Creator of New York`s `hip` classical
Even in this age of crossovers, it is still hard to come by a classical orchestra that ventures out of their usual Tchaikovsky and Beethoven repertoires.
New York-based One World Symphony is an exception. The orchestra is known for its diverse and "hip" programming that ranges from full classical works to pop and even rock music.
"The classical industry has been presenting typical concerts for years. But our programming is very dynamic and diverse. We try to embrace all types of music and find a balance (among them), just like the New York City," said Hong Sung-jin, the Korean-American founder and artistic director of the symphony, in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.
One World symphony which was founded by Hong and his wife Adrienne Metzinger-Hong in 2001, now marks its 9th season.
The young artistic director currently runs the symphony -- managing, conducting and composing -- while his mezzo-soprano wife is the managing director. She also works as a full-time graphic designer who does all the visual materials for the orchestra as well.
Hong was born in Seoul but went to the United States when he was aged 10 and later pursued a formal education in conducting in Vienna, he said.
Yet he chose to create his own orchestra instead of joining the mainstream music industry, he said.
"A professor of mine once told me that opportunities for foreign musicians in Vienna are quite challenging and advised me to go for my own opportunities in New York," he said.
So he did, Hong said. Although not a native New Yorker, he said he was able to get in contact with musicians with diverse ethnicities and who matched his vision to launch a symphony together.
Hong also puts a lot of efforts into his orchestra to feature living composers` -- both in-house and from outside -- works, he said. In fact, they have performed multiple premieres of newly written contemporary pieces.
Because audiences tend to prefer concerts where familiar classical pieces are featured, there is a fear in the mainstream music industry of playing new music, said Hong.
"It is difficult to satisfy audiences with classical pieces since they know them well and their expectations are high. However, it is not the case for new pieces. But we are responsible for bringing out the emotional factors (from such works)," he said.
Active interaction with the audience is another thing that Hong emphasizes. Hong said that audience members are allowed to talk in between the symphony`s performances and cheer or boo like "sports fans."
Most of some 100 members of Hong`s orchestra who were selected through recommendation of the senior members have a formal classical music education. Although they each have a full-time job aside from the ones at the orchestra, they manage to rehearse at least three times a week for a concert, Hong said.
Hong says he aims to create a sound that is beautiful and unique.
"I emphasize sound over rhythm. The deep sound and its emotions are very important to me," he said, adding that he often sees some "emotionally engaged" audiences in tears after their concerts are over.
The orchestra which "started from scratch with absolutely nothing," according to Hong, has now grown largely over the years. It gives 10 to 12 concerts each year which have been receiving positive responses from both critics and audiences.
While the audience size has become much bigger, the musicality has also improved noticeably during the past years. Hong said whereas friends of the members used to make up most of the audience, now the seats are occupied by ordinary young music fans who are regulars at their concerts.
A non-profit organization, it charges 30 dollars for their concert tickets and donates some of the proceeds to charity organizations.
The orchestra also tries to give back to the community by involving themselves in diverse educational activities -- they teach and invite young students to perform for their concerts, for example.
Hong expressed his dream to one day perform with the group in North Korea, saying that he was very moved and impressed by the New York Philharmonic concert there in 2008, despite the political controversies over the event.
Meanwhile, for their upcoming Halloween concert on Oct. 30, One World Symphony will play diverse selection of tunes including Marilyn Manson.
To find out more about One World Symphony, go to www.oneworldsymphony.org
By Koh Young-aah