Kim So-Hee

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In a musical world that seems intent on blowing an audience's mind with epic productions that can last eight hours, this virtuoso Korean classical vocalist might just be the supreme being. Her legend…
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In a musical world that seems intent on blowing an audience's mind with epic productions that can last eight hours, this virtuoso Korean classical vocalist might just be the supreme being. Her legend begins at the age of 19, when it is said she reduced an audience to a plate of pickled cabbage with her mastery of p'ansori, which is a highly challenging performance in which one singer creates voices for and otherwise impersonates an entire cast of characters in a folk tale, and we're not talking about Hansel and Gretel. These stories are veritable mazes with a long series of developments, thus the eight-hour playing time. With her mastery of this art form, So-hee has enjoyed a triumphant career. She has received a whole series of international awards, including a special prize from the UNESCO International Music Festival held in Paris in 1971. Her nickname at home, loosely translated, means "intangible national treasure." International audiences first became aware of her on recording when the Nonesuch Explorer series released P'Ansori: Korea's Epic Vocal Art and Instrumental Music in the '70s. This production presented her in performance with several brilliant traditional Korean musicians including Chi Young-hee and Kim Yoon-duk, and made the highbrow art economically accessible via a low price tag. During an international tour that came on the heels of this release, a live recording was done in Carnegie Hall that was finally released on compact disc in 1997. Not that anyone involved in this art form could run out of energy, but this singer showed no signs of slowing down during that decade and certainly didn't have to depend on releases of old material. Before her death in 1995, she released a total of ten discs of music spread over two box sets, the six-CD Chunhyangga and the four-CD Shimchungga. This project represents the closest any recording medium has come to documenting an entire performance in this genre. For those who like smaller doses, she released the well-received P'ansori Life in the same year.