Hannibal’s Canticle

Imagine, a week before Halloween, sitting in an elaborate House of Worship listening to a serial killer sing of his crimes, the wall behind him splattered with blood. Get your Goth on, NYC!

Composer-conductor Sung Jin Hong interacting with his guests from the sold-out world premiere

Composer-conductor Sung Jin Hong interacting with his guests from the sold-out world premiere. Photo by Jaka Vinšek.

One World Symphony has once again created an experience unmatched in its ability to bring to life the surreal. Orchestral sections take turns drumming out heart beats that resonate within your terrified chest. Medical staff are on hand, under the guise of educating willing audience members on hands-only CPR as a pre-show educational perk, but in reality are there to resurrect any audience members whose frail hearts succumb to the macabre undulations of that unholy Canticle of evil.

The evening’s entertainment started with Ballade, composed by Kaija Saariaho and sublimely performed by Markus Kaitila on the piano. It was a beautiful, relatively gentle start to the festivities. This was followed immediately by the Sacrificial Dance from Stravinsky’s famous The Rite of Spring. Looking closely at the roster of musicians listed on the program it’s amazing so much sound can come from so few performers!

Sung Jin Hong expresses his gratitude towards One World Symphony and its concertmaster Michael Mandrin

Sung Jin Hong expresses his gratitude towards One World Symphony and its concertmaster Michael Mandrin. I say a hearty thank you as well! Photo by Jaka Vinšek.

Nearly as soon as it began, the dazzling chaos ended – the services of the medical staff somehow not yet called for – and we were right away into the gentle, intellectually soothing Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, performed here to great effect on the harp by Kristi Shade. As an aside, hearing this on the harp makes me think it ought to always be played on the harp, as it comes across somehow nobler and more elegant this way. Sort of classical, in the classical sense. Before the last humming string of the harp was still, we were listening to excerpts from Fauré’s Requiem, a haunting piece I am admittedly not nearly as familiar with as I ought to be. During this performance we were gifted with sweet sounds from soloists Soprano Laura Farmer and Tenor Michael Polscer (“Agnus Dei”), whose voices provided a grace that elevated the evening thus far into the realm of the spiritual. All together, this first section of the concert provided as lively a contrast of moods and sounds as you’re ever likely to hear in a concert hall within the span of a half hour or so, and perfectly evoked the dichotomy of Hannibal Lecter.

Countertenor Nicholas Tamagna performing the title role.

Countertenor Nicholas Tamagna performing the title role. Photo by Jaka Vinšek.

After applause, the evening moved on to the World Premiere phase, namely Maestro Sung Jin Hong’s Hannibal. Regular attendees of the One World Symphony have become quite spoiled by the regular indulgence of world premieres. Lucky us. The cast was spot on, featuring four wonderfully talented singers: Jane Albert as the spirit of Mischa Lecter, Marie Putko as Abigail, Ransom G. Bruce as Will and Nicholas Tamagna as Hannibal himself. The music, craftily carved by Maestro Hong from Hannibalistic inspirations – including a pervasive use of the interval of the ninth, a most unstable and disharmonious interval – was performed with great gusto by the One World Symphony orchestra and the new One World Concertus.

Debut of its 16-member vocal ensemble, One World Concertus, Chorusmaster Sung Jin Hong, performing as a Greek chorus in “Hannibal

Debut of the 16-member vocal ensemble, One World Concertus, Chorusmaster Sung Jin Hong, performing as a Greek chorus in “Hannibal”. Photo by Jaka Vinšek.

Part I: Reckoning featured a heavy woodwind section, complete with two alto flutes and two bass flutes, in addition to two regular flutes! Low flutes happen to be one of my favorite timbres (along with high bassoon passages, such as the opening of Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring – unheard tonight – and also sometimes horns and trombones when they play very majestically, the heckelphone… but I digress…) Point being there is no music which suffers for these beautiful instruments – their unique voices create a haunting, melancholy mood which suits the evening, and the season, perfectly, and their prominence in the beginning of this work was greatly appreciated, at least by this listener.

Part II: Folie à deux brings us from the grey netherworld of the previous section into a black and red hellish nightmare world where even good and evil have lost their distinction and have been exposed for all the world to see as close relations. A polyrhythmic Tell-Tale Heart episode threatens to swing the heart doctors into action, but the One World Symphony crowd is robust and we all survive the terrible, rapidly undulating palpitations, albeit some of us with a new craving for blood!

