How I Wrote... Breaking Bad — Ozymandias - Sung Jin Hong

14 January 2014, 11:13

You know you're addicted to Breaking Bad when you're compelled to write an opera about it. One World Symphony director Sung Jin Hong explains how Heisenberg inspired his latest work.

Composer: Sung Jin Hong

Piece: Breaking Bad — Ozymandias (2014)

Date written: October 2013 - January 2014

In a sentence or less, how would you describe the music to someone who's never heard it before?
Lyrically haunting with brooding silences, which challenges the listener to emotionally support the protagonist who has transformed into the antagonist.

How did the idea for the piece come about?
After One World Symphony gave its world premiere performance of my Rite of the Cicada last summer, my sister Jahee suggested that I take a break and watch "the best show ever." What my sister did not warn me was that Breaking Bad "was the danger" (quoting Walt White's famous line: "I am the danger!"). It became an addiction. A week after I saw the series finale in October, I decided to compose Breaking Bad — Ozymandias (2014).

Did you have a musical 'EUREKA!' moment where everything fell into place, or did the piece gradually shift and change over time?
Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet Ozymandias and Vince Gilligan's award-winning drama were immediate inspirations. The eureka moment probably occurred after I explored and exhausted many possibilities. I had been sketching for almost a month and had not committed to a motif or rhythm. After a long morning run in early November in Prospect Park, I felt as if I could hear my heart beating. I immediately committed to elaborating on what has become the Heisenberg chord and his rhythmic heartbeat in my composition.

Is there a musical moment in the piece you're most proud of?
It's funny that you ask, because my work questions if we are all guilty of hubris ("extreme pride") in the pursuit of arete ("excellence") and kleos ("glory") to some extent. As an aural omnivore, I embrace listening to one's beating heart as well as the audience's. None of my compositions are ever complete. The notes on the pages are only "blueprints." The blueprints come alive when the dedicated musicians and passionate audiences breathe life into them. This is one of the reasons why some of my compositions have active audience participation (Eye of the Storm, Rite of the Cicada, and Breaking Bad - Ozymandias). So, it would not be a single moment that may be "measured" tangibly or theoretically, but any moment in the piece that may inspire or move the listener to bring the blueprint to life.

What's been your favourite performance of the music?
It has never been performed, as the world premiere performances will given by One World Symphony on January 26-27, 2014 in New York City.

If you could hear anyone admit they're a huge fan of the piece, who would it be?
Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anthony Hopkins

If you had to compose it again, what would you change?
When I announced that I was going to compose a mini-opera inspired by Shelley's sonnet and Breaking Bad, I originally conceived it as an intense ten-minute work. Once I saw the level of enthusiasm the news produced — which I did not expect — I re-evaluated the scope of the work. Since then it has spiralled into a forty-minute drama for a large symphony orchestra and vocal soloists. I wish I had another year to continue to explore all the possibilities.