Sung Jin Hong will conduct the One World
Symphony in a unique Valentine’s Day program – aptly titled "Love
Letters" – on Feb. 13 at the Church of St. Ann and the Holy
Trinity, in Brooklyn Heights.
"All of the works were chosen for their sheer feeling of
romantic love," Hong told GO Brooklyn in an exclusive interview.
"Love Letters" juxtaposes five works with excerpts
of letters from composers on the program and their loved ones,
read by two actors.
"The crux of the program is Mahler’s ’Adagietto,’ a short
movement from his Fifth Symphony," said Hong, "which
has become very well-known through the  movie [by Luchino
Visconti] ’Death in Venice,’ where it was featured very prominently."
In a move away from conventional concert practice, the orchestra
will play Mahler’s "Adagietto" twice.
"It’s a very passionate work, and our two performances of
it will show that," Hong explained. "The first time
will be the modern orchestral setting where the violins are all
together, but in Mahler’s era, he wanted the violins across from
each other because of the way that he wrote – he composed lots
of counterpoint between the first and second violins, and this
is a very effective way for audiences to hear it.
"The major advantage is that the audience will be able to
experience two ways of hearing Mahler’s work," he said.
"I will ask the audience during the concert if they hear
a difference between both ways of performing it."
For Hong, this encore makes the concert a new experience for
"Orchestras are struggling and are looking for ways to survive
and gain audience support," said Hong. "We’re trying
to find our own creative ways of doing that without being too
lecturing or intellectual – this is the way Mahler wanted it
heard, so let’s see if there’s a difference to our ears."
While at the podium, Hong, who just won a spot as an active conductor
in Kurt Masur’s Conducting Seminar at the Manhattan School of
Music Symphony, is in position to manipulate the audience’s experience.
"I’m tempted to perform it two ways," he said. "There’s
the original, slow, weighty, tragic way, which was made famous
by conductors like Leonard Bernstein, and then there’s the ’love
letter to Alma’ [Mahler’s wife] way, which is less ponderous
but still dramatic. When I conduct, I like to move it along and
let the music speak for itself."
Following the Mahler work, a movement of Beethoven’s final string
quartet, "Cantate," will be played in an arrangement
for string orchestra. That final quartet was dedicated to Beethoven’s
nephew, with whom he shared a close relationship throughout his
life, which is how it fits into this program. Hong also sees
a link between "Cantate" and Mahler’s "Adagietto."
"Mahler was directly influenced by Beethoven’s last string
quartet," Hong explained. "Both Beethoven and Mahler
were revolutionaries – the sheer length and difficulty of Mahler’s
symphonies harks back to Beethoven’s last string quartets,"
which were – and still are – considered among the most complex
music ever written, with the partial exception of the relatively
straightforward last quartet.
Also on the program is Brahms’ "Ophelia Lieder," originally
scored for voice and piano, here orchestrated by composer Aribert
Reimann for strings, and sung by mezzo-soprano Natalie Anne Havemeyer,
a Bronx resident.
"That’s a real interesting piece, re-orchestrated very simply
and sensitively," Hong noted. "Ophelia’s madness is
depicted in a very gentle way. And Natalie is a fantastic vocal
artist who will sing in our ’Marriage of Figaro’ in March."
Leos Janacek’s second string quartet, titled "Intimate Letters"
after his correspondence with his late-career muse, Kamila Stosslova,
is represented on this program by its slow movement. Some of
Janacek’s and Stosslova’s letters – along with Mahler’s and wife
Alma’s – will be excerpted during the concert.
Last but not least, a short work by Park Slope resident Gary
Sunden will be played. His seven-minute "Vivace for Strings,"
composed in 1995 as the prelude to an opera Sunden adapted from
Moliere’s "Sganarelle, ou le Cocu Imaginaire," came
to Hong’s attention in quite a strange way.
"Gary’s actually a lawyer who has been attending our concerts,
which I wasn’t aware of," said Hong. "He wrote a nice
letter to me complimenting us and telling us that he believed
in our mission, and I thought, ’What does this lawyer know about
"But I listened to his work and it was very fresh to hear,"
said Hong. "The opera the prelude is from is about two young
lovers, so it fits into the theme of our program – I was surprised
at how well it does fit. He’s very excited to hear it played
… just as we are to play it."
One World Symphony’s performance of
works by Gustav Mahler, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms,
Leos Janacek and Gary Sunden takes place Feb. 13 at 8 pm at the
Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity, on the corner of Montague
and Clinton streets in Brooklyn Heights. Tickets are $20 at the
door, $15 in advance and $12 at the door, $10 in advance for
seniors (65 and older) and students (with ID). For tickets, call
(718) 788-7138 or visit www.oneworldsymphony.org.