Inside the Houston Symphony

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

Posts Tagged ‘classical music

Who Wants to Live Forever

with one comment

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

Snapping away at Summer Symphony Nights

leave a comment »

We found this photo from Adam Baker (AlphaTangoBravo on Flickr), who attended last year's Star-Spangled Salute. Amazing shot!

We hope you’re having a blast at our free Miller Outdoor Theatre concerts – and now we want to see the experience through your eyes! Through July 11, submit your photos from those concerts (including both concerts this weekend, and the July 4th ExxonMobil Star-Spangled Salute) to our OH SNAP! photo contest. By doing so, you’ll have the chance to win ticket vouchers to one of next season’s concerts, as well as be featured on our website, in SymphonE-News and right here on the blog! Enter to win in one – or all – of the categories: Best performance shot*, best family/friends shot, best fireworks shot**, best venue shot and best audience shot.  Photos can be portrait style or abstract … just let your imagination guide your eye!

All you have to do to enter the contest is join the Houston Symphony Flickr Group, add a photo to the group pool and tag it with OhSnap!PhotoContest. The deadline for submissions is July 11, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. CST. For more detailed instructions on entering the contest and to read the rules and regulations, please visit us online. For other questions, it’s as easy as sending an e-mail over to

We can’t wait to see all of the entries — there have been some great ones so far. Happy snapping and we’ll see you on the hill!

*Please note there is NO flash photography permitted while the Orchestra is performing.

**There will be a fireworks display only at the July 4th ExxonMobil Star-Spangled Salute concert.

Classical Music’s Rockstar Invests in the Future

leave a comment »

When you first see him walk on stage, there’s no question that this music superstar has a flair for the flashy – right down to his footwear (custom ADIDAS sneakers, to be exact). Pianist Lang Lang commands respect wherever he goes, not only because of the magic that comes through his fingertips, but because of what he means for his generation.

At 27, he has become a bridge between old and new generations of classical music fans, and through his art and philanthropy, has truly made a difference in the lives of millions of people. The Chinese piano prodigy is a prime example of what can happen when a child is exposed to music at an early age, and then has the opportunity to explore and develop that interest.

When Lang Lang was just 3 years old, he began playing piano in his hometown of Shenyang, a city in northeastern China. By age 5, he had won his first piano competition; at 9, he started studying at the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music; and by 17, was a star.

His international popularity was further cemented when he appeared during the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. He has single-handedly been credited with inspiring over 40 million Chinese children to take piano lessons – a phenomenon The Today Show labeled the “Lang Lang Effect.”

Because of that success, Lang Lang has dedicated himself to a philanthropic cause very dear to his heart – one that provides musical opportunities for children who may have never otherwise had them.

The Lang Lang International Music Foundation, Inc, has enabled the pianist to “support cutting-edge philanthropy programs using music education, exposure, and outreach to deliver messages of hope and inspiration to children around the world,” according to the organization’s website.

Exposing children to music is also one of our main focuses here at the Houston Symphony. Whether it be our Symphony Detective Concerts, Explorer Concerts, inviting student musicians to perform in-hall or even going out into the community during the summer Sounds Like Fun! series, we are always trying to reiterate that Music Matters! (which, by the way, is also the name of our outreach program).

It is through these programs, that we, just like Lang Lang, are able to provide an experience for Houston-area youngsters that will leave a lasting impression – and hopefully help them unlock a hidden passion for music.

Join us this Wednesday for a one-night-only Symphony Special concert featuring the rockstar himself, Lang Lang, and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra – made up of the world’s finest musicians under age 27. With former Houston Symphony Music Director Christoph Eschenbach on the podium, hear for yourself why Music Matters!

Written by Melissa S.

April 6, 2010 at 10:15 am

Are you Classical or are you Pops?

with one comment

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

Hans Zimmer is my Beethoven: The Music of Movies, TV and Video Games

with 5 comments

I bet you are humming the theme, aren't you? My point exactly.

I don’t know if I would classify myself as a fan of “classical” music. I enjoy it, for sure, but I admit my knowledge of the classical genre prior to working for the Houston Symphony was less than accurate and expansive. Pretty sad, actually. I now know that I dig Gershwin and can name concertos by Mahler, Beethoven and Mozart that I recognized by sound before, but never by name. And I just saw Amadeus. Like two weeks ago. Yeah, I know. Way behind.

