Houston Symphony Reviews
The Houston Symphony NEXT OPENING NOVEMBER 3RD AND NOVEMBER 14TH
When You’ve Gotta Go…..
October 31, 2014 — The songs swung sometimes. Maybe the first one, “All That Jazz” felt a bit square. Ellington was sometimes easy, smooth, maybe a bit surprisingly unhip. Sometimes they swung pretty hard for “Ragtime, Blues and All That Jazz”. It was nice to hear Bobby Floyd playing the Maple Leaf Rag. I was glad I went. The air was filled with happy crowd stuff. I guess you really have to want to be there if it’s Halloween and you’re at the Houston Symphony. I loved seeing how Byron blew a continuous note on the trumpet, big up there under really good camera work. He had the power of the microphone that night. The concert master played a really moving solo. The conductor was conducting and Byron had the power of the microphone on this night when the audience seemed so happy to be there. You make a joke on the microphone and maybe you’re just voicing insecurity of some sort or other, but when you have the power and the night feels good and the guy who is leaving is older and maybe needs to go to the restroom urgently, I’m not sure about the wisdom of ridiculing him like a comedian who just got rid of a heckler. Then, maybe the guy’s wife was still there, you know? And Byron uses his power to say something like “good riddance. He kept clapping on the one and three anyway. Good he’s gone.” Now that may have been just an insecure joke worried about not keeping every member of the audience entertained, but it had a….uh… nasty tinge to it. What type of awful person would clap on the one and three beats? Was there more meaning here? Was there also more meaning there when Byron said that Souffle and Sushi were not blues food but collard greens and pork and bacon were blues foods. Was Byron being exclusionary there? French people eat souffles and have a deep committement to and love of the blues. Japanese folks are known for sushi and also are great lovers of jazz and blues. Many great blues recordings were famously made by some Jewish people who don’t eat pork or bacon. What was the underlying meaning of his statement that he had gone to Harvard and Cornell to learn the blues?? That statement about the one and three beats got me wondering if I understand swing or shuffle at all. Sure, there’s an easy answer that swing is on the two and four beats but I was under the impression that that was a simplification that gave misunderstanding. I was led to think by my attempts to learn stuff from my favorite Harvard music theory master, that swing was more than that, like some kind of three against four complex rhythm, two things at once type of feel. If the one beat is so bad, am I entirely mistaken in my count when I thought there was an accent on the 1 for “When the Saints Go Marching in” which was Byron’s and the orchestra’s encore number. I’m pretty sure Marvin Sparks could swing the one and the three accent. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him do it:–Live at Harlon’s one night, a long time ago: But maybe Marvin went to Cornell to learn how to play. Maybe Marvin got contaminated sushi somewhere.
Hans Graf — conductor
Local piano wonder — Jon Kimura Parker
Ahh, Debussy. (Or Not So Much the Perfume as the Farm Freshness) Oh, Ravel, I Remember You Well.
October 23, 2014 — First time to the Symphony in quite a while. I’m not sure I appreciated the Monet pictures after intermission, not sure the rhythm or rhyme were correct. The placement was such that I couldn’t see them and the orchestra at the same time. The screens were relatively small, considering the sizes of screens which are available these days. Before intermission, I found myself impressed by how much there is to look at as all the players are playing, individually and ensemble. Watching the playing of the instruments is a treat for the eyes almost as much as listening to them is for the ears. I relived my childhood with cartoons dancing in my head during “Ma mere L’oye”, the first number of the night and wondered at the stiffness of Jon Kumura Parker as he played his piano to front “Piano Concerto in G Major”, which ended in, what appeared to me to be as much relief as triumph. That ending is a bit of a monster to play, I guess. After intermission, excited as I was to hear Debussy, I found myself and saw several other audience members shifting in our seats and even though I was transported in space and time to some, now long gone city, and smelled the perfume of a timeless meandering, I’m not sure it was compelling. I still wonder if I dare call the evening mundane. Was I expecting more flashy interaction, more counterpoint, more virtuoso expressive flair? The contrast of the bird and seasonal sounds of the Ravel and the musical cityscape and romance-perfume-in-various-places-scape of the Debussy was part of my learning for the evening. The differences in style and approach of the composers were well addressed sonically and verbally. The notes in the playbill were really fabulous, telling us what we were seeing, what to look for, what history was interesting related to these pieces and this performance. I actually wanted to see more written, just because of how informative was the playbill and how well done.
