One World Symphony News, 2003 and 2004
You're the Inspiration -- Tribute to Master Composers: Brooklyn Paper's feature article
BACH TO BRAZIL: A CELLOBRATION
(published in the Newsletter of the Internet Cello Society)
Friday, September 26, 2003, the One World Symphony under the baton of its brilliant, young conductor, Sung Jin Hong, gave a resplendent and poetic concert in the charming St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, New York. The concert was what Hong called a "cellobration," since it featured works for solo cello, cello and piano, dance and compositions for a cello choir of One World Symphony’s entire section of 15 cellists with another cellist driving all the way from Urbana, Illinois, and a 17th cellist flying in from Hunstville, Alabama.
Now in its third season, One World Symphony is a group of highly regarded up-and-coming musicians and vocalists from the four corners of the globe and representing the wide diversity of the world’s cultures, ethnicities, and languages. Korean-born Sung Jin Hong explains that One World Symphony was founded to program music inspired by different cultures to increase musical diversity in the concert hall, audience awareness of music from all parts of the world, promote music by living composers and offer fresh interpretations of the classic repertoire.
"My idea in this year’s Embracing the Influence series of concerts," the conductor explains, "is to examine the nature of 'influence' in contemporary music by juxtaposing new works with those in the accepted canon. The first part of this concert, for example, illustrates the lineage from Bach to Brazil. Considered to be among the finest examples of solo instrumental composition, Bach’s cello suites continue to move and inspire, influencing centuries of audiences and composers. So where else, " Hong asks, "could our program begin but with one of these epochal works, the intimate and intense Cello Suite in C Minor?" He points out that, "hundreds of years later and a continent away, Heitor Villa-Lobos, the great Brazilian composer, penned his homage to Bach’s genius, the lyrical and inventive Bachianas Brazilieras No. 5, for soprano and cello orchestra. The final link in this chain of association is a New York premiere by Robert Below, Homage to Villa-Lobos for Cello Orchestra, an expansive and original tonal refelection on the Brazilian master.
In the second half of the program," Hong continues, "we begin with a movement from one of the most significant and powerful chamber works of the 20th century, Quartet for the End of Time, written by the French composer Olivier Messiaen, when he was a prisoner of war in a concentration camp during World War II. Accentuating our performance of the 'Infinitely Slow' movement for cello and piano will be the world-premiere choreography by Takehiro Ueyama and dancers from the Paul Taylor Dance Company. The program ends with a work by the important contemporary composer, Joan Tower, Hommage à Messiaen, a literal tribute to the 'Infinitely Slow' movement and a profound exploration of the flow of time, ideas, and events."
Friday night’s concert opened with the Bach Suite No. 5 in C Minor for solo cello played with great warmth and dynamic expression by Sophie Shao, the recent winner of the International Rostropovich Cello Competition. This suite of seven movements was a powerful introduction to a concert featuring cello compositions, since Ms. Shao beautifully demonstrated how the cello with its very wide range of sounds from low bass to very high notes can sound in some ways like a whole orchestra. With total command of the instrument, Ms. Shao showed how the cello can play chords and parallel counter melodies like a guitar and piano as well as playing single, melodic lines like brass and woodwind instruments. Ms. Shao is a charismatic performer with a rich palette of tones, who kept the audience of adults and young children spellbound as she played animated movements with dramatic fluorish and slow movements, as in the Sarabande, with an intimate, whispering softness and loving tenderness.
A unique dimension of One World Symphony performances is the way Hong often speaks with the audience about the different compositions and there is often a short 10- or 15-minute form of audience interaction with the orchestra. Before playing the next piece, he told the audience that the composer of Bachianas Brazilieras No. 5 was a cellist and guitarist with a great love for Bach’s music. Hong briefly demonstrated two main musical characteristics of the piece with the orchestra playing a very "cello" excerpt and another where the cello orchestra sounds more like a guitar. He then asked the orchestra to play two different approaches to the same crucial part in the work -- one the way the composer instructed, the other a different way. It was very enjoyable for the audience that their vote and that of the musicians was almost unanimously for the "different way" for the most natural and convincing way to play this important part of the piece.
Soprano Melody Alesi sang the well-known Aria - Cantilena movement of Bachianas Brazilieras No. 5 with the 17 cellists often playing pizzicato accompaniment to the alluring melody and a flowing cello solo by Sophie Shao. Soprano Jennifer Greene then sang the more spirited Danza Martelo, where the cello orchestra often sounds like a guitar playing Brazilian dances. Hong’s interpretation of this demanding work brought an exquisite beauty to the undulating, plaintive first movement and glorious energy to the joyful exhiliration of the second movement. The cello choir’s playing of Below’s Homage to Villa Lobos featured an outstanding cellist from Alabama, Elizabeth Loy, with marvelously deep and full tone in this unusual composition of fascinating dissonances, counter melodies, and a surprise ending.