What I have enjoyed since I was quite young and am an avid fan of is instrumental music (yes, in the sense of a more general genre). It was a love that was always there, a natural interest like my ardent fondness for drawing, writing and sleeping.

The day I said to myself “Oh hey, I really like instrumental music…” was when I looked at my iTunes and realized a good 70% of my library was composed of video game soundtracks, scores from movies and television, jazz and a genre of instrumental hip-hop that is fused with orchestral inspirations. No lyrics. No vocals. Just pure orchestral and/or synthesized sounds.

I’ve always lamented that contemporary instrumental music isn’t as acclaimed as instrumental classical music. And I know there is more to it than just an overshadowing presence of cookie-cutter pop and rap that dominates current music trends. There is a definite lack of admiration for the genre, despite the fact that it is ever present in the most popular of entertainment forms, specifically movies, TV and video games.

Instrumental music in the entertainment industry serves to accomplish what most classical pieces did for their accompanying operas back in the day: to further add emotion to a visual scene. I am sure most classical enthusiasts would balk at the idea of a song written for the Pixar animated movie Up to be on par with Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Yet arguably, contemporary composers that lend their talents to create the soundtracks to visually stunning and inspiring movies can be considered just as talented and integral to the current entertainment art forms. Not to mention, through awards like the Oscars® and the popularity of purchasable soundtracks, there is definitely a strong appreciation for movie music. The Houston Symphony has seen a large, positive response to concerts such as The Music of Star Trek and More Sci-fi and Red Carpet Oscar Party, which featured music from past and recent Oscar® hopefuls. Still, music composers don’t receive as many accolades for their work as the producers of the movies. I mean, are not John Williams and Hans Zimmer the Mozarts of our era? I would bet most people wouldn’t remember ALL the details of ALL the Star Wars movies, but they could hum the theme song on cue if asked. Duuuuun-duuun-dun-dun-dun-duuuuuuuuuun dun–!

And then there is video game music, practically ignored by the masses as a fine art. While most probably still think of game music as the bleeping, blooping polyphonic sounds of 80s and 90s titles like Frogger and Super Mario Bros., current titles boast expansive, amazing scores as impressive as their ever evolving visuals. Nobuo Uematsu, composer and arranger for the renowned Final Fantasy series, has a cult following of fans dedicated to his music and was named one of the “Innovators” in Time Magazine‘s “Time 100: The Next Wave — Music” feature. There are symphonic concerts that focus solely on game music; for three seasons, Houston Symphony presented Video Games Live, a concert that presented segments of the most well known pieces from classic and current games. Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy is currently being performed all over to the world from Stockholm to San Francisco, most if not all of the shows sold out. There’s obviously much more to this genre than bleeps and bloops (just take a listen to these amazing pieces from Echochrome, or this rousing battle song from World of Warcraft). If only more of the music-loving public would look past the stereotypes and stigmas of video games and see that.

Despite my biases, I don’t know how current instrumental music measures up against classical music. A hundred years from now, will music lovers celebrate the scores written for movies like Avatar or soundtracks of artistic, genre changing video games like Shadow of the Colossus? Will the “new” classical be dominated by pieces written to supplement other art forms like movies, television and games? Maybe. Maybe not. Classical music has a degree of celebrated antiquity to it that current instrumental genres and pieces may never acquire.

All the same, contemporary forms of instrumental music in movies, TV shows and video games can be as beautiful and emotionally evocative as their classical predecessors. I would sacrifice a large chunk of my salary to hear some of John Williams’s work from Indiana Jones or Harry Potter in a salon in Vienna. Probably will never happen, but it’d still be kind of cool.

Written by Natalie

March 31, 2010 at 8:50 am

Classical Music’s Greatest Love Stories

with one comment

Robert and Clara Schumann (circa 1847)

In honor of Valentine’s Day this weekend, we wanted to delve into something a little different – the love stories behind some of classical music’s greatest names. Whether it was Beethoven and his “Immortal Beloved,” or Robert and Clara Schumann, it goes without saying that some of the most beautiful pieces ever written came to pass because of a heart in love.

Ludwig van Beethoven may very well be the most well-known when it comes to unrequited love. In 1812 while he recovered from illness in the Bohemian spa town of Teplitz, Beethoven wrote three letters to his “Immortal Beloved”—an unnamed woman who’s identity is still secret to this day. Filled with passion, it is from these letters that the famous signature “ever thine, ever mine, ever ours” came. The letters were found only after his death, and are worth a read if you haven’t seen them already. A few years earlier, in 1800, Beethoven met and fell in love with Giulietta Guicciardi. He went on to dedicate his famous Moonlight Sonata to her, and although they planned to marry, were not able to because Giulietta’s father didn’t approve. She went on to marry, but Beethoven never did.

