Inside the Houston Symphony

Taking you behind the music–one concert at a time!

Broadway really does Rock!

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You don't even have to leave Houston to get a taste of Broadway this weekend!

So, when looking around the conference room during a recent marketing meeting, our resident blog expert rested her eyes on me and said “YOU should right a blog for Broadway Rocks!”  Broadway Rocks, in case you are wondering, is the first POPS concert of the Houston Symphony’s 2010-2011 Season.  It opens this Friday, September 3rd.  The concert includes songs from what we are calling “the latest generation” of Broadway musicals.  The NEW classics (pardon the oxymoron).  Things like Wicked, Rent, Mamma Mia! and The Lion King.  Of course, there are some golden oldies.  How could you do a Broadway concert without a little Phantom of the Opera and the like?

Why did she suggest I write the blog about Broadway Rocks, you ask?  Well, because I am the just the biggest musical theater geek in this entire organization.  My conversations regularly are snippets of Broadway songs that are sung at whomever I’m addressing at the moment.  My belief is that it is a lot more fun to sing and dance your way through your everyday life.  It’s either that, or the fact that I did marketing for an organization that brought touring Broadway shows to local markets, and I worked there for many years.

Julia Murney, who played Elphaba in "Wicked" on Broadway, will be one of the featured vocalists this weekend.

One of the perks of my former job was that once a year, I was “required” to go to New York for a week and see as many shows as I could.  I know…such torture!  So, I’ve had the privilege to see many of the shows that are going to be featured in the upcoming Broadway Rocks concert.  When we first talked about programming this concert, my true colors were seen probably for the first time.  I was new at the time, and when this concert was mentioned, I started to grin and wiggle in my seat.  I couldn’t wait to hear what shows we were going to feature.  And I was NOT disappointed.  And imagine my near accident inducing excitement when I learned that Julia Murney who WAS Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway and on tour is going to be here to perform with the orchestra!  It is going to be so amazing to have her and the other Broadway stars with us to perform this music.

So yeah, I’m a little geeked out by this upcoming concert, and I’m not afraid to admit it.  I have been that girl that stands at the stage door after a show to get my program signed when the cast emerges, and that’s okay.  Part of what I love about the Houston Symphony is that we have something for everyone to enjoy, whether it is a Beethoven, the Music of Led Zeppelin or even a little slice of heaven like Broadway Rocks.  Of course that is my slice of heaven, but to each his own.  If this is not up your alley, then I can guarantee we have something that you will enjoy.  And please don’t judge me, “I Am What I Am!”

The first person to comment with the name of the Broadway show I just referenced will win a pair of tickets to Broadway Rocks!


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

Epic Win: A geek girl’s desperate journey to Distant Worlds

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Let me preface this by stating, on the record, that I am a proud geek.

I will not argue the semantics of labeling myself a “geek” versus a “nerd”, though those among both ranks and in between will say that there is a difference between the two. There is, and I am certain that I fall into the Geekus Maximus species. I could write a whole blog on origins of both terms and their overlapping similarities and stark differences, but that would be digressing. I also will not delve into inaccurate and annoying stereotypes of geeks and nerds perpetuated by the media. Just know that I am not a balding man living in my parents’ basement, and my diet consists of more than just Mountain Dew and microwave mini pizzas. I don’t even drink sodas.

The point is, I am a geek, and when I found out that the Houston Symphony would be presenting Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY, I knew that come Hell, high water, Ragnarok, or the second coming of Cthulu, I would not miss this concert. There would be an even more devastating event, however, that would seek to thwart my attendance to the concert I had been longing to see since Dear Friends – Music from Final Fantasy began its North American tour in 2004. But that’s skipping ahead.

A bit of my geek history: I’ve been a gamer since I was a wee lass of about 6 or 7, weaned on the Nintendo and SNES, raised on the Sega Genesis, and went on to big girl games on the Playstation. Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997, was my first RPG (Role-playing game, for you non-gamers. Think of it as a very involved adventure game. And by involved, I mean 30+ hours of blood, sweat, and thumb blisters to reach completion.) I think FFVII was my first long-term, committed relationship. As I was limited to playing video games only on weekends by my parents, it took me about 5 or so months worth of Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to complete it. At the end, I had logged a total of 72 hours and 56 minutes. I had never devoted that much time, focus, and love to anything in my mere 12 years of life. I wept openly as the ending sequence played and the credits rolled. It was about as moving as watching the earth give birth to the sun at dawn.

