Pioneers Seo Taiji and Kashif to perform
Prominent British conductor Tolga Kashif poised his fingers over the keys of a white grand piano in Deoksu Palace on Friday.
In Seoul to hold a press conference on his upcoming collaborative performance with Korean music icon Seo Taiji, Kashif entered the palace grounds alongside the nation's "president of culture."
After fielding questions - primarily directed towards Seo - from the Korean press regarding the upcoming concert, he played an arrangement of three of the music icon's songs.
Seo waited in the wings, letting Kashif take center stage.
Drawing out the poignant and lyrical melodies from Seo Taiji's latest single, "Moai," Kashif showcased the skills that won him international recognition in 2002 when he structurally revised a series of songs from the legendary rock band Queen into a six-movement symphony.
He seamlessly fused "Moai" with Seo Taiji's "Youngwon" and "Nan Arayo," giving the press and a throng of Seo Taiji fans a musical prelude to the upcoming concert, aptly titled "The Great 2008 Seotaiji Symphony with Tolga Kashif and the Royal Philharmonic."
The response was deafening.
Following the performance, Kashif warned the press and Seo's fans: "Please don't expect a traditional classical version of Seo Taiji, this is going to be quite different."
Without a doubt, this endeavor - initiated by Seo - is a radical departure from the norm. A meeting of East and West, of classical and rock, most importantly, this collaboration is the end result of a musical dialogue between two pioneering artists who have continually stretched the boundaries of music.
Seo first exploded onto the Korean pop scene with the revolutionary single "Nan Arayo" before building a successful career in K-rock, heavy metal and rapcore. After a four year hiatus, the 36-year old artist reaffirmed his status as a cultural icon with his single album "Atomos Part Moai" - released on July 29 - and the recent ETPFEST (Eerie Taiji People Festival) 2008.
Kashif, who studied conducting and composition at the Royal College of Music and Bristol University, debuted with the London Philharmonic and made waves when he composed a symphony drawing on music from the rock band Queen.
The conductor showcased the fruits of his two-year project to the public in 2002 when he and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed it to an audience of over 2,000 at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Queen members Roger Taylor and Brian May attended, along with Freddie Mercury's mother, Jer Bulsara.
The symphony received a standing ovation.
Recognized as a work in itself, and not as a classical spin on the rock band's music, Kashif's "The Queen Symphony" was nominated Album of the Year at the 2003 Classical Brit Awards.
Poised to continue his exploration of the musical relationship between rock and classical, Kashif agreed to work with Seo on 14 of the Korean artist's songs and perform them with Seo and the Royal Philharmonic - the orchestra that played the Queen Symphony for the first time - on Sept. 27.
"I have dreamed of performing with an orchestra for a while," said Seo at the press conference.
Seo explained his decision to work with the prominent conductor: "I was a fan of Kashif, of his Queen Symphony."
"I approached Kashif first with the idea," he stated, adding that he gained the confidence to take on this project while working on his eighth album - slated for release next year.
Seo, who does not plan on performing new singles from his eighth album at the upcoming concert, is currently arranging 14 songs with Kashif and will be flying over to Britain with his band to rehearse with the conductor and the Royal Philharmonic.
"To ensure a high caliber performance, we will be going to Britain to rehearse," said the artist, who revealed that he selected songs that he felt would work well with an orchestra.
Seo listed "Gyosil Idea," a controversial song about the Korean education system, "F.M. Business," a commentary on the music scene, and "T'ikT'ak" from his latest album as works that may be performed at the upcoming concert.
"I think the performance will be something like a fantasy," Seo predicted. "I think it will be very diverse, colorful."
Kashif, who sought to stretch Seo's music and infuse it with "impressionist textures," expressed a desire to present a "truthful and honest rendition" of the Korean icon's works and to give it "orchestral colors."
"Hopefully it will be an adventure," Kashif said.
When asked what it was like to work with Seo, Kashif answered, "He can be very cheeky. Quite often you can find the unexpected in his music and I like that."
Though Kashif's performance drew a strong response from Seo Taiji's fans, the Korean icon remained the star of the show at the press conference.
Hundreds of fans gathered to catch a glimpse of Seo on Friday. When he entered the palace grounds, the crowd went wild.
Seo, serene and calm, raised his finger to his lips, silently asking his fans to pipe down. Within seconds, the crowd was quiet, but broke into a frenzy when he answered a reporter's question with the bold claim: "I am music and music is me."
"The Great 2008 Seotaiji Symphony with Tolga Kashif and the Royal Philharmonic" will take place on Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. at Seoul World Cup Stadium. For tickets call (02) 1566-1369, (02) 1588-7890 or (02) 1577-8888.