A highlight of the concert was a rare opportunity to hear conductor Hong playing piano, South African cellist Simone Uranovsky on cello, and the choreography of Takehiro Ueyama with Lisa Viola, Jill Echo and Orion Duckstein of the Paul Taylor Dance Company in the performance of the "Infinitely Slow" movement from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The piece begins with the solitary sound of Ms. Uranovsky’s cello as the dancers are lying on their backs, as if dead on the floor behind her. Gradually, Hong’s slowly repeating piano chords join in like a steady heartbeat, as the dancers appear to awaken and emerge into an ever-increasing liveliness. Simone Uranovsky has a transcendent vibrato sound that sings out with extraordinary presence throughout the very long durations of the notes in this movement. Messiaen’s writing for the cello in this movement also requires many large glissando and portamento shifts, which Ms. Uranovsky expresses effortlessly with perfect intonation and a continuously fluid legato.
The building progression of Hong’s slowy resounding chords sound like church bells ringing for a funeral and Ms. Uranovsky’s high register melody resembles the tormented human cry over the death of a loved one. Suddenly at a point of high-pitched intensity, the music breaks off with a jolting silence. However, then it quietly starts up again, and Ueyama’s choreography has the dancers embracing and gracefully re-emerging into a standing affirmation with arms outstretched as if to God, as the music appears to end, stop, almost end, and then finally terminate. It was very moving for the audience to experience this spiritually uplifting composition and dance in the lovely church of St. Ann’s.
Clearly, this is one of the most difficult works for the cello, because it requires the continued holding of extremely long notes without a break in the duration and quality of sound, and Ms. Uranovksy and Hong’s reverent interpretation is expressed with deep feeling and sensitivity. First performed for the other inmates in his concentration camp, this movement from the Quartet for the End of Time appears to be a message of Messiaen to individuals facing their own imminent death that there is a God, and that life, beauty, meaning, and ultimately time itself can be affirmed to continue to exist...forever.
Amy Kim, a very gifted and prize-winning cellist from Korea, and pianist Yi-Heng Yang then played Tower’s Hommage à Messiaen. Their playing of the innovative harmonies and reflective beauty of Tower’s piece had a delicate expressiveness that brought the second part of the concert to a memorable close. As an encore, the orchestra returned to play an even more alluring and triumphant interpretation of the Bachianas Brazilieras No. 5 to a standing ovation. One audience member told Hong, "The way you and your ensemble plays, 10 more times of the Villa-Lobos would have still thrilled me!"
Sung Jin Hong and his colleagues of the One World Symphony are establishing a wonderful tradition of bringing creative, exciting, and high quality concerts to concert halls, churches, and nontraditional community venues in New York City. Hong explains that the different aims of One World Symphony are inter-related. "The way I present audience and orchestra musician interaction in each concert, for example, is not meant to be 'educational,' stuffy, or to show how much I know about music but to have our audience members get closer to the music and our musicians. The connection and the overall experience becomes much more fun and engaging."
The international composition of the orchestra and of its programs, the historical continuity of works of both past and present composers, and the forms of audience collaboration provide a special musical experience of "One World" together. The thought-provoking structure of the current season’s "Embracing the Influence" series is also sure to raise new questions about what it means to write "modern" music for the 20th century. In addition to the "Embracing the Influence" series, One World Symphony presents large-scale works, such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and will present Mozart’s Mass in C Minor this season.
You can consult their website www.oneworldsymphony.org for the current schedule and for further details of their forthcoming concerts in Brooklyn and Manhattan, which promise to be equally interesting and enjoyable. This is a group you do not want to miss.
All For Love: Brooklyn Paper's feature article on OWS's Valentine's program
on One World Symphony's "The Marriage of Figaro"
by H. Michael Jahilil
Music for Everyone
When Sung Jin Hong was fourteen years old, he saw a girl play Beethoven's Für Ellise on the piano in a McDonald's commercial. His passion for music was born, and soon he was dreaming of conducting a full-scale symphony orchestra.
Three years ago, 25-years-old Hong founded One World Symphony. Comprised of young professional artists who donate their time and skills, One World offers a new program of symphonies, operas, or new music every month throughout New York City. After his orchestra performed Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Hong said, "I felt like the luckiest person alive because the performance from all the musicians was so committed and inspring."
