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How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Part 1)

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We can hardly believe that summer has come to a close, and the 2010-2011 season is about to start! After the hustle-and-bustle of our Symphony Summer in the City concerts, our musicians and many staffers took some much needed vacation time. In this special series, they wanted to share with YOU what they’ve been up to all summer! Here’s a sampling of who’s been where, from Alaska to California – even over to Asia’s Forbidden City.

Associate Conductor Robert Franz was in Alaska to conduct the Festival Orchestra at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival:

On our day off, a few friends and I took a trip up to Denali National Forest in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Mt. McKinley. I had seen the peak in the distance one night when the conditions were just right from Fairbanks. The sun “setting” (or at least getting a bit lower in the sky) created an orange cast on the west side of the mountain. It was spectacular. So, I ventured to the park with the hope of catching a glimpse of the great mountain much closer. The problem is that the Mountain hides on most days behind the clouds, and my day up there was no exception. I’m going to have to try again next year! I did, however see a cornucopia of animals…a moose, an Antelope, a coyote, a coyote eating an antelope, and the grizzly bears that you see in the picture.

Principal Cello Brinton Smith wrote in about his trip this summer to California, but admits even he’s ready to get back to work with the orchestra!

After spending the last few summers running madly from music festival to music festival, this year I actually managed to work in a real vacation going up the coast of California. On the musical side of things we met up with my former cello section from the San Diego Symphony, some ex-students in Los Angeles and then my entire family (including assorted dogs) in Santa Cruz. It was a great vacation but there is so much that I’m looking forward to this fall that I’m already itching to hear the first notes of the new season!

Allison Garza, who plays both flute and piccolo in the orchestra, is enjoying an outdoors-y summer with her husband, Jeff:

I am so lucky to be spending my summer in some really beautiful and awesome places – Yosemite, Redwoods, Crater Lake, Aspen and the Berkshires. I absolutely love being outdoors, camping and hiking. I have enjoyed several very chilly nights under the stars and am saving up that cool feeling for when I return to Houston! I am also reading a ton – my suitcase is a bit heavy with all these books. Maybe I should get a Kindle before next summer? I’ve been taking a break from my flute and piccolo and am truly looking forward to playing in Jones Hall again soon!

Second Violin Kiju Joh certainly stayed busy this summer with guest performances in China and South Korea. Here she shares this photo – a breathtaking view of the Forbidden City from the top of Jingshan Par in Beijing, China.

I was fortunate to experience blue skies that day! In the upper right, you can see The Egg, or the National Centre for the Performing Arts. The design/size of the structure is breathtaking. There, I performed with the Asia Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Myung-Whun Chung. We then travelled to Seoul, South Korea (where I am currently staying) and performed two more concerts. One, at the Incheon Culture and Arts Center, and then at the Seoul Arts Center. I am in bbq beef, kimchi, garlic, and soju heaven!

To keep up with this series, make sure to check back soon for Part 2, or “like” our Facebook page


How to: The Symphony Shuffle

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You too can learn to do the Symphony Shuffle! Follow these easy step-by-step instructions and you’ll be on the FAST track to a career in arts administration!

Choose a destination; this is where you’ll find yourself in a few moments time.

1. Stand with feet facing forward, and legs shoulder-width apart.

2. Lean your head down so you can clearly see your feet.

Note: Be sure to keep your head down and your eyes on your feet at all times to ensure you don’t trip; this will also allow you to avoid caloric distractions (such as cookies and donuts) as well as any co-workers that may want to chit-chat while you’re doing the shuffle!

3. Lean forward at a 45° angle, then move your right foot forward.

4. Now, move your left foot forward, you should still be leaning at a 45° angle, as if you’re about to charge forwards.

5. Repeat steps #3 and #4 in rapid succession; try to do this as quickly as possible without running.

6. Once you’ve reached your destination, you’ve done the Symphony Shuffle!

The Symphony Shuffle will:

  1. Improve your cardio and help build muscle mass!
  2. Help you get to your sixth meeting of the day on time!
  3. Allow you to make it to the restroom and back to your desk in 30 seconds flat!

Warning: DO NOT attempt the Symphony Shuffle with heels exceeding two inches in height.

Written by sarahjeanhso

June 24, 2010 at 10:48 am

Confessions of a gulit-ridden classical music lover

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Dear Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky and all of the other great composer “Gods”:

I come to you a musical sinner. It has been … er… a while since my last confession.  I have sinned because I have listened to a variety of Top 40 radio stations every day for a really long time, and, well, um … I really like it.  I know, I know … I’m supposed to listen to NPR and know every symphony and opera and concerto ever performed on the face of the planet.  But I don’t because I’m too busy listening to today’s top hits.  I’m sorry … I guess.

