiful. The audience sang back to Mr. Kim, and his students joined in with their various percussive instruments. The encore really summed up Mr. Kim's philosophy as a musician and teacher: "For me, the different type of music, or different music style, doesn't matter. What matters to me, is how can I make a decent and genuine musical conversation with other music."

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: Dong-Won Kim's last concert exudes harmony and detailed beauty
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