It wasn’t just the amazing graphics (Well, amazing for that era of video games.), rich story, and enthralling characters that had drawn me into FFVII and the following titles, but the music as well. Even at the age of 12, there was something about the melodic, emotion-inspiring, soul-touching soundtrack that spoke to my spirit in a way that the Spice Girls and N’Sync could not. Now that I think of it, playing Final Fantasy VII was probably the catalyst for my love of instrumental music. In 1997, people did not so flippantly use their credit card online as we do today, and eBay was a new and exciting marketplace, though not yet as popular or trusted. I begged my parents to let me purchase the four disc Final Fantasy VII soundtrack, imported by a Japanese seller. It was weeks before it arrived. I cried when it did, and proceeded to listen to nothing else for the next month or so.

Fast forward 12 years to Fall 2009 when over a meal of quesadillas at Chuy’s on Westheimer with coworkers, my boss told me that he was considering lining up a Final Fantasy concert for one of the 2010 summer specials. He asked me, as a fan, if I thought such a concert would garner enough interest to be profitable and if people would come. My response, after a squeal of ecstatic delight and some sputtering was a resounding “Hell yes” or some more cruder variant of. Final Fantasy fans are rabid and faithful and being that there had been a limited number of US venues on the Dear Friends and Distant Worlds tours, especially in the south, I knew that such an event would bring flocks of fervent Final Fantasy fans from Texas and beyond to Jones Hall. My boss took my words to heart, and I like to believe I had a hand in bringing Distant Worlds to Houston. The concert, which would include a meet and greet with THE Nobuo Uematsu, renowned Final Fantasy composer and a pioneer in game music, was formally announced and booked for July 24. Two and a half months before the date, I already had my tickets and was counting down the days. My geeky soul could know no greater elation.

And two months before the date, it would know no greater pain. Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana had to have had a personal vendetta against me. I don’t know why, as I had only visited the campus once on the day my little brother began college there four years ago, and had never wished any ill will or gruesome deaths on its students or faculty. All the same, BSU decided to schedule its summer commencement ceremony on July 24 at 10 AM. The very same date as Distant Worlds. MY concert. I had never loathed an institution of higher learning before, but at that moment, I called BSU every depraved, lewd, inappropriate, and nonsensical slur I could think of.

Forced with the decision of missing out on the concert of a lifetime and attending my beloved little brother’s graduation, or possibly suffering banishment from my family and skipping out on his ceremonies to attend Distant Worlds, I was in a conundrum. A bad one. I admit to shedding tears in frustration a few times. My coworkers, knowing my ardent love and unbound excitement for the concert, encouraged me to try to make both work. With 9 hours in between graduation and concert, there had to be some way I could be both doting, dutiful sister and fanatic geek girl.

I managed to book a flight that would arrive in Houston at 6 pm on the 24th. My friend, just as devoted a fan as I (and who I owe so many cookies and hugs to), would pick me up and we would have plenty of time to make it from Hobby airport to Jones Hall for the 7:30 pm start time. There was little room for error and delay, but it would work.

In theory. I must have jinxed myself. Or pissed someone off in a previous life.

The first blow came two days before, when my shuttle bus from Muncie, IN (a good hour away from the Indianapolis airport) was canceled. Or filled. I don’t know, but it just didn’t exist anymore. My parents, already upset that I was “putting a stupid video game concert before family” (Oh, the blasphemy! I cringe at having to type the very words!), refused to rush away from my brother’s ceremonies to see me to the airport. It was by the kind grace of an obscure uncle I hadn’t talked to in at least 8 years that I was able to procure a ride that very morning after the graduation to Indianapolis International. I made my first flight to Chicago with an hour until my next that would take me to Hobby. I was halfway there!