But you have to understand, I just can’t tear myself away from it!  I have fond memories of rocking out to No Doubt as a teenager.  My husband and I happen to love the newest Ludacris album — those beats! Those rhymes!  Lady Antebellum, it is a quarter after one and I really do need you now!  It is a bad romance and you shouldn’t be plagued by the Papa-paparazzi Lady Gaga!

… Sorry … what was I saying?  Oh yes …

Surely you can understand why I’m torn.  I like to think that I’m just a harmless rebel.  I can have my classical music cake and eat it too, just with a decadent layer of modern pop/rap/country/techno goodness on top.  I promise, I love classical music and it is definitely part of my soul.  I guess I just can’t be completely faithful to the genre.  And really, is that a bad thing?  You were a bit of a rebel yourself, Stravinksy. And Mozart, you were kind of like the Jonas brother of your day, with your child prodigy-ness.  Right?

OK, so all I am saying, oh composer “Gods”, is that I like all music.  I can’t help it.  Generally music helps me to express myself a whole lot better than words can.  Sometimes I’m in the mood to listen to a Rachmaninov piano concerto, while other times I’m more in the mood to dance in my car to the newest Beyonce hit.  Does that really make me a musical sinner?  Honestly, I don’t think so.  Hopefully, you all see my argument and can understand.  If not, I guess I will just be forced to go listen to rehearsal as “penance”.

Ha!  As if that is really a punishment … looks like the joke is on you!

One slightly-guilt-ridden classical music lover

Written by Meredith Williams

May 14, 2010 at 9:41 am

Musicians About Town

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Elise Wagner at Discovery Green

What makes people feel connected to the Houston Symphony?  That question was my challenge for our season campaign.  Is it the experience, is it the programming, is it the local arts aspect?  All of the above actually, and for the 2010-2011 Season, we decided to focus on the connection of hometown pride.  This city has a lot of pride for the arts scene because we have one of the best. Of course, this is from a hometown girl’s perspective, but hey, I’m the one writing the blog here.  We wanted to connect our musicians and our organization with the people of this city on a personal level with something we can all relate to.  And what we can all relate to, hopefully, is that we are all a part of Houston (and surrounding areas), and we can be proud of our local talent and arts organizations.  Our marketing campaign is all about that connection.

In order to create this connection we decided to work out a campaign where we show our musicians with their instruments in recognizable locations around the city.  Locations like Discovery Green, Hermann Park and a Metro Rail station.  We used taglines such as “Music for Houston.  Music for YOU.”  We also incorporated photos with the musicians in the various locations with patrons, and relating quotes about their symphony experiences.

Phillip Freeman with patron Gina Stevens at the Metro Rail.

We had a great time working on a photo shoot for this.  We had one day to have 2 photographers, 7 Symphony musicians, 3 marketers, 5 patrons and 4 locations all coordinated into an around town shoot.  One of the most eventful of these photo shoots was the one with Phillip Freeman of our orchestra who plays the bass trombone.  We scheduled him as the second to last shoot of the day at the Metro Rail station near the Medical Center.  So we got there with dreams of doing all kinds of fantastic shots with our musician and patrons on and around the trains arriving and departing.  We got all set up with cameras, tripods, lights, etc. only to be kicked off the platform by the metro police within ten minutes.  Apparently you need a permit to take pictures here.  So, our brilliant plan was foiled, and we moved across the street to do the rest of our photo shoot in front of one of the Medical Center buildings.  As we were wrapping up, here comes yet another metro police vehicle.  We were questioned a second time and given our second warning of the day not to get back on the Metro Rail platform.  My favorite line of the day was from our fearless Marketing leader, Glenn Taylor.  When we were asked “Who is in charge here?” He boldly replied, “I guess that can be me.”

Anyway, we ended up with some amazing shots that are being used as we speak in all our marketing materials for the 10-11 Season.  You can find them in brochures (click here to view the brochures online), print ads and online.  And, coming soon you will see some more casual shots of our musicians downtown for our Symphony Summer in the City campaign.  The hope is that seeing the musicians about town in your own city relates that they are Houstonians like us who love this city, and want to bring you the best music they can offer.  The Arts in Houston is truly thriving, and we, as Houstonians, should have pride in the caliber of music, visual art and performance art this city offers.

Support the arts in any way you can because we all want it to be around for our children and our children’s children.  I think the best possible way you can support the arts in Houston is to subscribe to the 10-11 Symphony Season … but that’s just me.

Written by Allison Gilbert

April 22, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Is it summer already?!

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Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt

This post comes from Melissa, one of our marketing directors. She lives and breathes anything having to do with special projects, including The Planets — An HD Odyssey, the summer concert series as well as our holiday concerts, to name a few. Is it summer already? Melissa’s excited for you guys to come see us!

