The new assistant conductor of the Seattle Symphony
By Yuki Nakajima
Northwest Asian Weekly
A person has to have musical knowledge, precise conducting, formidable technique, and a great personality in order to become a Seattle Symphony assistant conductor.
When auditions were held last year, there was one candidate that met all of the requirements.
His name is Thomas Hong. Hong was selected as the new Seattle Symphony’s Douglas F. King Assistant Conductor after more than 100 candidates sent in their applications.
The duty of an assistant conductor is to back up the guest conductor. The assistant conductor also conducts concerts, especially concerts in neighborhoods, for families and for educational purposes.
Music Director Gerard Schwarz describes Hong as a “superb” person. Schwarz said it wasn’t difficult for him to choose a new assistant conductor.
“[Hong] conducts beautifully and has tremendous intellect,” Schwarz said. “He is a true gentleman. He is extremely thoughtful and sensitive, and has a wonderful sense of humor.”
Hong was born in Incheon, South Korea. He and his family immigrated to Philadelphia in 1978. When Hong was 8 years old, his parents encouraged him to study an instrument. “At the time, I didn’t really have an interest in music. I liked sports, fishing, and riding bikes,” Hong said.
However, he eventually came to love music and was always involved in it. He joined the Philadelphia boys’ choir. On the weekends, he saw all sorts of performances, such as ballets and ones held at Philadelphia’s city hall.
“I had exposure to music because my mom especially liked classical music,” Hong said. At age 15, Hong began his musical training on the piano. As a teenager, he wasn’t keen on becoming a pianist or a musician.
However, his piano teacher, Morton Berger, made a great impression on him. Hong continued his music studies at Philadelphia Biblical University. He eventually earned a master’s degree in choral conducting at Temple University and an artist’s diploma in orchestral conducting from The Curtis Institute of Music.
“I trained very diligently. It was extremely hard to be an effective conductor and an effective musician on the professional level,” Hong said. “It has paid off. It was worth it.”
Since college, Hong has conducted at many different places. His previous experience includes being the assistant conductor of The Curtis Opera Theatre, a visiting assistant professor at Haverford College, and the music director of Delaware County Youth Orchestra. He was also the assistant conductor of Orchestre National de France and associate conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
Even though he had many experiences before, working as an assistant conductor at the Seattle Symphony is a “big deal” to him. “It’s a dream come true. Seattle Symphony is known worldwide as an internationally acclaimed orchestra. Getting offered this position was really remarkable news for me,” Hong said.
His goal is to learn as much as he can from Schwarz, such as how to be a music director and how to make difficult decisions.
Moreover, Hong wants to get Seattle’s Asian community more involved with the fun and exciting activities at Benaroya Hall. He said the hall is one of the greatest halls in the world and thinks the Asian community should take greater advantage of the venue.
“I think I have a lot to offer [due to my] perspective, growing up in America as an Asian American. I appreciate my background,” Hong said. “I want to help lots of Asian American musicians. I hope to encourage young professionals to seek out and experience the joy of music and open up [people to a] whole new world of experiencing life through music.” ♦
For more information, visit Seattle Symphony www.seattlesymphony.org/symphony.
Yuki Nakajima can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.