The second twist of the knife came at 3:30, when the plane for my 3:20 flight had still not yet arrived. Boarding would not start until 4. At 6:45, the plane was just beginning its descent into Houston. I probably freaked out the older woman and man I sat between with my nervous twitching, sweating, and muttered curses. Would my friend still be at the airport?! Would I make the concert?! There would be late seating, but I knew they were playing Prelude first, one of my favorite pieces. I would weep openly like many babies if I missed it.

Ever dutiful to me and our shared geekery, my friend, who had been circling Hobby airport for nearly an hour, was still there waiting for me. I tossed my bags into the backseat and did a flying leap into the front. It was 7:08 by the time we got on I-45, which inexplicably was backed up with traffic (On a Saturday evening?! Por que, Houston?!). My coworkers and a friend who had come to see the concert from Louisiana were texting me: “Where are you?!” “They’ve started seating!” “You can make it! Go go!”

At 7:30, we were parked and literally running through the parking garage. We bolted, panting with labored breaths, sweating, up three flights of stairs and ran across Louisiana Street. We shoved our tickets at the ushers. Beyond them, I could see the doors to the hall being closed, slowly and threateningly. Melissa and another coworker saw us and were gesturing frantically. Everything moved in slow motion. I did not breathe and my heart did not beat. Dancing Mad was on repeat in my head.

We literally passed through the door into the hall just as they were closing up for the concert. It was a photo-freakin’-finish, but we made it.

Natalie and her friend Kerry at the post-concert meet and greet with Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY composer Nobuo Uematsu and conductor Arnie Roth

In the end, I heard the entire concert, from the harp-lead, graceful Prelude to the operatic, thundering One-Winged Angel, a fan favorite encore that had the entire crowd brimming with a nerdy energy that was thick and tangible in the air. I attended the Q&A session and the meet and greet after. Composer Nobuo Uematsu and conductor Arnie Roth already knew of me and my desperate journey to get to Houston, as our magazine editor, Jessica, had told them about my devotion to Distant Worlds earlier during rehearsal. She even got them to sign a magazine for me wishing me happy birthday.

I was delirious with contented bliss and general weariness from moving since 7:15 am when I went to bed that night, my headphones on with my newly purchased and signed CD cradled lovingly to my chest. Aerith’s Theme lulled me into much needed sleep as I reflected on how I never imagined I would make that night work. But I did, and it was the best night any geek girl could ever ask for.

Written by Natalie

July 28, 2010 at 8:58 am

Congratulations to our Oh Snap Photo Contest winners!

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Thanks to everyone who participated in our first ever Oh Snap! Summer Symphony Nights photo contest! You guys took some awesome pictures during our concert series at Miller Outdoor Theatre in June and for the Fourth of July, making it hard for us to pick just one. The winner of each category will receive a pair of vouchers to use at one of our 2010-2011 season concerts! And now, it’s time to announce the lucky winners — drumroll, please…

Best Performance Shot

Photo by Aaron Kovach

Best Family/Friends Shot

Photo by Serdar Dogan, from his family album

Little Deniz – 6 months old when the photo was taken- immensely enjoyed the Foxtrot and Mendelssohn’s third by Houston Symphony last June, 2010.

Best Fireworks Shot

Photo © Bethany Quillin

I had such a wonderful time at the Independence Day concert! It had been quite a while since the last time I went to see the Houston Symphony so it was literally a breathtaking experience. Listening to sentimental patriotic songs and viewing the gorgeous fireworks display made the Fourth of July this year a night to remember!

Best Venue Shot

Photo by Adam T. Baker

I’ve been a Russophile for years, so I was counting down the days until the Houston Symphony played Tchaikovsky at the Miller Outdoor Theatre. To my delight, I noticed that the International Space Station (ISS) would fly overhead during the performance! As the moment drew near during the concert, I was focused on the symphony and almost forgot to look at the night sky. But, suddenly, the ISS flew overheard. It was truly magical to see the ISS while enjoying Tchaikovsky. I was floating 3 feet above the lawn. It took all my willpower to take my eyes off the ISS and snap a photo!