One of the most influential composers of the 19th century, Giuseppe Verdi, met Margherita Barezzi when her father, Antonio, chose him to be her music teacher. They fell deeply in love, married in 1836, and had two children, both of whom died as infants. Margherita passed soon thereafter, while Verdi was composing his second opera, Un giorno di regno (King for a Day). Already completely devastated at the loss of his family, when the opera failed, Verdi vowed to give up classical composition forever. Thankfully for us, he didn’t, because it wasn’t until 1850 that he composed one of his most masterpieces, Rigoletto.

Perhaps one of the loveliest stories is that of Robert and Clara Schumann. They first fell in love in 1836, but didn’t marry until 1840 because of her father’s adamant refusal. Schumann is said to have courted Clara through letters and secret rendezvous, even taking the chance to see her for only a few minutes after some of her piano concerts. The year they finally tied the knot, Robert wrote 168 songs, which is attributed to his marital bliss. When Robert died in 1856, Clara dedicated the rest of her days to performing his music and keeping his memory alive. There’s even a 1983 German Film called Frühlingssinfonie that portrayed their romance, as well as Twin Spirits—a special look into their story through words and music at the Royal Opera House.

The love felt through the pieces these men composed is a love that often comes from an untold story. We don’t know all of the meanings behind their work, but hope you’ll feel the music a bit more deeply the next time you hear it at the Houston Symphony.

Note: This blog posting was redirected from our SymphonE-News, a bi-weekly electronic newsletter from the Houston Symphony. To sign up for SymphonE-News, click here!

Written by Melissa S.

February 11, 2010 at 1:51 pm

The importance of great classical music halls

with 2 comments

A view to the top of Carnegie Hall

This past Thursday evening, I performed at Carnegie Hall for the first time.  What a life-changing experience!  There was such incredible energy amongst the musicians, the crew and staff, and (walking through the front lobby before the concert) the audience.  I was thrilled to step onto the stage and look out to a packed house, and I was thrilled to see this packed house jump to their feet at the conclusion of our performance.  Their enthusiasm was overwhelming, and I was so proud to be a member of the wonderful Houston Symphony, whose hard work and effort was most deserving of this positive reaction.

There is a reason why it is such an honor to be presented by Carnegie Hall – it is one of the greatest concert venues in the world.  The acoustics were absolutely incredible.  A colleague of mine in the symphony told me the moment she stepped onto the stage and heard the clicking of her shoes reverberate throughout the hall, she knew right away how amazing it was.  The acoustics were completely different from anything we experience in Houston.  It was so easy to hear myself play, and it was so easy for me to hear all of my colleagues play, which made it so easy for all of us to play together.  The easier it was to play together, the better connected we felt with one another, thus creating a more unified, musical experience. 

It is such a powerful feeling to create beautiful music.  It is even more profound to share this beautiful music with our audiences.  I want people who come to our concerts to have an enriched, *meaning-filled* experience.  I would like them to walk away from a concert feeling… just feeling… anything.  Whether it is a feeling of satisfaction, intensity, or curiosity, or whether they learned something or were inspired, I just want them to be affected.  Playing in an acoustically sound hall impacts everyone, it benefits everyone, and I feel we achieved this during our performance.

The Vienna Musikverein is considered one of the greatest music halls in the world--said to have "Golden Sound in the Golden Hall."

I hope that more people realize the importance of having a great classical music hall, especially in cities they truly care about.  To be able to have access to emotional, powerful, beautiful music is artistically, culturally, and humanistically beneficial for communities.  As cliché as it sounds, I firmly believe that music is a unifying force that brings people together, and for me that is the ultimate goal.

Getting off my soapbox, and into bed for a good night’s rest.  One last concert tomorrow evening, our final evening in Florida.  Stay tuned for exciting stories about the Florida leg of our tour in my next post!

Fun facts:

Dan Rather, native Houstonian, was spotted at our concert!!!

Can you imagine that in 1960, Carnegie Hall was almost demolished to be replaced by an office tower???  Thank goodness for Isaac Stern.

Written by kiju

January 31, 2010 at 11:17 am