Inside the Houston Symphony

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Posts Tagged ‘beethoven

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

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

Making friends through music

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Check out Symphony Supporter Ann Anderson's new book!

March 28th marked my first six months working at the Houston Symphony as a Patron Services Specialist.  In the short time that I have been here, I have forged special relationships with several patrons who have been willing to open their hearts and welcome me into their Houston Symphony experience.  There are so many different people that I could highlight in this blog—many people who not only made the commitment to support the Symphony through their various resources, but they have influenced my life with their passion for our organization and helping us share great music with the Houston community. This time, I think I will choose the woman who was one of the first to touch my heart.

The first day on the job making fundraising calls I was met with a few sneers and abrupt hang-ups. Then, I called Ann Anderson for a renewal gift to our annual fund.  During the course of the conversation, I found out that she was not able to attend the Beethoven’s 9th concert at the beginning of the year, as it was the anniversary of her husband’s passing.  The atmosphere of the conversation suddenly changed.  After a few brief words and her consideration to renew her gift, Ann quietly hung up the receiver.  I’m not sure why, but that particular phone call stuck with me that day.  Even though I hardly knew this woman at all, I felt compelled to write her a note of encouragement.  I did not really know whether Ann would appreciate it or be appalled, but there was something in my spirit that wouldn’t let me let that brief encounter go.

A couple of weeks later, we received Ann’s donation to our Annual Fund.  When I contacted her with a follow-up thank you call, she was thrilled to talk to me.  She said she had been meaning to call and thank me for the note that I sent.  She had shown neighbors and friends, and was so touched by my letter.  We spent the next thirty minutes talking about her late husband and her latest project as a first-time author.  At the conclusion of the phone conversation, we agreed to meet at one of the upcoming concerts.

After that initial meeting, Ann and I have corresponded occasionally through mail, e-mail, during concerts and at private rehearsals.  I have had the privilege of meeting her friends and reading her book, A Blind Raccoon in the Family.  Aside from meeting Ann in person, I think one of the best gifts I’ve received was reading her book. Through the very descriptive narrative, the book allowed me to be able to become acquainted with her home life and with her late husband.  It really is a wonderful story of one woman’s relationship with a wild animal which reinforces her ideals of resilience, courage and the triumphs in motherhood.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Ann telling me that she is moving to North Carolina to be closer to family.  Although Ann said she will more than likely become a subscriber of the Charlotte Symphony, she will definitely miss the Houston Symphony’s world class performances. There is definitely a bit of sadness, even as I write this blog, knowing that a friendship I have made through the Symphony may come to an end.  I will definitely miss seeing such a warm familiar face during performances and private rehearsals.  When I asked her what she will miss most about the Houston Symphony, she responded, “I’ll certainly miss you. You’ve renewed my faith in human nature.  I’ll also miss the way the music enfolds me and lifts my spirits.  Live classical music played by the Houston Symphony enriches my life. It’s so much better than listening to a recording.  It’s a whole body experience that brings me joy every time I attend.”

There are probably hundreds of Houston Symphony patrons that could share similar stories of relationships that have begun with a trip to a performance.  Some patrons have told me that they became friends over the years because they have had subscription seats next to one another for so long.  One woman told me that she gets a pair of subscription seats every year because she likes bringing family and friends who really haven’t been exposed to orchestral music.

In the brief time that I’ve worked here at the Symphony, I’ve come to realize how important relationships really are and how natural relationship-building is in this setting.   Being able to share music with others is such a lasting gift.  However it’s more than that.  It’s about sharing life experiences with others through a common bond.  Music is only the beginning.

Written by jessicajf

April 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 — beauty created amid chaos

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It was 1902 when Finnish composer Jean Sibelius finished his Symphony No. 2 – right at a time when his country was struggling with Russian oppression through extreme sanctions on the Finnish language and culture. While Finland fought for its independence as best it could, Sibelius’ composition became the unofficial light at the end of the tunnel – the voice of Finnish nationalism – and gave a renewed hope to the Finnish people, a perfect example of beauty created in the midst of chaos.

Art grows from the depths of the soul, and many of the greatest creations in history came to pass as a result of the artist’s emotional state and experiences. Just as German artist Käthe Kollwitz was deeply inspired by the atrocities she witnessed during Nazi-controlled Germany, and Beethoven’s love/hate relationship with Napoleon Bonaparte resulted in his Eroica Symphony, Sibelius, too, was influenced by the extreme oppression he lived in.

