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. The symphony is now one of America’s oldest performing arts organizations and the largest performing arts organization in Houston.
During the 2017-18 season, the Houston Symphony celebrates its fourth season with Music Director Andrés Orozco- Estrada and continues its second century as one of America’s leading orchestras with a full complement of concert, community, education, touring and recording activities. The Houston Symphony, one of the oldest performing arts organizations in Texas, held its inaugural performance at The Majestic Theater in downtown Houston June 21, 1913. Today, with an annual operating budget of $33.9 million, the full-time ensemble of 88 professional musicians presents nearly 170 concerts annually, making it the largest performing arts organization in Houston. Additionally, musicians of the orchestra and the Symphony’s four Community-Embedded Musicians offer more than 900 community-based performances each year, reaching thousands of people in Greater Houston.
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.
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. The orchestra’s current home, Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, was dedicated in October 1966.
The orchestra’s Carnegie Hall debut was March 1965, as part of the International Festival of Visiting Orchestras. The Symphony has performed 16 times at the world-famous venue, with the most recent performance in May 2012 when the Houston Symphony kicked off the second annual Spring for Music Festival.
The orchestra has grown 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.
- Andrés Orozco-Estrada began his role as the 15th music director of the Houston Symphony in September 2014
- Steven Reineke serves as Principal POPS Conductor
- Robert Franz serves as Associate Conductor
- Dr. Betsy Cook Weber directs the Houston Symphony Chorus
- Michael Krajewski celebrated his 17th and final season as POPS conductor during the 2016-17 season
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 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 floods caused by Tropical Storm Allison. Since 2001, the library’s holdings have been brought back up to more than 2,300 items including scores and sheet music. Support from generous donations played a substantial role in restoring the library’s holdings.
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.
The Houston Symphony Ima Hogg Competition 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 old. Both competitions afford the winning students prize money and an opportunity to perform with the Houston Symphony.
In 1937, the Houston Symphony began a series of student concerts coordinated with Houston Independent School District. By 1956, there were six pairs of concerts with an average attendance of 3,000. Today, the Student Concert series serves K-8 students with hour-long concerts performed during school hours at Jones Hall. Collectively, these concerts serve over 55,000 students from across Greater Houston.
In the 2015-16 Season, the orchestra launched its Community-Embedded Musician Program, hiring four musicians to integrate themselves in Houston schools, neighborhoods and healthcare institutions as teaching artists and performers, while also performing onstage with the Houston Symphony. Designed to expand and enhance the impact of the orchestra’s education and community activities, the Community-Embedded Musicians offer nearly 700 community-based interactions each year.
The Houston Symphony Archives maintains organizational records and makes available for scholarly use materials which document the Houston Symphony since its founding in 1913. These materials include concert programs, organizational minutes, press clippings, departmental records, photographs and audiovisual materials, and manuscript collections, including volunteer organization records.