Part III: Becoming features a gruesome onstage murder while beautifully frightful music is pounded out by the piano and orchestra. What a night! We get at last a chilling look at Hannibal, represented musically by a sinister twist on the ol’ B-A-C-H motif, namely: H-A-B-C.

graphical image of B-A-C-H motive

A graphical representation of the B-A-C-H motif, inspiration for the H-A-B-C motif in Hannibal. Disturbingly enough, to get to H-A-B-C from this image one has to perform a sinister looking upside-down “cross”. Bach’s Cross image created by Michael miceli.

Finally, I was going to make a joke in here somewhere about this, but I see someone beat me to the punch!

Hannibal Lecter did us all a service by eliminating an unskilled flutist from the “Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra” in the opening sequence of the film Red Dragon, although serving the said flutist for dinner to the orchestra’s board of directors may have been going a bit too far. Hopefully we won’t be needing any such personnel changes at One World Symphony. Quid pro quo, Sung Jin. Quid pro quo. – Principal flute and nail artist, Chrissy Fong on Hannibal (2015)

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Breaking Bad Is So Good

Standing room only at One World Symphony's recent "Breaking Bad" concert. Photo by Jaka Vinsek.

Standing room only at One World Symphony’s recent Breaking Bad concert. Photo by Jaka Vinšek.

Okay, disclaimer first: I’ve never seen so much as one episode of the hit television show that spawned this concert. TV just isn’t my thing. Having said that, I’m glad there are people out there creating and watching (what I’ve been told is great) television and loving it or this concert might never have happened.

From the opening storm of Wagner, through mellower Tchaikovsky and Berlioz offerings, we arrived at the evening’s raison d’être:

Composer Sung Jin Hong conducting his world premiere: Breaking Bad -- Ozymandias. Photo by Jaka Vinšek.

Composer Sung Jin Hong conducting his world premiere: Breaking Bad — Ozymandias. Photo by Jaka Vinšek.

Breaking Bad — Ozymandias, composed by Maestro Sung Jin Hong, had its world premiere last Sunday evening, and if you weren’t in attendance that evening or the next,  you missed it!

Sold out show! Photo by Jaka Vinšek.

Sold out show! Photo by Jaka Vinšek.

But before the music could begin we the audience had to rehearse our role – for this was a One World Symphony concert, and audience participation is part of the fun! Maestro Hong instructed us on the whats and the when (if you weren’t there, like I said before – you missed it!) and then the music began.

In five movements, Breaking Bad — Ozymandias is a modern work. It is filled with the requisite dissonances, dissonances much sharper than any found in the night’s previous works; rich, sumptuous dissonances which make the fleeting climactic consonances all the sweeter and more rewarding. It features exotic instrumentation from the hauntingly lugubrious alto and bass flutes to the colorfully southwest tinged huehuetl, teponaztli and quijada. It even features cussing, or, as I like to think of it, modern vernacular.

But more than these academic attributes,  Breaking Bad — Ozymandias is a profoundly striking work with roots deep in the soul of man. Drinking from the themes of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias, the music pours forth a kaleidoscope of sounds big and small; the grandiose and the meek; the proud and the intimate; music of the conqueror and of the conquered. The music was at times a complex fugue, and at other times we (the audience) rhythmically shouted obscenities at the cue of the director like a perverse, dystopian chorus of degenerate rabble rousers.  Fun! (Admit it, the opportunity to partake in an experience like this just does not come around every day.)

From the sweet voices of the ladies who opened the program to the electric energy of the premiere we were so fortunate to experience, the evening was one I’m very grateful to have been a part of.

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a BIG musical discovery


Nothing warms my heart more than reading stories like this:


This is a concert I hope to one day be able to attend!


The idea of animals creating music should give pause to anyone who would otherwise dismiss them as lowly creatures lacking in redeeming qualities and being “useful” only for their labor or body parts.



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I kept seeing articles online (like this one) about these strange alien sounding bugs and vaguely remembered hearing the strange sounds of loud summertime bugs in my youth, wondering if they were one and the same. (That psychedelic sound is the same, but the math doesn’t add up, so the bugs I remember [c. 1985] must be a different brood of cicada.) At any rate, it was pleasantly surprising to hear word of an extra concert by the One World Symphony dedicated to these mysterious creatures.

I arrived just in time – can you imagine missing the emergence of these bugs and the concert dedicated to them!? I hope you didn’t miss them both.

The concert opened with the world premiere of Summer Cloud, a piece for Flute and Soprano by New York City based composer Andrew Struck-Marcell. This music was beautiful and sublime – an immersive experience created by the unusual placement of the musicians on a balcony above and behind the audience. The resulting acoustical effects, as the music filled the space from above and behind, created a very holographic, three dimensional sound, seemingly placing the audience inside the cloud, so to speak.