Best Audience Shot

Photo by oncke1

Check out all of the entries by visitng our Flickr group – and as always – we’d love you to submit your Houston Symphony-related photos to share with other fans!

Who Wants to Live Forever

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On July 22, The Music of Queen will join Houston Symphony for a full rock-band concert experience

So, I was recently asked what my favorite Queen memory is … and I honestly didn’t know the answer.

I’m too young to have experienced the greatness in person, but I’ve reaped the benefits of their immortality.  Most Queen moments in my life include singing at the top of my lungs in the car to Queen’s CD’s or to the classics I have loaded on my iPod.  And if you don’t already know, Queen is great running music.  They’re always my first choice, although my urge to sing along can make this difficult. I usually just end up looking like Chad from Burn After Reading on the treadmill.  Air drums are much easier than trying to sing along in that scenario.

I didn’t really know anything about Queen until I was in high school.  Of course, I knew some of their songs due to various happenings throughout my life, like “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Wayne’s World and “We Are the Champions” through back-to-back Houston Rockets Championship. And I also knew that “Under Pressure” sounded a lot like “Ice Ice Baby” (just as much as I know you die hard fans are cringing right now at that admission).  But I didn’t even know who sang those songs.  My big brother was the one who introduced me to the band, and I’m eternally grateful to him.

The thing I love the most about Queen is how they can relate to my everyday life.  I like to listen to “Fat Bottomed Girls” while running and “Bicycle Race” while riding the bike.  My husband and I like to duet to “Don’t Stop Me Now”  cause we’re “Havin’ a good time, havin’ a good time…”.

Anyway, once I became a Queen fan, I was always impressed how their music has stayed relevant and engaging.  As recently as last year, Queen music has been featured in TV shows, movies and even Broadway.  From Glee (Yes, I’m a proud Gleek) to Lady Gaga (who got the inspiration for her fame name from Queen’s “Radio GaGa”), to Wayne’s World, Moulin Rouge, Shaun of the Dead and Happy Feet. Did I mention they also got their very own Broadway and West End show? Their music is all around us even today.

Why is this the case?  Well, the music is just plain FUN.  It’s also relatable, sing-along-able, iconic and … well, fun.  The other reason it is picked to be in so many movies is because you can pretty much find a Queen song to go into any scenario.  Perhaps I am such a fan because of the theatricality of the group and their music, especially Freddie Mercury.  I feel like I’m in the midst of a BIG SHOW whenever I hear one of their songs.  It makes people (at least it makes me) want to sing and dance and put on lots of eyeliner.

Needless to say, I’m super excited that the Music of Queen is coming to the Houston Symphony.  And as a marketing person all I want to do is project this excitement to other people so they will come see the show.  Luckily, Queen has given us lots of tools to get the word out — what more could a marketing person ask for with songs titles like “The Show Must Go On” and “We Will Rock You” and one-liners like “It’s a kind of magic”?

If you join us on July 22nd at Jones Hall, we can promise a fun, sing-along-able, theatrical and still relevant concert that everyone can enjoy, and “We Will [definitely] Rock You.”  I’m living proof that you don’t have to be of the Queen era to love this music.  It transcends the 70’s and 80’s and lives on today!

So to all you Queen fans, since I was so lame and couldn’t think of just one favorite Queen moment, I want to hear your’s.  Comment and let us know what you remember about growing up with (or getting thrown into) The Music of Queen!

Written by Allison Gilbert

July 1, 2010 at 9:25 am

A Celestial Summer in the City

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One thing that is always fun for us while we’re planning our Summer in the City concerts, is that we’re able to go a little bit outside of the box with our programming and marketing. It’s our hope that by doing so, we’ll get some people to experience the Symphony who may have never done so before, and also offer up programming that has a fun and relaxing vibe perfect for the summer months. Fresh faces, new concert experiences and a varied audience are what make our July concerts great for everyone!

Think of it as a 3-week span in which you can not only hear famous, well-known classical pieces such as Gustav Holst’s The Planets, but also get sprung forward to hear the Star Wars Suite, followed the next weekend by a double whammy – a symphony “rock concert” highlighting a classic band, and a video gamers dream concert (complete with a composer who attends the performance!)

