TCU alum graduated at 16. The piano player returns to campus for two performances

dfwnewsa | January 31, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

TCU alum graduated at 16. The piano player returns to campus for two performances

Cellist Zachary Mowitz, pianist Sahun Sam Hong, violinist Stephanie Zyzak and viola player Luther Warren are all members of the music collective ensemble132. The group will perform Feb. 3 and 4 in Fort Worth. (Courtesy photo | ensemble132)
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Sahun Sam Hong was 11 years old when he took his first class at Texas Christian University.The piano and math whiz graduated at 16. Now 29, the co-founder and executive director of ensemble132 is returning to campus for two performances. One concert will showcase the music collective and the second will include a side-by-side performance with current TCU chamber music students.This trip is the chance for Hong to give back to the community that helped pave his unconventional path as a musician.

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What: Chamber music performances by ensemble132

Concerts: 7 p.m. Feb. 3Van Cliburn Concert Hall2900 W. Lowden St.           3 p.m. Feb. 4PepsiCo Recital Hall2800 S. University Drive  Admission: Free   

When Hong was around 8 or 9, his piano teacher connected him with John Owings, who was a professor and piano chair at TCU.The families stayed in touch even after the Hongs moved from Texas to California.The move was hard on the middle schooler. His new piano teacher didn’t work out and Hong wasn’t being challenged at school.“I was very discouraged at the time, and I was going to quit piano,” Hong said.But then Owings and his wife, Cordelia, offered to take Hong in. At first, they enrolled him in a middle school with a gifted and talented program, but it still wasn’t the right fit.“This crazy idea came to mind for Cordelia and John where they thought, ‘What if he can take some classes at TCU? Maybe we can talk to the provost there,’” Hong recalled. “We were just going to take one class at TCU and then it turned into, maybe he can just enroll … so that’s kind of how that went.”

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The experience wasn’t easy, he said, but it was still wonderful.“Yes, I missed out on lots of things. I missed out on prom. … I didn’t do a lot of those normal things. But, I kind of learned how to speak through music,” Hong said. “That’s why I keep just returning to the idea of chamber music being such a powerful, powerful experience.”

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Hong said he attended classes on campus at Texas Christian University from age 11-16, when he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in piano performance. (Courtesy photo | Sahun Sam Hong)

Audiences in Dallas and Fort Worth will have the opportunity to hear Hong’s unique artistic flair in the world premiere of his arrangement of Stravinsky’s ballet suite, “Pulcinella.” 

Zachary Mowitz, a cellist and ensemble132’s co-founder and artistic director, appreciates the quality, vision and imagination that Hong puts into every arrangement. 

“(He) gives these pieces a new life. For us as performers it’s a really unique opportunity to be able to … get our hands in these pieces that we would normally not be able to play in such a personal and hands on way,” he said. “To hear his voice coming out, at least from time to time, in tandem with the original composer is fun.”

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Having learned so much from other musicians, the pair hope that current students will benefit from the opportunity to perform alongside the ensemble. “You learn by doing but also you get a little bit of learning by osmosis being next to and collaborating with these immense artistic personalities. And we just thought it would be amazing if we could bring a little bit of that ourselves,” Mowitz said. “Going to TCU and being able to do that with the students is something that really excites us.”Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board.

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