Next came a real surprise – two Renaissance pieces. I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to live a capella Renaissance music, yet I do have a recording of El grillo, the first of these pieces to be performed. It was a real treat. There is something so magical about the sound of human voices intricately coordinated to bring about such simple joy. The second piece, It was a time when silly bees could speak, featured silly lyrics (okay, there was probably some non-literal stuff going on for anyone interested) and was beautifully performed by the musicians. The tune itself did not appeal to me, but then again I’ve always had a bit of a prejudice against old songs sung in English… Maybe it’s me… The bees certainly fit the program, but then again, I’ve never been very fond of stinging insects either!

Then we had Bartók – From the Diary of a Fly. There are two minds about Bartók, sort of a love/hate thing going on – but I love his music, and this piece was no exception. Great sounds! Very stimulating and exhilarating music always from the Hungarian. (Of course I am not alone in admiration of his music – see here for some interesting reading.)

(While reading the above-linked-to analysis of “a fly” the first fly of the year found its way into my apartment…  Never doubt the ability of a focused mind to manifest itself!)

Next was our second world premiere (third if you count the world premiere orchestration and arrangement of the Bartók piece by Maestro Sung Jin Hong) of the evening – that’s a lot of new music! The long awaited star of the evening, Rite of the Cicada by Maestro Sung Jin Hong, featured audience participation, recorded sound, vocal soloist and orchestra. I’m shy and don’t like to participate too directly in performances, hence why I never went further with my own orchestral playing, but this was different. Prior to the start of the piece, we were directed in the proper performance of our part – a chant that starts out nearly silent and grows into a shout by the seventeenth (year) repetition.  Fun if you let yourself get into it!

The music proper then was begun and it was superb. I believe this may be my favorite piece to date by Sung Jin Hong – although having only heard each of his pieces once, it’s hard to compare and contrast. When they ever become available on CD I’ll be the first in line to buy them. (No, I don’t want to have to purchase mp3s online from @pp!e or anyone else – I’ll buy CDs until they stop making them!). We did our chant at the proper time and that led to the emergence of the bugs Cicadas – they’re too dignified to be called bugs, and this music dedicated to them represents that dignity nobly. From the opening dissonances to the final sounds – the music is gorgeous in a way that, when you think about all the cycles of life on this planet both strange and familiar, transcends music.

This was followed by music from Mahler’s third symphony. I’ve always gotten an impression from Mahler’s symphonies (with the exception of the first two) of a bag full of tensions, climaxes and resolutions, all tossed into the air and landing in a jumbled heap that is called a symphony, but here Maestro Hong deftly led the orchestra through the work with supreme skill and the result was a beautiful, shining example of what is possible when Mahler is conducted with an insightful  grace and attention to musical intent. It was a rousing finale to another unique and magical evening with the One World Symphony.

I couldn’t stay for the post concert jazz and wine, served up by the Maestro himself as audience and musicians mingled (so I heard from those lucky enough to be present), but it sounds like it was a lot of fun. Maybe if there is a next time, I’ll be able to stick around.

I’m unbelievably grateful to have a neighborhood resource like the One World Symphony.  It’s gifts like these that enrich our lives immensurably.

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Great Atomic Desire?


Perhaps under a subconscious influence from Hollywood, I’ve been on an Americana kick for some weeks now. Perhaps it started with the suggestion of a co-worker that I watch the film “On the Waterfront”, which was followed by suggestions for “A Streetcar Named Desire” and before you know it it’s middle school English class all over again, except this time I might actually be able to appreciate all this “culture”.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered not only was I free to attend the One World Symphony season finale but that the program was right in line with this Americana kick. Serendipity? Synchronicity? Whatever – I was excited, enough even to leave my warm, dry home on a cold, rainy evening to take the ride into Manhattan. The One World Symphony always delivers, so I knew I wasn’t taking a gamble with the evening’s outcome.

I must admit some of the finer nuances of the program were lost on me at the time of the concert. I didn’t originally expect to be available, so when I discovered I was, months later, I didn’t even check to refresh my memory what was on the menu for the evening. This is a luxury one can count on with the One Word Symphony – you will be in for top rate entertainment no matter what with them – stimulating selections, impeccably performed time after time. But another dimension is always present in their concerts, and that is a unified theme for each program, an added layer of content for digestion by the inquisitive mind, baking the evening into an intellectually richer, more luxuriant experience.

