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Posts Tagged ‘Hans Graf

Wagner, his “Ring” and how Luke Skywalker comes in the picture

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Assistant Conductor Brett Mitchell took the time to share a little about one of the musical loves of his life, Wagner’s “The Ring Without Words,” ahead of next week’s concert! We knew of the comparisons to the Lord of the Ring, but Star Wars? Learn more about it by reading below.

It should come as no surprise that I’m even more excited than usual for the Houston Symphony’s upcoming performances of Richard Wagner’s “The Ring Without Words,” because I am a child of the late 1970s.  Let me explain.

My introduction to Wagner’s great four-opera masterpiece, The Ring of the Nibelung, was probably the same as many in my generation: through Star Wars.   This isn’t actually as far-fetched as it might sound, as there are a great number of parallels between Wagner’s masterpiece and George Lucas’.  (In fact, there are whole websites devoted exclusively to comparing the two.  See, for example, Kristian Evensen’s incredibly thorough exploration of structural, thematic, and musical connections between these operas and films).

Richard Wagner

The Ring, as it is affectionately known, is truly the greatest spectacle in all of opera; some believe that it is most impressive artistic accomplishment in all of classical music.  Just the scale of the works is astonishing: the shortest of the four operas (Das Rheingold) lasts two and a half hours, while the longest (Götterdämmerung) lasts almost twice that long.  The total duration of the four operas put together is an astonishing fifteen hours (experienced over four nights, naturally).  Lucas’s saga occupies a similar place in the pantheon of film achievement: His six Star Wars films clock in at a combined thirteen hours.

Even the time it took these create these two epics is similar: It took Wagner around twenty-six years (from 1848 to 1874) to compose the four operas of The Ring, while Lucas’s six-film saga spanned twenty-eight years (1977 to 2005).  In other words, while both Wagner and Lucas created other well-known, much-loved works (think only of Tristan und Isolde and Indiana Jones), they spent the majority of their creative lives on one, epic project.  Nothing similar has been attempted in either the world of opera or film, before or since.

Part of the reason both The Ring and Star Wars are so successful is because, while they both tell specific stories, they are archetypal tales; the stories are only vehicles for dealing with much broader, universal themes.  Both are epic sagas that explore love, betrayal, greed, desire…and they both deal with their own fair share of paternity issues!  (For those interested in delving a little deeper into these archetypes, I heartily recommend the late, great mythologist Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces).

Further inviting comparison between The Ring and Star Wars is that Lucas has always referred to these films as “space operas.”  He even convinced his musical collaborator, the great John Williams, to compose a symphonic, sweeping score, which was quite out of fashion when the series’ first film was released in 1977.  Not only did Williams write a full-blown, symphonic (i.e., Romantic, Wagnerian) score, he used a Wagnerian technique known as the leitmotif: a recurrent, instantly recognizable theme associated with a particular person, idea, or situation that occurs throughout a musical work.  Wagner uses leitmotifs throughout The Ring to instantly identify (among others) Valhalla (home of the gods), Siegfried (his main hero), and the concept of the renunciation of love; Williams does the same with the Death Star, Luke Skywalker, the Force, and many more.

Perhaps the most famous leitmotif from The Ring is “The Ride of the Valkyries”; the most famous from Star Wars (other than the Main Title) is likely Darth Vader’s theme, the Imperial March.  Both are so successful that they have long since escaped their original contexts and are found everywhere in our culture; even people who have never heard The Ring or seen Star Wars know these melodies.

This leads us back to the tremendous staying power of this phenomenal music that Wagner wrote for The Ring.  Once I learned of the many connections between Wagner’s work and Star Wars (sometime in my late teens), I promptly bought scores and recordings of all four operas, and listened through them one by one over the course of about a month.  As I got to know the operas better, I realized how many similarities there were between them and Star Wars, and fell in love with Wagner’s work just as quickly as I had with Lucas’s films and Williams’s music.

Even now, when I sit in a concert hall and listen to—or stand on the podium and conduct—music from Wagner’s Ring (which has become one of the great loves of my musical life), it’s hard not to think back to my first musical love affair: John Williams’s scores for the Star Wars films.  I first fell in love with Star Wars, then fell just as deeply in love with The Ring.  Having just conducted some of Star Wars here in July, I can’t wait to hear Hans and our spectacular orchestra take us all on an hour-long adventure through the exhilarating, passionate music of Wagner’s Ring.


Written by Houston Symphony

September 15, 2010 at 2:57 pm

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?

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

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

Taking it on the road

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We’d like to introduce you all to Meredith Williams–the first of our Symphony staffer bloggers! Meredith is still considered a newbie (as many of us are by comparison–you wouldn’t believe how many people have been here 10, 20, even 25+ years!), and is the assistant to our general manager. She’s been the go-to gal for everything related to this week’s tour to New York City and Florida, and wanted to share a little bit with you all about the planning that went into it.

Surely everyone in Houston felt the excitement that radiated from Jones Hall this weekend!  It was difficult to not get pumped about the Planets concert series.  I’ve only worked here at the Houston Symphony for 10 months, and I cannot recall a single day when the Operations and Production staff has not discussed or worked on The Planets – An HD Odyssey.  It amazes me that for some members of our staff, this weekend was the culmination of years of dedication and work.  Despite our successful weekend, our department has not quite celebrated – we aren’t done yet.  In case you had not heard, we’re taking it on the road.

As I mentioned, I’ve only been a staff member a short period of time.  In this brief period, I have had two major projects.  The first was to schedule ground transportation for the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela back in April. (Why is that a major project, you ask?  Well, that is a story for another blog…) The second project, and what I have considered my baby for the past seven months, is this tour.

In June I found out that I was to be the “Unofficial Tour Travel Agent and Schedule Coordinator.” Since then, I have booked 150+ flight reservations, over 200 hotel rooms, and 30 buses to accommodate all of the musicians, staff and guests that will be traveling between Houston, New York and Florida.  On the surface, booking travel arrangements is not a huge project, until you realize just how many people and details are involved.  I’ve had many hurdles and obstacles since I landed in the post of unofficial tour travel agent.  There were days (like the day we realized the Pro Bowl is in South Florida the same weekend we are in South Florida) that I wanted to pull out my hair and scream “REALLY?!?” at the top of my lungs.  However, I’m not whining.  In fact, as I sit here in my little cubicle under the stage of Jones Hall, I am quite happy to know that I played a part in helping the Houston Symphony (literally) get to New York and Florida.

The weekend was amazing, but the excitement is not over.  The orchestra officially left this morning to fly to New York and perform on that great stage known as Carnegie Hall.  Then, they’re flying to the sunny shores of Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach to play for NASA’s Cape Canaveral neighbors.  I wish I could see it in person, but I know that this tour will be a huge success and will make Houston proud.

You didn’t think we were going to leave you hanging, did you? Violinist Kiju Joh, Assistant Conductor/American Conducting Fellow Brett Mitchell and others are going to be blogging from the tour—so keep an eye out to read the latest updates!

Written by Meredith Williams

January 27, 2010 at 11:41 am

Houston, we have lift off!

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It’s a very exciting time for everyone here at Houston Symphony. Not only is today the World Premiere of The Planets—An HD Odyssey, but we’ve just announced the 2010-2011 season! In the spirit of sharing, we thought it was time to bring our fans a bit closer and give you an inside look into the day-to-day happenings here at Houston Symphony (for instance: did you know that Hans Graf’s baton has just returned from space in time to conduct The Planets?). In addition to our talented conductors, musicians and chorus, there is a dedicated and hardworking staff behind-the-scenes that make all of your favorite concerts come to life.

I’d like to officially kick off the newest Houston Symphony endeavor—the Inside the Houston Symphony blog—where you’ll be able to read first-hand accounts from all of us here at Jones Hall—musicians and conductors included! From concert fun facts to the stories behind the music, we hope you’ll learn a little something with us, too. As I have a music background and have worked in the Symphony industry for a long while, I am very excited to be a part of this organization at a time when there is so much to look forward to. Please take the time as well to check out our newly launched Web site, and to download the free Houston Symphony iPhone App. Those are two of your best sources for staying up-to-date with your Houston Symphony.

I’d like to end my first blog with a heartfelt thank you for all your support of the Houston Symphony. I hope to see you all at Jones Hall soon!

Best wishes,
Dick Hoffert
Interim Executive Director/CEO

Written by Dick H.

January 21, 2010 at 2:09 pm