I took my 7-year-old daughter to her first, in her words “grown-up concert” last night — Eschenbach and Lang Lang.

She’s been to many of the Sounds Like Fun! and Weatherford Family series concerts over the years. She remembers fondly when conductor Robert Franz was wheeled out on stage dressed as Toto to start the Wizard of OZ concert, and  I thought for sure her favorite piece that day would be the Orchestral Suite from the Wizard of Oz. But it turns out it was Mosolov’s Iron Foundry from Stal’ because it “sounded just like I think a factory would sound, Mom.” With that comment, I thought she’d be ready to attend a Houston Symphony evening concert.

My daughter has been taking piano lessons for almost 2 years and loves listening to classical music, mainly Baroque—because she can dance her latest ballet moves to Bach, Vivaldi and Handel. So I thought she would enjoy hearing young musicians in the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra and Lang Lang.

Last night, she marveled at the speed at which the violins played Prokovfiev’s First Symphony. And we were close enough to the stage that when Lang Lang sat down to the piano she openly worried “Mom, he forgot something!”  I then explained to my young piano student that Lang Lang has memorized what he is going to play—and that comment was met with the certain all to familiar look of “are you sure?”

You may be wondering how this all ties in to the title of this blog. Well, after intently listening to Prokovfiev’s First Symphony and the first two movements of the Piano Concerto, my 7-year-old was fast asleep in her chair. As I looked over and watched her, I shook my head in wonder at how fast time flies, how another school year is almost over, how we are planning summer camps and family vacations, and how I am planning the marketing campaigns for another Symphony Summer in the City season.  I debated if I should end that last sentence with a period or an exclamation mark—-I haven’t decided how I actually feel about that just yet! You’ll have to ask me when I am working out the marketing plans for our Christmas concerts in June!

Check out the Houston Symphony website, where we’re announcing the Symphony Summer in the City schedule. You will be able to see when we are performing free concerts in a neighborhood near you as a part of our Sounds Like Fun! series and at Miller Outdoor Theatre — both for our June classical concerts and our annual 4th of July concert.

If you are anything like me, you’ll wonder “where did the time go?” But you’ve enjoyed every minute of that wild, wonderful, hectic and beautiful journey called life.

Written by Houston Symphony

April 15, 2010 at 1:51 pm

I Heart Tchaikovsky: A Not-So-Torrid Love Affair

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Have you ever played the game with your friends where you can pick one person, living or dead, to have dinner with and discuss anything you want?  Some people may pick a celebrity – maybe Marilyn Monroe to find out if all the rumors were true, or Justin Bieber to see if his hair moves at all (am I the only person fascinated by this kid’s hair?) Some people may pick a president or other world leader to discuss deep, significant topics.  But I don’t really fit into either category, because I would pick a dead composer to stare at and then giggle like a school girl.

I’ve always loved Tchaikovsky.  I remember watching the TV version of The Nutcracker as a kid, more enthralled with the music than the dancing.  At one point, my sister and I made up a whole dance routine around the music for Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (yes, we still remember how to do it, and no, I won’t perform it in public for anyone).  My high school private lesson teacher, Mrs. Hackney, was the piccolo player for the Houston Ballet, and I remember being so envious that she got to play the amazing piccolo part for the Nutcracker every year.

Once I got to college, I developed a serious crush on this composer.  I was introduced to his concertos and symphonies.  I wrote several papers on his life and musical style.  It is hard for me to explain, but I connect with his work in ways that just do not compare to other composers.  My personal favorite is Symphony No. 4 in F minor.  I can pretty much sing the entire symphony to you, and I’m always trying to find a way to tell someone about this piece.  Before I worked for the Houston Symphony, I was the Education Director for the Akron Symphony Orchestra in Akron, Ohio.  I did a few elementary school presentations and used this piece to demonstrate how you can be inspired by music to create your own story with your imagination.  We listened to the first few minutes of each movement, and then developed our own story based on what we heard.  My favorite was a story that involved a princess who was lost in the woods and had to battle Were-Mice.  In case you do not know what a Were-Mouse is, it is basically a werewolf, but a mouse instead of a wolf.  The teacher loved the whole presentation, and she told me it was a great way to make the students think creatively.  I loved that I had exposed my favorite composer to a group of students in a new way.