I consciously got as far as the Americana. The deeper, darker tones were there – I couldn’t help hearing them – but I didn’t make conscious associations at the time with any “real world” activities. To me, beautiful, dark music is just that – beautiful music. Yet my lack of full awareness didn’t detract from the experience in the least. Like all great fugal structures, you don’t have to understand everything that is going on to appreciate that beauty is present. The beauty may intensify with understanding, but even in darkest ignorance beauty’s qualities shine through by their nature. And that is what I experienced Sunday evening: beautiful, shadow-tinged, haunting music, from the nostalgic opening pieces to the hauntingly ominous closing work (a world premier by Sung Jin Hong entitled “Edge”).

We were  treated first to a short excerpt from Wagner’s “Tristan Und Isolde“, demonstrating the power of orchestration in producing a desired mood. John Adams, we were informed by One World Symphony’s maestro Sung Jin Hong, used the same orchestration to color an equally dark section of his “Doctor Atomic”. We heard a sample of this next for comparison. A free orchestration master class, if you will, within five minutes of the concert – music lover’s can’t do better than to attend the One World Symphony’s programs!

We then had the pleasure of listening to “unprogrammed” selections from Britten (so I was later informed!) and (more familiar to me) Gershwin, these cabaret style and very sultry sounding. Perfect mood for my Americana kick. Then the music segued into the programmed selections of the evening, the songs flowing from one to another without break, each sung by a perfect voice (it never fails to astonish me how many beautiful voices there are in the world…).

At first I tried to determine exactly where the music from one song ended and the bridge into the next began, but it dawned on me that these bridges (composed by Maestro Hong) were so well constructed and smooth that they accomplished their task completely, creating aurally seamless transitions from  one independent song to the next as if the whole collection were composed as a set. An astonishing feat, indeed, which, not unlike those Wagnerian epics of old, imbued the event with a dreamlike quality – a sense of immersion into a realm beyond the realities of space and time where there exists only the music, and one’s personal experiences therewith.

In summary: if you want to hear crystal clear voices singing haunting melodies whilst lush strings swell and swoop; if you want to hear brass hum and growl, whilst woodwinds sing and chatter; if you want to hear timpani roll like terrifying thunder, then don’t miss a chance to hear the One World Symphony in concert.

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Deep. Real deep.

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I love the idea of this blog dedicated to the investigation of timbre!

The Dalmatian Effect

Edgard_VareseThe notion of timbre is frequently elusive. This is particularly the case for pieces in which melody or pitched material plays a large part. When listening to music, our ear naturally follows the melody, and we’re less inclined to focus on what is producing that melody.  But in an all-percussion work, there is no melody. There is hardly any pitch. This forces the listener to concentrate on the subtle differences in sound between the various percussion instruments in order to ascertain how the work was organized.

Ionisaion, composed byVaresearound 1930, uses thirteen percussionists and three dozen different percussion instruments. These range from bass drums to castanets to sirens, and Varese organizes them based on what they are made of (primarily metal, skin, and wood). If you don’t know what to listen for in this piece, and you’re not a percussionist, it can be hard to decipher exactly what’s…

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I think this is beautiful. A very creative expression of a very natural, ubiquitous sequence.

Simply wonderful, wouldn’t you say?

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Let’s support this for a better future.


I think one of the biggest embarrassments facing our nation today is the state of our national passenger rail system. And I’m not just talking about the level of customer service provided by Amtrak, which is variable, as anyone who rides frequently on different routes across the country knows. I’m talking about those routes themselves. I’m talking about major cities throughout the nation that have no passenger rail service whatsoever. This is ridiculous. Las Vegas and Phoenix stand out as big examples, but how about these (after the map):

Trace a route from Memphis to Little Rock.

Or from Oklahoma City to Kansas City.

Albuquerque to Salt Lake City? It would be quicker to walk than to try to connect those dots… [Unless you truly consider buses a respectable part of a national rail system(?)]

What reason can we truly convince ourselves of to explain why these…

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Elliott Carter RIP

You will be missed.


I once attended a concert in Manhattan featuring some wind quintet music of Elliott Carter. I believe it was on or around his 101st birthday and at the end of the concert he was announced to be in the audience and humbly rose from the front row to be acknowledged. A standing ovation followed. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment.

Some talk was given (and examples by the performers followed) of his teaching style wherein he attempted to urge his students to be creative in their composing. A piece was played by the wind quintet which consisted of the five players throwing a single note back and forth in various octaves and with various techniques and dynamic levels – combined with the varying tone qualities of the different instruments playing in their various registers, the effect was striking: so much could be achieved with one note! His music is notoriously complex, but sometimes it is strikingly simple.

Thank you Elliott Carter for your contributions to making the world a brighter place!

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