Regarded as one of his most popular works, the Slavic gloom present in many of Sibelius’ previous works is replaced with a “Mediterranean light” in Symphony No. 2. It was not only influenced by the optimism Finland tried to hold on to, but also by the Italian costal village where Sibelius was vacationing when he composed the piece.

Of the work, Finnish conductor and highly-acclaimed interpreter of Sibelius, Osmo Vänskä, explained its significance.

“The second symphony is connected with our nation’s fight for independence, but it is also about the struggle, crisis and turning-point in the life of an individual,” Vänskä said. “This is what makes it so touching.”

Hear this beautiful Symphony next weekend, with Hannu Lintu guest conducting his fellow countryman’s piece, along with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 and Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra, featuring German cellist Alban Gerhardt.

Written by Houston Symphony

March 8, 2010 at 4:29 pm

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!

Written by bwmconductor

March 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Welcome to the 2010-2011 Houston Symphony season!

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Frank Huang, new Houston Symphony concertmaster

The new Houston Symphony season promises to be a momentous one.  With several new collaborations, a new concert master, orchestra member solo spotlights and unique explorations of works, Hans Graf and the Houston Symphony have brought new ideas and innovation back to the concert stage.  This is a season you will not want to miss!

Classical guest artists include returning friends of the Houston Symphony Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham and Yefim Bronfman, while debuting a new generation of musical talent in pianists Gabriela Montero and Markus Groh and conductors Juanjo Mena and Juraj Valcuha.  Classical season highlights include Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, Verdi’s Requiem, Scheherazade and Ravel’s Bolero.

Among the POPS line-up, Kenny Loggins, Chris Botti, and Broadway’s Mary Poppins, Ashley Brown, will visit Jones Hall in the new season.  The POPS season also includes an homage to Frank Sinatra with another Houston debut artist, Matt Dusk.  Ellis Hall, an American artist also making his Houston Symphony debut, will perform a tribute concert to Ray Charles.  Hall was a former protégé and friend of the great Ray Charles.

New Concertmaster

In addition, the Houston Symphony is proud to announce our new concertmaster, Frank Huang, an award-winning violinist who grew up in the Houston area.

“Growing up in Houston, I loved going to symphony performances, and I feel so honored to be able to come back now and actually be a part of them!” said Mr. Huang.  “It is so exciting to return to my hometown, and I am really looking forward to getting to know all the wonderful musicians and staff at the symphony.”

He debuts with the Symphony on Opening Night Saturday, September 11, 2010, performing Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante with Wayne Brooks, principal violist.


Joshua Bell, violin

The Houston Symphony is also proud to announce several new collaborations this season.  In November, 2010, the Houston Symphony will perform Lawrence Siegel’s Kaddish “I Am Here” in partnership with the Holocaust Museum Houston.  The oratorio includes lyrics derived from interviews with 15 Holocaust survivors – four of whom live in Houston.  In February of 2011, Hans Graf will conduct the concert Ravel’s Spain with Bolero where singers from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, featuring Susanne Mentzer, will join the Houston Symphony for a night of comedy with Ravel’s comedic one-act opera, The Spanish Hour followed by one of the most popular works ever written, Bolero.  In the POPS arena, we’ll team up with the University of North Texas’ One O’Clock  Lab Band in November to form the biggest band in Texas.  This extravaganza, titled One O’Clock Swings! will feature songs from jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and John Coltrane.  Plus, include standards from the Great American Songbook with songs from Cole Porter and others.


This season, hear solos from your own Houston Symphony orchestra members: Frank Huang, newly appointed concertmaster; Brinton Averil Smith, principal cellist; Wayne Brooks, principal violist and Aralee Dorough, principal flute.


The Classical season includes the concert Exploring Mahler 10, in which Maestro Graf and special guest, Fred Child, host of American Public Media’s Performance Today, will explore Mahler’s Symphony No. 10.  This work was left unfinished at the time of Gustav Mahler’s death and was completed by British composer, Deryck Cooke,  Join the Houston Symphony as we explore the completion with musical examples, images and discussions.

Tickets to these stellar concerts and more are available now through subscription only.  As a subscriber, you get the best seats, added subscriber benefits and a season you won’t forget.  Renewing subscribers receive FREE parking if you renew by March 5th.  Click here for full details of the 2010-2011 Season and to purchase your subscription.

Written by Houston Symphony

February 23, 2010 at 1:38 pm