Alumni News: Brian Hong, Violist

Meet Brian Hong, alumnus and violist. Brian will be a visiting guest artist in residence July 30-August 6.

Image courtesy of Brian Hong

What years were you a student and what initially brought you to Kneisel Hall?

I was fortunate to be a student at Kneisel Hall during the summers of 2014, 2015, and 2016.  Kneisel Hall was always an attractive and appealing place for me as a young musician, due to its long and rich history devoted to chamber music.  It is a place where a love for collaboration and musical discovery is nurtured and developed, all within one of the most beautiful settings in the Northeast.

Where had you spent your summers prior to coming to Kneisel Hall?

I attended Kneisel Hall during the summer following my sophomore year at the New England Conservatory of Music.  I spent my prior summers at the Music Academy of the West (2009 and 2013), the Taos School of Music (2012), and Bowdoin (2011).

What did you like most about your summer(s) in Maine?

Maine is my favorite state in the US because of its gorgeous and varied setting.  Within a short drive, I could see mountains, valleys, forests, lakes, and the ocean.  Each little coastal town is a gem in and of itself, with its own unique history.  I could spend weeks just driving around, hiking, swimming, and eating all the lobster and fried clams that I could fit into my stomach.

Kneisel Hall is also where I met my wife, violinist Rannveig Marta Sarc.  After three and a half weeks of playing a late Beethoven quartet together, we became inseparable – and that has stayed true to this day, 8 years later.

Tell us what student life was like during your years here.

Kneisel Hall is one of those special places where young musicians can dive into the deepest details of great chamber music without the worries of time.  Each year that I was there, every waking hour was spent discussing, listening, rehearsing, practicing, and discovering the wonder of great chamber music.  Even when we were relaxing, music was always on our minds.  Kneisel Hall made us feel proud of our passion for chamber music – a feeling that I continue to carry with me to this day.

How was the food? Was there a ping-pong table yet?

I remember when the great chef (and now my friend) Zac Maccarone was hired.  Zac turned Kneisel Hall into a place where students also came for the food – his dishes were always made with such love.  I especially remember his lobster feast night (where I famously ate the equivalent of nine lobsters – a record that has been broken numerous times by this point), as well as his paella night, where he served a monstrous vat of delicious, authentic paella in the center of the courtyard.  The image of 50 hungry students, faculty, and staff all crowded around this endless pot of food, piling their plates high, still stays with me to this day.

Kneisel Hall’s ping pong table was famous.  Every night, students were playing heated matches, trying to win their way across that summer’s bracket to the final championship game.  I still remember the finals game one summer between violist Matt Consul and violinist Greg Cardi, which was like watching a whole new type of chamber music.  The cheers from campus echoed down the hill all evening and I’m sure we kept the town of Blue Hill awake deep into the night!

Did you get to know the town/surrounding area at all?

I spent a lot of time driving around Maine with my then girlfriend (and now wife) Ranny.  We would take drives to Curtis Cove for swimming (we always made jokes that we “finally” made it into Curtis), or head into Ellsworth for shopping, or stop by Bagaduce Lunch for the most amazing fried fish and clams.  Sometimes we would drive with no destination in mind – only focusing on the beautiful scenery, and each other.

How did your experience at Kneisel Hall help you professionally?

Kneisel Hall is where I feel like I made many crucial steps forward towards becoming a “complete” musician: a musician who uses their training for a higher purpose of expressing music more powerfully.  My summers in Maine taught me how to be a more generous musical listener, and inspired my colleagues and I to continuously strive for more communication and expression in our playing.  Many of my colleagues from those summers (and the faculty!) are currently frequent chamber music partners, and it is always so nice to look across the ensemble and communicate those years of experience through a single glance, without words.

Do you have a favorite memory of a Kneisel Hall faculty or guest artist interaction- such as a memorable coaching or performance?

I always loved my coachings with Mr. Copes – he always has such a profoundly beautiful and meaningful way with words, as well as an ability to capture in a single hand gesture what he believes the music is trying to express.  However, he knew when he simply had to hold our feet to the fire.  One summer, when working on a Ligeti quartet, my group went into a coaching with him and fumbled our way through a difficult passage.  After we sheepishly lowered our instruments (and yet still somehow expected a poetic turn of phrase that would change our lives – as if we deserved it), Mr. Copes looked at us with a gentle twinkle in his eyes and simply said: “You know…the best advice I can give you for this passage is that you must simply play it better than you are playing it now.”

We showed up at the next coaching vastly improved.

What do you want our supporters to know about how Kneisel Hall makes a difference in students’ musical careers?

We live in a tumultuous world, a world that is increasingly driven by politics, judgement, and the negative effects of social media.  It is in this world that a place like Kneisel Hall must continue to thrive and offer a safe haven for young musicians.  Within all the noise of this modern era, Kneisel Hall reflects the opposite: beauty, peace, friendship, and great music.  I hope to see it continue to flourish and grow.