History OF THE HOUSTON SYMPHONY
Founded in 1913 by the guiding hand of Miss Ima Hogg, the Houston Symphony has played a central role in Houston’s cultural and civic life for more than 100 years and is now one of America's oldest performing arts organizations with a distinguished musical history. The orchestra has grown and matured under the direction of leaders such as Ernst Hoffmann (1936-47), Efrem Kurtz (1948-54), Ferenc Fricsay (1954), Leopold Stokowski (1955-61), Sir John Barbirolli (1961-67), André Previn (1967-69), Lawrence Foster (1971-78), Sergiu Comissiona (1979-88), Christoph Eschenbach (1988-99), Hans Graf (2001-13), and Andrés Orozco-Estrada, who began his role as the 15th music director of the Houston Symphony in September 2014. During the 2016-17 season, Principal POPS Conductor Michael Krajewski celebrates his 17th and final season, Steven Reineke serves as Principal POPS Conductor Designate, Robert Franz as Associate Conductor and Dr. Betsy Cook Weber directs the Houston Symphony Chorus.
The orchestra’s inaugural performance was held at The Majestic Theater in downtown Houston on June 21, 1913. Two decades later, the Palace Theatre served as a location for six concerts in 1931-32. City Auditorium and the Houston Music Hall showcased Symphony performances from the late 1930s through the early 1960s. The orchestra’s current home, Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, was dedicated on October 2, 1966, with a special performance by the Houston Symphony under the baton of Sir John Barbirolli. In October 2016, a concert featuring the Houston Symphony, esteemed violinist Itzhak Perlman and music director Andrés Orozco-Estrada celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jones Hall.
In 1937, the Houston Symphony began a series of special student matinee concerts coordinated with Houston Independent School District. By 1956, there were six pairs of concerts with an average attendance of 3,000. Toward the end of the 20th century, the Symphony was an annual destination for 5th grade students in HISD. Today, the Student Concert series serves K-8 students with hour-long concerts performed during school hours at Jones Hall. The student concerts are comprised of three series: the Robbins Foundation Lower Elementary Concerts, the Cameron Upper Elementary Concerts and Middle School concerts, which collectively serve over 55,000 students from across Greater Houston.
The orchestra came of age in the 1940s when Maestros Hoffmann and Kurtz began hiring highly talented professional musicians, many of whom remained with the orchestra for more than thirty years. Leopold Stokowski brought the Symphony international recognition by commissioning new works and making recordings, and, in Sir John Barbirolli's years, the Houston Symphony flowered under the influence of his lush romantic style.
Road tours were common for the Symphony in the 1940s, especially wartime visits to military bases in Texas and Louisiana. The orchestra embarked on its first national tour in 1950 to 17 cities as far north as Chicago. Its Carnegie Hall debut occurred March 11, 1965, as part of the International Festival of Visiting Orchestras. To date, the Symphony has performed 16 times at the world-famous venue, with the most recent performance being in May 2012 when the Houston Symphony kicked off the second annual Spring for Music Festival. The orchestra’s first overseas trip occurred in June 1990 with an appearance in Japan at the Singapore Festival of Arts. Throughout the 1990s, the Houston Symphony toured Europe several times and returned once more to Japan. In October 2010, the orchestra journeyed to Europe for the first time in a decade to perform The Planets – An HD Odyssey, to sold-out crowds in a seven-city tour through the United Kingdom. In June 2012, the Houston Symphony became the first-ever American orchestra to perform at the Annual Festival of the World’s Symphony Orchestras in Moscow, Russia, which is known as the highlight of the Moscow musical season.
In 1986, the Symphony commissioned more than 20 fanfares from American composers to commemorate Texas’ sesquicentennial. Unfortunately, in 2001, the fanfare scores – along with the majority of the contents in the Symphony’s music library – were destroyed in devastating floods caused by Tropical Storm Allison. Since 2001, the library’s holdings have been brought back up to more than 2,300 catalogued items, including scores, sheet music and reference materials. The support from American Express and generous donations to the Focus on the Music campaign played a substantial role in restoring the library's holdings.
The Houston Symphony Ima Hogg Competition, managed by the Houston Symphony League, celebrates its 42nd year in 2017 and continues to be a prestigious international event for emerging professional musicians. Additionally, the Houston Symphony League Concerto Competition is a regional contest for musicians up to 18 years of age. Both competitions afford the winning students prize money and a coveted opportunity to perform in the spotlight with the Houston Symphony.
The Houston Symphony has recorded under various labels, including Naxos, Koch International Classics, Telarc, RCA Red Seal and Virgin Classics labels and, most recently, Dutch recording label PENTATONE. In addition to recording the last four symphonies of Dvorák in the 2015-16 season, Andrés and the orchestra are also planning to record and subsequently release a series of recordings of the Music of the Americas. These recordings will include Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Revueltas’ Sensemayá, Piazzolla’s Tangazo and Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, which will be recorded over the course of two concert weekends in early 2017. Additional recording projects with PENTATONE include recordings of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with Denis Kozhukhin and Haydn’s The Creation. In January of 2017, the Houston Symphony’s performance of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck will also be released on the Naxos labels.
In the 2015-16 Season, the orchestra launched its Community-Embedded Musician Program, hiring four musicians to primarily integrate themselves in Houston schools, neighborhoods and health-care settings as teaching artists and performers, while also performing onstage with the Houston Symphony. Designed to dramatically expand and enhance the impact of the orchestra’s growing education and community engagement activities, the Community-Embedded Musicians offer nearly 700 community-based interactions each year, both individually and through small ensembles.
The Houston Symphony offers several free concerts each summer, including approximately 10 Summer Community Concerts each June in different neighborhood venues, reaching thousands of Houstonians. Additionally, Day of Music at Jones Hall welcomes more than 15 Houston-area ensembles for a free, festival-like day of entertainment that culminates with a concert by the Houston Symphony. The orchestra can be heard on select June weekends during the ExxonMobil Summer Symphony Nights at Miller Outdoor Theatre, as well as at the annual “Star-Spangled Salute” on July 4. The last free performance of the summer is Fiesta Sinfónica at Jones Hall, an annual concert celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. Additionally, the Engie Community Connections Program is designed to broaden musical contact with Houston’s diverse population by providing opportunities for musicians to perform or provide instructional coaching in close, personal settings.
Today, the Houston Symphony’s 87 musicians perform approximately 170 concerts annually, making it the largest performing arts organization in Houston. The season, which starts in September and runs through May, includes 18 classical concerts, 9 BBVA Compass POPS concerts, 4 family concerts and a number of Symphony Specials. The Symphony also offers a Sugar Land Series at Sugar Land Baptist Church and often performs in The Woodlands at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.