One World Symphony musicians are volunteers or receive a small honorarium. Thirty-year-old timpanist Ed Gonzales said, "We play with this orchestra because of the atmosphere [Hong] creates." They also come for the audience and to be nourished by the music. Tickets to One World Symphony concerts cost a fraction of the price of similar acts at established performance halls.
Don Rollins who has been attending One World Symphony concerts for more than a year, said, "This is a full-blown opera, they may not have the scenery, like the stage, but the caliber of the music, the singers and the musicians, gets very close to the Metropolitan Opera."
Admission to each performance costs less than $25 (at the Metropolitan Opera even a weeknight balcony seat costs $60). Mark Shahon, 50, a sales associate, volunteers as an usher for One World Symphony shows and says this orchestra has exposed many of his friends to live, quality music that they could not afford to hear otherwise. "There is so much lousy music," Shahon said, "because people can't afford to listen to live music like this."
During an intermission in a recent performance, Hong turned to the audience and expressed his appreciation for the musicians who make the financial sacrifice of turning down other offers to play for the One World Symphony. He introduced one violinist, Tarrah Reynolds, 24, and asked her, "Every time you perform with us, you lose money. Why do you keep doing this?" Reynolds replied, "Because it's fun and a good cause and too many people do music just for money."
Hong, a music lover and a dreamer, founded One World Symphony in 2001. "Seven or eight musicians, we met in coffee houses, and eventually founded this orchestra. You know, there are so many coffee houses in New York," Hong said.
Joan Dawidziak, 40, a former nurse who is now a freelance musician, met Hong at a book signing in Barnes and Nobles five years ago. "He promised me there he would start an orchestra. He kept his promise," Dawidziak said.
A few months after their founding came Sept. 11, 2001. In the orchestra's appearance after the tragedy, One World Symphony changed its planned program and performed Mozart's Requiem as a benefit concert. "It was such a healing event," Hong said. "All the performers and audience members felt something beyond the music, we really connected with what Mozart wrote."
Twenty-eight-year-old flutist and a One World Symphony founding member, Stefan Hoskuldsson, recently landed a job with the Metropolitan Opera as the second flutist. "Stefan went from a non-paying orchestra to the highest-paying orchestra job in the world. He gives hope for so many young artists," Hong said.
To foster fraternity between singers and musicians, Hong brings dinner for the artists. Liz Player, who plays the clarinet and teaches at Midori and Friends, an organization founded by Midori, the famous violinist, said, "This group feels like a community where the opera singers and musicians mingle."Hong has also won performers over with his leadership style. In the circle of artists, Hong is known as a different kind of conductor. Gonzales said, "When there is a problem, he fixes it without emotionally violating anybody." Dawidziak, who plays oboe, said, "It's a common trait of conductors to be abusive, [Hong] is not, instead of getting people's fear, he has his group's respect."
New York has an overabundance of aspiring artists and many hardly find the chance to perform. The One World Symphony gives young singers like Jennifer Greene a chance to perform and grow. Greene, 24, a music instructor at Mannes College of Music, has sung with One World Symphony since September 2003. She says it has been a great opportunity for her to sing opera with a fine symphony, an chance rarely given to young singers, and to perform with professionals. Her family traveled from Iowa to see her lead role in The Marriage of Figaro.
Hong grew up in Seoul, Korea, Los Angeles, and Peoria, Illinois, and studied music in Illinois, New York and Vienna, Austria. In Vienna, he said, his teacher encouraged him to go to New York because it is the suitable ground for entrepreneur musicians. When he came to New York in 1999, he played piano and violin in cafes, tended bar and worked as a food caterer. He now is a freelance musician and teacher.
Many members of One World Symphony have expressed that one of the keys to Hong and One World Symphony's sucesses is due to Adrienne Metzinger. She is a founding member, managing director, graphic designer, soprano who was a soloist in its production of The Marriage of Figaro, and Hong's girlfriend. At times, he and Metzinger have to dig into their limited earnings to pay the orchestra's expenses. "We decided to become musicians not for financial reasons but for the joy and love of music," Hong said.
The man whose musical aspirations were inspired by a hamburger commercial dreams of the chance to play Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Ode to Joy, for the crowds at Yankee Stadium and Chicago's Wrigley Field. "I don't enjoy intellectual concerts. A great conductor and humanitarian once told me that intellectualism is limited; imagination is beyond intellect and is limitless. I'd like to make music that inspires and connects with the masses."
H. Michael Jahili
Cello-Brate Good Times: Brooklyn Paper's feature article on OWS's all-cello program