by Alan Young, Lucid Culture
Efficiently if not particularly quietly, over the past ten years the One World Symphony has built a reputation as one of Manhattan’s first-class niche orchestras. Their season is shorter and their programming more diverse than, say, the New York Phil, but with a vintage Ormandy-era Philadelphia Orchestra sheen and heft, they are a mighty beast. Their concert last night in Chelsea, a benefit for the perennially needy Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, began with an impromptu addition to the bill, Craig Armstrong’s lushly crescendoing chase scene from the 2003 film Love Actually. It set the stage for the rest of the night. Maestro Sung Jin Hong is cut from the same cloth as Leon Botstein: a passionate advocate who leaves no stone unturned, Hong wasted no time in revealing how Brahms ripped off Beethoven (with a couple of excerpts, one involving audience participation). To add context, he also led the orchestra through his own richly swirling arrangement of the obscure Clara Schumann song Liebst du um Schönheit, sung with potently evocative restraint by mezzo-soprano Adrienne Metzinger. Hong doesn’t like to leave audiences hanging: he took care to provide background on how Brahms’ unrequited love for Robert Schumann’s wife finally inspired Brahms to channel his angst into the sturm und drang of his First Symphony.
Conducting from memory, Hong used every inch of headroom but also all the available footroom for that work: a briefly tiptoeing pizzicato interchange at the beginning of the final movement among both high and low strings was as whispery as the big swells of the first movement and the final series of codas at the end were stormy. In between, lush as the sonics were, individual and sectional voices were strong and distinct. Ed Gonzales’ rumbling timpani signaled a sudden end to uneasy nebulosity in the first movement; Marilyn Cole’s oboe solo in the second was pure liquid crystal. And the cellos dug deep into their Bach-like walking basslines as the third built steady momentum.
Hong was just as fun to watch as the orchestra. Although he doesn’t go for leaps and bounds, his approach is very physical: when he slows down, that’s a signal that the music is going to get very quiet, and the orchestra was with him every step of the way. After the performance, the music didn’t stop: the ensemble’s principal bassist, Justin Lee got to show off his swing chops in tandem with Jonathan Ward’s tasteful drumming throughout an animated performance of standards by the Robert Page Jazz Trio.