Founded in 1913 by the guiding hand of Miss Ima Hogg, the Grammy Award—winning 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 to Japan. In October 2010, the orchestra journeyed to the United Kingdom to perform The Planets – An HD Odyssey to sold-out crowds in a seven-city tour. 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, known as the highlight of the Moscow musical season.
In March 2018, Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada will take the Houston Symphony on a four-country, eight-city tour through some of Europe’s most prestigious concert halls and festivals. World-renowned violinist and three-time Grammy Award winner Hilary Hahn will join the Houston Symphony for all performances. The high-profile tour, which features concerts in Belgium, Germany, Poland and Austria, is Orozco-Estrada’s first international tour with the orchestra and the Houston Symphony’s first major European tour in more than 20 years.
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 returned 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 assets.
The Grammy Award—winning Houston Symphony has recorded under various prestigious labels, including Naxos, Koch International Classics, Telarc, RCA Red Seal and Virgin Classics. Most recently, the Houston Symphony and Andrés recorded the last four symphonies of Dvořák on the Dutch recording label Pentatone. Additional recordings under the Dutch label include a Music of the Americas disc (featuring Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Revueltas’ Sensemayá, Piazzolla’s Tangazo and Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story) and Haydn—The Creation. The Music of the Americas and Haydn—The Creation recordings will be released February 2018 and April 2018 respectively. In 2017, the Houston Symphony was awarded an ECHO Klassik award for the live recording of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck under the direction of former Music Director Hans Graf. The orchestra earned its first Grammy nomination and Grammy Award at the 60th annual ceremony for the same recording in the Best Opera Recording category.
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 HISD’s fifth grade students. Today, three student concert series serve K-8 students with hourlong concerts: the Robbins Foundation Lower Elementary Concerts, the Upper Elementary Concerts and Middle School Concerts. Collectively, they serve more than 55,000 students from across Greater Houston.
The Engie Community Connections Program broadens our musical contact with Houston’s diverse population by providing opportunities for musicians to perform or provide instructional coaching in close, personal settings. Each session is approximately one hour in length and includes time for discussion.
Each year, the Houston Symphony holds the Houston Symphony Ima Hogg Competition, a major competition for young musicians, ages 16-26, who play standard orchestral instruments and piano. Managed by the Houston Symphony League, the Ima Hogg Competition will celebrate its 43rd year in 2018 as a prestigious international event for emerging professional musicians seeking careers in music.
Launched in July 2015, the Community-Embedded Musician Program was created to dramatically expand and enhance the impact of the orchestra’s growing education and community engagement activities. The primary role of the four Community-Embedded Musicians is to integrate themselves in Houston schools, neighborhoods and health care settings as teaching artists and performers, while also performing onstage with members of the Houston Symphony. The Community-Embedded Musicians offer nearly 700 community-based performances each year, both individually and as small ensembles.
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.