I once had a friend who scoffed at my admiration for Tchaikovsky, declaring that most of his work was “fluff at best.”  I could not believe it.  I was in too much shock to argue in the heat of the moment, though this particular friend would probably not be swayed as Mahler and Wagner are his go-to ‘easy listening’ composers.  I thought about his comment for awhile, and I came to this conclusion: some people may find Tchaikovsky’s music fluff because it is, above all, else accessible and popular.  Tchaikovsky (in my humble opinion) is a master when it comes to grabbing your ear.  Almost any individual can hum one of The Nutcracker themes, or instantly recognize the love theme from Romeo & Juliet.  The opening of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor is classic and instantly commands the audience’s attention.  What little girl didn’t dance in a ballet class to the music of Swan Lake (or later, as a teenager, drool over Saved By The Bell’s Zach Morris dancing in the Bayside High production of Swan Lake)?  No July 4 picnic is complete without a performance of the 1812 Overture, cannons and all.  Accessibility is the name of the game, and it is a great tool for orchestras to utilize when trying to draw in more patrons.  Like Tchaikovsky?  Here, you might like Mendelssohn or Beethoven or Shostakovich or any number of composers.  To say he is merely fluff is truly short sighted (and given my crush, kinda mean).

This weekend’s concert opens with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.  I, of course, know the piece inside and out, and I am very excited to hear our orchestra play it live.  However, I’m also equally excited for the Barber Violin Concerto and Shostakovich Symphony No. 5.  If you don’t know the works, you should definitely try to come out to Jones Hall for a listen.  Don’t be intimidated – allow Tchaikovsky to hook you and then just sit back, relax and enjoy!

Written by Meredith Williams

April 6, 2010 at 8:08 am

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Are you Classical or are you Pops?

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Music Director Hans Graf

So, as I understand it, this blog is meant to put the reader inside the Houston Symphony team, so you can see what we are all about.  It is with that in mind that I write the following …

I have been with the Houston Symphony for about 6 months as the Director of Marketing, Subscriptions.  Before that I worked at another arts organization that shall remain nameless.  Now, while I am a person who does not listen to classical music in my down time, although I will admit that I own and listen to the Mozart Makes You Smarter CD, it has been a part of my life since I was a young girl.

My family is very musical.  My grandfather was the tenor in a barbershop quartet, and both of my parents played instruments in high school and college.  My dad started out as a piano major in college, but switched to an engineering degree once he realized the implications of being a “starving artist.”  And while all of my siblings have ended up in the arts in some way, I went the musical path and went to college to be a music major.  I studied classical music, and became familiar with much of the beautiful repertoire the Houston Symphony plays.  While I was not an instrumentalist, but a vocalist, I spent many semesters in Music History classes, instrumental recitals given by friends and countless hours of sitting in darkened theaters listening to the instrumental classical repertoire.  I will admit, to the disdain of many classical music enthusiasts, that it was not my first choice in musical genre.  Yes, my goal from the very beginning was Broadway.  I wanted to be in Musical Theatre so bad, I could taste it!

So why in the world was I accepted to the very prestigious music school that did not have a single musical theatre class instead of the school that was renowned for that very thing?  Turns out I don’t have the Broadway voice that I coveted, but was very well suited to singing classical music.  So that is what I was taught.  It was an extremely rewarding experience in my life, and I still sing classical repertoire.  But, like my father, I believed my talent was not to the point that I could be anything other than a “starving artist.”  And that is what led me to go into the business side of the Performing Arts.

So, to finally get to the point, I ended up with a strange inner struggle between my love and devotion to Broadway and my admiration and respect for the caliber of music in the classical world.  The good news is I am able to really identify with both the classical and the pops genres that are the Houston Symphony products.  I was not surprised to learn that most people usually drift toward either the classical or the pops side, and I am some sort of hybrid because I like both.  I feel a kinship with those subscribers who have both the classical and the pops series, few though they may be.

Principal Pops Conductor Mike Krajewski

In the marketing world, we try to identify what motivates both the classical and pops buyers.  I find it extremely interesting that the patrons for those two genres are motivated differently.  It is an amazing challenge to try to touch the right points with each potential patron depending on the genre of music they are more likely to have an interest in.  Even though I have only been with the Symphony for a short time, I have the feeling that this challenge is going to be a part of my professional career here for a very long time.  It is one thing I enjoy about the work so much.  My colleagues and I have a hunger to learn about our patrons and what is relevant to them.  What drives them to like one type of music over another, and ultimately, how can I reach them with a message they will act on?  How do I know that one particular person will respond to a concert like Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony versus a concert like Broadway Rocks!?  There are several ways we have identified so far, but I am determined that I will always be asking this question, and always seeking more answers.

In the end, the Houston Symphony has both products, plus several others like the Family and Summer Concert Series’, so we can reach out to the entire city, and hopefully have something everyone will enjoy.  Music is so important, and to be a part of an organization that reaches such a variety of musical tastes is extremely rewarding to me.  Now, on to my challenge of reaching the masses with our message of “We have something for YOU” in a way that is relevant and meaningful to them, and will hopefully lead to more people coming to the Symphony.  We have built it!  Will you come?

Written by Allison Gilbert

April 5, 2010 at 9:33 am