Clarinetist Stanislav Golovin

Coming up next week, Hans Graf will be back in town, wholeheartedly welcoming you to the annual Houston Chronicle Dollar Concert on July 10. For only $1 per ticket, come hear your Orchestra in Jones Hall, as well as Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, performed by Stanislav Golovin, the grand prize winner of the Ima Hogg Competition.

And of course, we’re all excited to bring back two performances of The Planets — An HD Odyssey plus Star Wars on July 16 & 17. Those of you who didn’t make it to the January world premiere event now have the chance to experience this multi-media project before we take it to the U.K. in October.

So the question is: Will you be joining us?

Music From the Outside In

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Today’s post was written by our brand new Intern, Keith. A recent graduate of Rice University, Keith is hanging out in our Jones Hall offices and soaking up all he can about working for an arts organization. This time around, he shares his view about engaging new audiences and why it’s important for Orchestras to do so. Keep an eye out for more blog posts from Keith in the coming months!

Here’s one thing they don’t teach you at school: How to build an audience. I recently graduated with my master’s degree in music performance, and I was critiqued and challenged in many ways. But one question was never addressed: “Why put on a performance if nobody comes?”

An average flyer for a school recital reads like this: “Tonight!!! Violin Recital. Hear works by Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann. Reception to follow.” It’s boring, but only because it’s designed to get their friends to stop practicing and come hear a show. It offers nothing more than the promise that there will in fact be free music and food, which is usually good enough for starving students. In the real world, it doesn’t work.

At a time when Orchestras all over the world are trying to grab the attention of new audiences, they do in part still stick to what they know (said flyers, billboards, radio promotions, etc.) My question is: What does that really offer a potential new audience? It seems in this age of entertainment oversaturation, we need to provide something more engaging, more relevant.

Like an increasing number of classical musicians (and music fans in general), I did not grow up listening to classical music. The first CD I bought was the Fugees. I spent more hours dissecting the dizzying wordplay of Mos Def and Talib Kweli than the formal structure of a Beethoven Symphony. When I got a car in high school I promptly installed subwoofers and blasted Kanye West, as opposed to Mahler.

Which brings us to Kanye’s song “Gone”. In it he offers, “Maybe you can be my intern, and in turn, I’ll show you how to cook up summer in the winter.” These words have been ringing in my ears lately as I recently began working at the Houston Symphony as the Digital Media/Marketing Intern. In the spirit of Kanye, I’d like to amend his statement slightly: “Maybe you can be my intern, and in turn, I’ll give you valuable work experience directly related to your interests (and maybe even a job one day).”

Although I nabbed the coveted “close friends and relatives” demographic for my recitals, I rarely thought about how to attract new audiences. Or what audiences really want. Or what motivates people to seek out transformative artistic experiences. But what could be more important for a musician, or arts organization, to know?

Photo Credit: Alessio85

One way Orchestras are engaging new audiences is through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Photo Credit: Alessio85

Luckily, Orchestras have recently been leading the way in terms of reaching out to new fans. While venues like the Poisson Rouge in New York City cater to the hipster/crossover crowd, the Houston Symphony is reaching out to all the music-lovers in Houston.

Taking the music to the people is a great way to get them interested. This summer, the Sounds Like Fun! series had the symphony playing everywhere from churches to high schools. The Symphony Summer Nights Series (try saying that 5 times fast!) takes place at Miller Outdoor Theater, where fans can picnic on the hill while hearing great music. On that note, don’t forget that there are still three more concerts at Miller – including a 4th of July spectacular featuring the Texas Tenors.

Technology is also playing a part. Recent experiments by the Houston Symphony have put the audience in control and given them greater ownership of the experience. Houston’s first-ever “Tweetcert” sent specially written program notes in real time to concertgoers’ smart phones. Another concert let fans pick from a number of encores via text.

It’s been said that if Miles Davis didn’t turn his back on the audience, the Beatles wouldn’t have been able to invade so easily. People may feel that classical music turned its back on them, but it’s encouraging and fulfilling to be a part of an organization that tirelessly seeks out music lovers in new ways.

Written by Houston Symphony

June 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm

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