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Korean Guitarist Jiji Thrills in a Green Center Recital

October 12, 2020

Green Music Center

It is a delight to hear an adventurous, young artist who at first encounter manifests undisputed virtuosity, musicianship, intellectual curiosity, and cultural flair. That description fits Jiji, a Korean guitarist still in her 20s, who on Sunday performed a captivating concert presented as an online offering by the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.

Jiji has quite a pedigree, with degrees from the Curtis Institute and the Yale School of Music, a first prize in the Concert Artists Guild International Competition, and appearances with established groups like Eighth Blackbird and the Bang on a Can All-Stars. But it is her fresh approach to repertory and her ebullient personality that make her notable.

Dynjandi by Icelandic composer Gulli Björnsson was inspired by a magnificent series of seven waterfalls that cascade down a mountain in the fjords of Iceland and is said by many to be the most awe-inspiring sight in that beautiful country. The piece, like the falls, is in seven sections and features fantastic arpeggios culminating in strummed chords representing the chaotic motion of water, slower sections portraying still pools between falls, clusters perhaps showing water dashing against rocks, and a broad harmonic sweep as well as Jiji’s virtuosity brilliantly evoking a feeling of awe before the grandeur of nature.

In contrast, Brazilian composer João Luiz chose a miniature scale for his portrait of nature. The xie is a miniature crab, indigenous to Brazil’s mangrove forests, which avoids predators with its unpredictable motion sometimes slow, sometimes fast, and always-changing direction. Luiz’s composition Xie is marked Allegro preciso, and Jiji’s performance was a model of rhythmic precision as well as sensitivity to the wide palette of the Brouwer influenced textures of the music. She gave us a wild, exhilarating ride.

Cor, by Latvian composer Krists Auznieks, is an intriguing combination of traditional classical guitar and electronic sounds. The title is the Latin word for heart and the root for the English words for courage, concord and, the composer speculates, chord. He writes that he wanted to compose a piece for Jiji highlighting “both the Enlightenment’s mind and the Romanticism’s heart.” The arc of the composition is an exhilarating journey from solo guitar to guitar enhanced with electronic sounds to a stunning and theatrical section for solo electronics and meditatively motionless performer, which ended with the guitarist gradually returning to performance and leading to a luminous conclusion.

Jiji has talked about how at first she found it difficult to simply sit quietly but gradually has learned the piece allows her to communicate with the audience in new ways. The performance was masterful.

The final piece on the concert was the cadenza from Harp of Nerves, a guitar concerto by Hilary Purrington. The title is a quotation from Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector’s Near to the Wild Heart, where the narrator thinks, “Where does music go when it’s not playing? ... may they make a harp out of my nerves when I die.” The beautiful, pensive writing whet my appetite, and I hope to hear the whole concerto someday.

Before each piece, Jiji engaged in a fascinating discussion with Jacob Yarrow, executive director of the Green Music Center. He told us some background about the music we were to hear and asked informed questions. Jiji is an outstanding ambassador for the guitar and new music — always showing how much fun these worlds can be.

CORRECTION: Composer Krists Auznieks is Latvian. As originally published, this review incorrectly identified him as Dutch.

Scott Cmiel is Chair of the guitar and musicianship departments at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Preparatory Division and Director of the guitar program at San Francisco School of the Arts.

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