Inside the Houston Symphony

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

Posts Tagged ‘music education

Singing for YOU, the audience

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As I pondered this entry earlier this week, I was determined to explain why I have done Messiah for 23 straight years, especially due to my original wandering from section to section (Tenor2 to Bass1 to Bass2, back to Tenor2) since my joining the Chorus in 1986. But then I noticed that the other bloggers were focusing on those very same themes … so I am going to take a slightly different tack – YOU, the audience!

Hallelujah! Comfort ye my people! Lift up your heads!

For without you, my friends, neighbors and momentary acquaintances, there would be no Chorus, or wonderful works like Messiah, to enjoy being a part of.

You allow me to be the singer, the ham, the voyeur, the artiste (well some may argue that point). It is your good taste, your desire to be entertained and swept away in the many nuances of Handel’s masterpiece, which inspires great works. With your sparkly holiday frocks (yes, we notice you fabulous dressers) your attempts to introduce your young children and disinterested teens to the joy of music, and your secret desire to sing out the recitatives and “Hallelujah” with your smuggled score in hand, you all add to the excitement of the season.

The people that walked in darkness! Then shall the eyes of the blind be open!

I know my parents always tried to instill in my siblings and me some cultural foundations, and how that would help us in life … bring us into the light … open our eyes. With all the current discussions about what is wrong with our educational systems, you, dear audience, are doing exactly the right things as my parents, even if it sometimes seems it is only for you. Keep trying.

Why do the nations so furiously rage? Let us break these bonds asunder!

So keep up the good work. Revel in the glory of not only Messiah but maybe also Verdi’s Requiem in January, or Scheherazade in April, or even the Pops tribute to Ray Charles in May. After all – you are the ones with good taste!

Amen! Hallelujah!

-Bob Alban, Tenor2


Written by Houston Symphony

December 17, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Classical Music’s Rockstar Invests in the Future

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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

What if the young George Gershwin had never gone to his friend’s violin recital?

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It is hard to imagine a world without the music of George Gershwin. But, classics such as Rhapsody in Blue, I Got Rhythm or Cuban Overture might not have been written if George Gershwin didn’t attend his friend’s violin recital at the age of 10.

After attending the recital, Gershwin’s passion for music started blossoming and he started playing the piano his parents had recently purchased for his older brother, Ira. After a few years and a number of piano teachers, Gershwin was introduced to Charles Hambitzer, who became his mentor until Hambitzer’s death in 1918. As his mentor, Hambitzer taught Gerswhin classical piano technique and introduced him to the world of European classical music. George also studied with a number of composers in his early and late teens.

With The Gershwin Songbook concert coming up the first weekend in April, I thought George Gershwin’s life would be a perfect example of why exposure to music at a young age is so important. Not only is early exposure important, young musicians need passionate, dedicated teachers and mentors to help them reach their full potential.

As a young fifth-grader in San Antonio, I was first introduced to classical music by a local musician who came to our school twice a week offering free lessons. After starting on violin, I quickly switched to double bass and my passion for music, as did George Gershwin’s, began to thrive. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music, I now have the pleasure of working for the Houston Symphony development department raising money, so that other young musicians can have the same opportunities afforded to me.

As in San Antonio, here in Houston, your own Symphony musicians can also be found visiting local schools, mentoring promising musicians, performing at assisted living centers for long-time music lovers, or sharing the joy of music with elementary students in Jones Hall.

During The Gershwin Songbook concerts April 1st, 2nd and 3rd, we would like to share with you some imaginative, amusing and funny thank-you letters we’ve received from third-graders who recently attended a Symphony Detectives concert (a few of them are in this post!) Please stop by our Annual Fund table in the lobby by the Symphony Store and see for yourself why Music Matters!

Also, with a gift of $50 or more that weekend, you will receive a complimentary CD that features the Houston Symphony performing three great Gershwin classics.

Written by dannyhutchins

March 25, 2010 at 12:36 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