When classical crossover quartet Forestella sing, they deliver. Audiences are treated to finesse, beauty, stage presence, passion, masterful vocal control, and artistry. Their recent mini-album, The Beginning : World Tree, goes beyond, skillfully exploring western folk songs, Korean-style ballads, and a rich base of orchestral color. Since their earliest days as the winners of 2017’s ‘Phantom Singer 2,’ tenor Cho Mingyu, countertenor Kang Hyungho, tenor Bae Doohoon, and bass Ko Woorim have established their place on the world’s musical stage with their barrier-breaking reinvention of vocal music. With two members trained in opera, one a veteran of musical theater, and one a chemical engineer-turned singer, the foursome blends their voices, their talents, and their diverse backgrounds on The Beginning : World Tree into an adventurous journey that elevates classical music’s standing in the pop realm.
With a total of six tracks and five instrumentals, the mini-album serves as a journey through an ethereal sonic landscape that begins with the otherworldly “Intro : Ruins.” It is a wordless, meandering voyage through slow piano chords, a stirring cello solo, and a floating chorus of voices. Beating drums punctuate the music in a rhythm inspired by the ancient British Isles. It serves as the gateway to title track “Save our lives,” a flowing, melodic song that weaves lyrics, harmony, and pulsing rhythms into something grand enough to be part of an epic film score. The music video reflects the grandeur of this Forestella tune as it takes us through black and white planets and space with these words introducing the song’s title: “In the beginning there was you and me. In the light-carrying universe, our songs spread throughout the universe and stars fly.” Images of each member standing in the spotlight are pitted against asteroids and stars, and eventually, all together singing with operatic majesty amongst Greek columns and Greco Roman statues.
The lyrics echo this homage to the classics with some lines penned in Latin that, along with the later English-language lyrics like “Lead us eternally through the light / Save our lives on earth,” mirror the style of church music across several centuries. Both the song and video weave a thread of sacred imagery throughout with prayer-like lyrics like “save our lives on earth” and the image of the forbidden apple after the song’s conclusion. It all comes together in the end with a seedling that flourishes into a tree reflecting the album’s title The Beginning : World Tree.
Third on the album is the quartet’s interpretation of the well-known English folk tune “Greensleeves.” It is entitled “Moonlight” and, much like “Save our lives,” pulls musical inspiration from the past. It uses the harmony-less chant of Gregorian monks to introduce the song, but quickly blossoms with the addition of the harp, an orchestra, and vocals that sing the famous melody. It’s an angelic rendition that takes advantage of Forestella’s expansive vocal range from Woorim’s resonant bass to Hyungho’s soaring countertenor. Notably, rather than the orchestra merely backing the beautiful voices, it duets with the group in a colorful, wistful aural dance.
Although the next track shifts from folk tune to Korean ballad, it still retains the essence of beauty, clarity and grace of the first three. Given the English-language title of “Stay,” it is the mini-album’s first foray into a more pop sound. Simple keyboard chords ring out at the start, leaving the orchestra to rest until the tune’s climax. The lyrics plead with a loved one not to stray too far, echoing the song’s title. Each member’s voices a plaintive phrase until they gather in a powerful pre-chorus and chorus rich with the harmony Forestella is known for. Again, their vocal clarity and skill can only be described as something heavenly as their voices sing.
To give thanks to their fans known as SOOP BYEOL, or Forest Stars, the ballad “The Forest Song” encourages them to come to Forestella when they need someone to lean on. The lyrics are especially poignant as they describe someone struggling with a melancholy keyboard flowing behind the soft-sung melody. As the quartet encourages their Forest Stars to grow into big forests, so does the song grow in harmony and strings. At its pinnacle, the boys intertwine their solo lines into a bright chorus of hope as other singers join them, mirroring the growing forest of SOOP BYEOL.
Closing out the six main tracks is the encouraging “For Life.” It builds upon the hope of “The Forest Song” with resolute determination to “…fight with everything I have till I / Reach the place where I’m supposed to be / For life.” The powerful lyrics carry the boys as they really show off their pop voices, their belt, their runs, and the sheer range of talent they possess. Musically, “For Life” is explosive in harmony and instrumentation, much like the finale of a musical or opera.
The journey through the mini-album The Beginning : World Tree is one full of rich vocal color and accompanied by an orchestra that sings like a fifth voice. It’s a creative blend of classical vocal tradition and ballad pop flavor. Known for their ability to take on any genre with a timeless classical spin, these four talented singers deliver beauty, hope, and inspiration through their music. All that’s left after listening to their songs is to sing along to the instrumental tracks and impatiently wait for their next albums.