Inside the Houston Symphony

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Archive for the ‘Salute to Educators’ Category

A celebration of music education

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Esther Liao taking the Houston Symphony stage Image Credit: Jeff Fitlow

Most of us onstage at the Houston Symphony would tell you that we became musicians because, at some point in our early lives, we had a music teacher that made a huge impact on us.  So it’s no surprise to learn that one of our favorite concerts each season is our annual Salute to Educators.  This concert is designed as a celebration of local educators and students and their respective contributions to our community.  In addition to honoring a handful of teachers onstage, we also showcase some of Houston’s finest student musicians.

This year’s concert was held just a couple weeks ago on Feb. 16, and contained three pieces, exactly like you’d find on a typical classical subscription concert: an overture and a concerto in the first half, followed by a symphony in the second.  The primary difference between our Salute to Educators concert and a typical classical concert is not the repertoire performed, but who performs it.

As the opening work on any program sets the tone for the remainder of the evening, its selection and execution are incredibly important.  This year, our opener was the early (and incredibly virtuosic) tone poem by Richard Strauss, Don Juan.  Strauss wrote the piece when he was just 24, so it seemed an appropriate piece to play when celebrating young musicians and their teachers.  The piece is notoriously difficult for orchestras and conductors alike, but is always a huge crowd-pleaser, and the Symphony really delivered with a sensational performance, getting the evening off to a phenomenal start.

While the opener appears just as it would on a classical program, the concerto is where differences begin to crop up: for our Salute to Educators concert, our soloist is not an internationally renowned classical music star (not yet, anyway), but homegrown, young talent from right here in Texas.  The Houston Symphony holds its annual League Concerto Competition each January, which is open to Houston area students 18 years of age or younger, and the winner plays with us one year later on our Salute to Educators program.  This year’s winner was a 13-year-old pianist named Esther Liao, who performed Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto.  Considering that the age limit of this competition is 18, that Esther won when she was just 11 speaks very highly of her talent, but she proved herself more than worthy of her victory with a fantastic performance of the Mendelssohn.  Both the audience and the orchestra loved her playing, and I couldn’t have enjoyed working with her more.  Without question, this fine young pianist from right here in Houston has a very bright future ahead of her.

If performing with one local student is rewarding, performing with dozens of them is a real treat.  For the large work on our Salute to Educators concerts, the Houston Symphony plays side-by-side with one of our Houston area youth orchestras; this season, we played with the Greater Houston Youth Orchestra.  For these side-by-side performances, each youth orchestra member shares a stand with one of our Houston Symphony members while playing one of the great orchestral works of all time (in this case, Beethoven’s immortal Fifth Symphony).  This opportunity is totally invaluable for both the youth orchestra and the Houston Symphony: the youth orchestra members have the opportunity to play a world-class piece with a world-class orchestra, and the Symphony members have the opportunity to share all their accumulated knowledge and experience with the next generation of orchestral musicians, some of whom may eventually even play full-time with the Houston Symphony.  Having both today’s and tomorrow’s musicians onstage together—and honoring the teachers who help make all these achievements possible—really is one of the great thrills of our season!

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Written by bwmconductor

March 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm