- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — A McDonald’s commercial inspired Sung Jin Hong to become a conductor of classical music.

It wasn’t a juicy burger that seduced the 14-year-old but a girl playing a Beethoven piece on piano. Now, at 29, the Korean-born, Austrian-trained conductor leads his own orchestra in New York, called One World Symphony.

This weekend, they performed Bizet’s blood-stirring, love-and-death “Carmen” before the altar of a church in Manhattan’s theater district.

“This isn’t the Metropolitan Opera — please squeeze,” orchestra manager Adrienne Metzinger urged the standing-room-only audience, with spectators sitting elbow to elbow in the pews and on chairs set in the aisles.

This orchestra is unlike any other, starting with the unusual credentials of its composer-in-residence.

Stanley Grill writes some of the love songs and other pieces they play. He also makes sure the subways and buses that bring most of the musicians to the concerts keep humming. By day, Mr. Grill is the city Transit Authority’s chief buyer, procuring the system’s vehicles and the nuts and bolts that keep them running.

At night, Mr. Grill climbs up to his New Jersey attic to write music.

Each One World concert has a theme, ranging from lost love to the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami. A benefit for tsunami victims raised thousands of dollars.

The orchestra was founded in 2000 by Mr. Hong, who says his conducting echoes “a city that’s full of human drama — personal drama, relationship drama. I tell the musicians, ‘Close your eyes and play as if this is your last performance.’”

In an urban area with thousands of top-notch musicians vying to perform at premier halls, these fine young professionals give up higher-paying gigs to play for minimum fees. They get to perform freshly composed music, as well as the great old songs, symphonies and operas, for a grass-roots audience. Tickets are affordable to almost anyone, costing from $10 to $35.

The evenings offer a sense of community. The comfortably dressed audience sits close to the musicians, with the conductor occasionally chatting between pieces. Programs are followed by receptions, with a chance to talk with the performers over wine and hors d’oeuvres.

The ensemble is itself a sort of family. Miss Metzinger, the manager and a soprano, is Mr. Hong’s girlfriend. She also designs the group’s edgy, elegant posters. They have dug into their own savings to pay some of One World’s expenses, and Mr. Hong makes ends meet by teaching violin and piano.

For the next concert, in June, Mr. Grill is writing music set to “some very sexy poems,” to be premiered by Miss Metzinger, accompanied by a cello and a harp.

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