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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 [1971] 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 audiences.

"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 music?’

"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

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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