V-J Day is celebrated by Koreans as Liberation Day, because Japan had occupied their nation during World War II. To mark the occasion Sunday, the Asian-American Music Society, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea and the Korean-American Association of the Washington Metropolitan Area presented a concert on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage that remembered another time when Korea and the United States were involved in a fight for freedom: the Korean War.
For a program called "Songs of the Forgotten War," the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at Catholic University commissioned 19 composers to write brief pieces (many were less than a minute long) inspired by a soldier in the sculpture at the Korean War Memorial.
In most cases, brevity precluded all but the broadest gestures, although the one-two punch of Maurice Saylor's "Terse Metamorphosis: Citizen to Soldier" and Leo Nestor's autumnal setting of "There Will Come Soft Rains" each made an impression.
An ensemble comprising mostly local students played well, even if the individual pieces could have been more sharply characterized.
Marguerite Higgins, the American journalist whose coverage of the Korean War won the Pulitzer Prize, inspired Hee Sun Yoon's chamber work "Korea in the Eyes of Higgins," which was commissioned by the embassy's cultural service and received its world premiere Sunday.
Korean drums drive a buoyant melody in the work's first and last movements, and an angular, cool flute melody in the second movement, "War," evoked not the horror of war but contemplation of its effects. The grave yet warm melodies of the third movement, "Elegy," drew some eloquent playing from the ensemble, suggesting a nation that has suffered but remains unbowed.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone