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One World Symphony’s first "Cellobration" was such a big hit last fall that it is being revived as an annual event, according to artistic director, founder and conductor Sung Jin Hong.

"The first ’Cellobration’ was very popular and well-received, both from our cellists and our audiences," Hong told GO Brooklyn. "A lot of our audience members actually e-mailed us to see if we were going to program another cello concert. The Villa-Lobos piece (’Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5’) got such an ovation that we repeated it. Also, you don’t get to perform with 16 great cellists at the same time too often, so it was amazing just for that."

For One World Symphony’s second "Cellobration" (Dec. 3 at the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights), Hong and One World Symphony are giving their audiences more of what worked so well last time: Bach; the Brazilian, Heitor Villa-Lobos; and two local premieres.

"And most of the cellists are coming back, too," said Hong.

But the program is built around Bach.

"The big tree trunk is Bach, and then you have all these other branches, which are the other composers [we’re playing]," said Hong. "Bach is the one composer who really inspired Villa-Lobos, and Villa-Lobos inspired [Gaspar] Cassado, while Stanley Grill is a fascinating composer with Latin elements in his music."

One World Symphony’s concert begins with Bach’s "Chaconne" - a movement from his Partita No. 2 for unaccompanied violin, arranged for cello orchestra by Laszlo Varga - which is one of his most emotional and joyous pieces.

"Bach’s ’Chaconne’ is such a monumental piece that many composers have transcribed it and arranged it for various instruments, like [Ferruccio] Busoni’s massive Wagnerian arrangement for piano," Hong noted. "I’ve even heard a rock band version.

"There are so many composers, even today, who are so inspired by this piece," he said. "It’s transcendent. It goes way beyond the notes, and it has a real depth. I truly believe that this is music that takes us all on a meaningful journey. The cellists are more excited about playing this than anything else on the program."

Following the Bach work comes Villa-Lobos’ "Bachianas-Brasileiras No. 1." As its very title indicates, it was one of 11 pieces the Brazilian master wrote in homage to the composer he revered among all others, Bach.

"These 11 works are written for solo instruments, chamber ensembles and full orchestras; and there are two that are written for cello orchestra, numbers 1 and 5," Hong explained. "The one we’re playing is directly inspired by Bach. No. 1’s last movement is a fugue. You have eight different parts talking together, just like an extensive Bach fugue - and Bach was the father of the fugue."

"[Villa-Lobos’] first movement clearly depicts his own Latin background with this heartbeat Latin rhythm," he continued. "He wants to make a statement, right in your face, right off the bat. So playing this is a perfect fit for us."

"Suite for Cello," by Spanish composer Gaspar Cassado, is next on the program.

"I was thinking about programming a Bach cello suite, but then I thought it was more adventurous to do this," Hong admitted. "Cassado’s suite is directly related to the Villa-Lobos piece; it also has three movements, and it ends with a Bach-like fugue."

The closing work of this season’s "Cellobration" is written by One World Symphony’s resident composer, Stanley Grill. His "Vignettes - Winter Trees" is scored for two cellists and two mezzo-sopranos.

"[Grill] originally wrote it for two bass voices and two cellists, but I suggested he change it [to mezzos] because I thought those two pairs would compete," said Hong. "It’s a work in progress: he’s writing 10 movements in total, and we’re performing four of the movements.

Grill’s "Vignettes - Winter Trees" is a setting of poems by William Carlos Williams.

"There are layers of meaning in the poems that you can interpret so many ways," said Hong. "From my experience, the poems are visually compelling; just physically the way Williams laid out his poems can be interpreted in many different ways."

Hong acknowledged that a song cycle written without any piano accompaniment is a daring choice.

"Getting rid of the keyboard instrument limits the composer," he says. "Now it’s basically a quartet for four solo voices - and the two cellists are voices without words. The cellos lay down the texture and the overall feeling of the poem, while the singers express the text. It’s actually quite innovative."


One World Symphony’s "Cellobration" program will be performed Dec. 3 at 8 pm at the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity, located at the corner of Montague and Clinton streets in Brooklyn Heights. Tickets are $20, $10 for students. An open rehearsal takes place at St. Ann on Dec. 1 at 6 pm; tickets are $5. For more information, log onto or call (718) 462.7270.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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