Sungha Jung Enthralls Manila Yet Again
February 13, 2016 –One day shy from Valentine’s Day, a good number of people gathered at the Newport Performing Arts Theater of Resorts World Manila for one reason alone: Sungha Jung. The set-up of the auditorium was left to its essentials. Except for the the clear-cut backdrop and the minimalist spotlight, there was just a bench in the middle and in there, Sungha was the center of attraction.
In one way or another, you might have heard his name. He’s known as that Korean “guitar prodigy” who became popular who has wowed millions of people worldwide through his distinctive style of fingerstyle guitar-playing. He started off a YouTube sensation as a mere ten-year old kid, slumped against a guitar which was a bit big for him to hold. Now, he is 19 – a lot taller, his face more angular, his composure more refined, playing a guitar as if it’s as natural as breathing.
Apparently, he is also no stranger to the Philippines. This was already his third visit since 2013, yet I’ve only seen him for the first time during that evening. Before that, I had only seen a few of his videos online and just like everyone else, I’m amazed by how he’s able to play an orchestra of string instruments with just one guitar and a normal set of human fingers. Seeing his performance live further amplified that admiration to a sort of reverence.
Sungha Jung played a solid set of 14 songs, composed mostly of his newer arrangements. Innately taciturn, he only spoke a few words in between. Still, his music and his sophisticated guitar-playing did all the talking needed. From playing older arrangements such as “Felicity” from Paint It Acoustic to the breezy “Siesta” and “Catching the Beat” from his upcoming album, Sungha captivated the crowd completely. I could just close my eyes and breathe in the music. I also couldn’t help but mentally sing along to his cover of Eheads’ “Ang Huling El Bimbo” and Adele’s “Hello”.
That evening was also his first time to play the cover of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” with an audience. Just a few days ago, he has officially released his cover video on his Youtube page with Eric Nam as a special guest. Well, more than that, it was ingenious how he burned through Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” and his final song “Guitar Boogie”.
Except for his remarkable fingerstyle guitar technique, I was enthralled by his ability to capture the raw emotion in a piece of music. The most striking part of the concert for me was when he played “Butterfly”, a song by the Korean band BTS. For one thing, I am a huge fan of the band and that song is one of my favorites. Knowing that he just released his cover version 2 weeks before that evening, I didn’t expect him to suddenly include it his setlist. That song, when translated in English, speaks of yearning, of melancholy, of the fragility in one moment; and Sungha did an absolutely wonderful job at encapsulating all that. Beyond technique, Sungha Jung has the prowess, the sensitivity as a musician to heighten the meaning of a piece with own distinctive signature as a guitarist. That’s what makes him great. From what I understood that evening, that’s the reason people are drawn to his music. I guess that’s the reason I became a fan after his concert.
* Special Thanks to Wind Strings Entertainment
Written by Sandra Mae Laureano
Photos by Cent Bernardo
Sungha Jung Live in Manila Setlist:
2. Riding a Bicycle
4. Catching the Beat
5. Photograph (Ed Sheeran)
6. Ang Huling El Bimbo (Eraserheads)
7. Hello (Adele)
8. Love Yourself (Justin Bieber)
10. The Milky Way
12. Butterfly (BTS)
13. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Ryuichi Sakamoto)
14. Guitar Boogie (Arthur Smith)