Seung-Won Oh


Foto : Foppe Schut

Praised as ‘Oh, a name to remember’ (De Volkskrant, 2005) Seung-Won Oh*, a native of South Korea, is rapidly establishing her name as a composer with an individual voice. She is the recipient of many prestigious fellowships and awards, and has received commissions from ensembles and festivals including the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (UK), Transit Festival (BE) and the festival of the Tanglewood Music Centre (US). Music critic Mirjam Zegers writes, “Oh connects East and West, vibrant motion and stillness, pure sound and ritual theatre, stratified structures and transparency.” Her music has been further described as being “…exciting… refined and sharply cut” (De Volkskrant), and the Cleveland Plain Dealers said, she “brought Asian sensitivity and meditation”.

Writing in a contemporary idiom, Oh organically intertwines her Korean musical heritage with an innate sense of structural form and musical development. In 2009 her composition JungGa, concerto for oboe/musette and chamber ensemble (2009) won the Toonzetters award for best Dutch composition of the year. The virtuoso oboe part, based on the traditional JungGa singing technique from Korean Court music, uses a wide, ethnic vibrato and microtones. In her works, percussion often occupies a special place, with prominent percussion parts clearly marking the structure of her pieces. Oh’s formal ideas, as well as her affinity with traditional Korean music, are well represented in the versatility of her percussion writing, and she has written several works for percussion quartet and sextet as well as solo works. In her works for music theatre, a unique category within her output, Oh searches for non-western topics while striving to optimize the balance between western techniques and non-western concepts. In the first part of her music theatre trilogy, Words and Beyond: Hwang Jin-Yi (2008), Oh combined a mezzo-soprano using specifically traditional Korean vocal techniques with percussion ensemble, a dancer and a site-specific installation. After its initial performance in The Hague, this work received so much acclaim from the press and audiences that Slagwerk Den Haag later reprised it. The premiere of the second part of this trilogy, Words and Beyond II: Nan Sul Hun followed in the fall of 2014 and featured a traditional Korean JungGa singer and kŏmungo (a Korean 6-string zither), in addition to percussion ensemble and accordion. Current commissions include a new recorder concerto written for the worldwide renown virtuoso Erik Bosgraaf. The premiere will be part of the inauguration of the newly restored Schnitger organ in the Lutheran Church in Groningen, The Netherlands.

Oh studied at Ewha Womans University (BA, MM), the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (doctoral programme), Brandeis University (MFA, PhD) and The Royal Conservatoire in The Hague (MM). Previously she taught at Brandeis University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Florida at Gainesville, Oberlin Conservatory of Music and DePaul University in Chicago and the Royal Conservatory of the Hague in the Netherlands.