The Houston Symphony:
Prokofiev’s Madness and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Exoticism
By Andrew Dethloff
October 17th, 2014 — It is a rare thing for The Houston Symphony to disappoint. Tonight’s performances of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Opus 16 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade did not. The entire evening was led by conductor Jakub Hrůša of the Czech Republic with Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin navigating the madness that is Prokofiev.
Despite the dark complexity of Prokofiev’s concerto, Kozhukhin never missed a step. He brought the technical turbulence to life with an excellent performance. A still young man in his late twenties, it is no small feat for him to so deftly tackle such a challenging piece. As his fingers flew across the keys, Kozhukhin bent, shoulders rounded, face hovering inches away from the his hands. The more furiously he played, the more of his long bangs escaped his ponytail inevitably resulting in him looking like nothing less than a mad scientist bringing forth some dark experiment of both his and Prokofiev’s minds. The sheer technical skill was entrancing. He delivered tirelessly and the audience soaked up every moment.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is a spectacular example of how music can take one to another time and place. Based on the Arabian Classic The Ten Thousand and One Nights, the piece transports listeners to a time complete with sultans, exotic princesses, and priceless jewels. The Symphony crafted this time portal expertly and with a perfect touch. With the swaying, hypnotizing rhythms that Rimsky-Korsakov puts forth it is almost as if the princess herself will dance into the room at any moment. Scheherazade recycles a select few recurrent themes over and over, but never do they get old. The dynamic and instrument shifts keep the tale unfolding and the themes fresh as the different characters they are meant to represent have their various ups and downs. Triumphant trumpet calls, ominous oboe peals, and lonely first violin solos bring the romance, adventure, and heartache of the tale into the palm of the listener’s hand. In the final movement, the fervor accelerates until we are met with a monstrous crash meant to represent Sinbad’s shipwreck. The aftermath offers a lonely violin solo that returns to the original theme and brings the story full-circle from end to beginning again. The Houston Symphony put forth a wonderful representation of the epic as we have come to expect from them time and time again.
The Symphony Awaits
By Andrew Dethloff
September 16, 2014
Jones Hall downtown on a night The Houston Symphony is performing creates an atmosphere that is anything but commonplace. As the well-dressed music lovers flock to the building bathed in its glowing golden lights, it feels almost as if the Hall is a beacon calling to all who value the timeless and unique power that only a full symphony can bring. At the door, spiffy, smiling employees check your ticket and beckon with white-gloved hands welcoming you into the elegant interior. The atmosphere is electric and the music hasn’t even started yet.
This month marks the beginning of Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s tenure as the 15th Music Director of The Houston Symphony. Though those are no doubt large shoes to fill, his résumé is impressive and his delivery of tonight’s performance showcases it as well as it could have. Orozco-Estrada brings with him an interesting change in pace for the Symphony’s performances. He promises to begin each concert, as he did this one, with the world premiere of a new piece never before played publically; an exciting, if potentially risky, notion.
This evening we were greeted with “Karnavalingo” composed by Houston’s own Gabriella L. Frank. While short, it is jam packed with action that drips with the Peruvian roots of the composer. The piece begins with triumphant trumpet and French horn sections that seem to call the forward march to the rest of the musicians. As it takes off, it quickly moves into a contrasting sense of deliberate turbulence before dying down to near silence with the low instruments carrying a dull hum that resonates in the chest. The suspense lessens somewhat as a the rest of the orchestra joins in and rapid ascending and descending chromatic scales create a sense of undulating surging and receding tension. Finally, the suspense relents as the composition hits its stride and takes us out with a foundation of soft repetitions that might be heard while traveling aboard a train. The spirited piece was greeted with enthusiasm as the last note faded from the air.
The bulk of the first half of the performance, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Opus 18, was led by renowned pianist André Watts. From the pensive and thoughtful to the exotic and adventurous, Watts’s deft, dancing fingers accompanied by the rest of the orchestra commanded the attention of every patron with elegance. The curious, eastern sound of the reoccurring theme in the latter portion of the piece plaintively transports listeners to some faraway desert dreamland. So powerful was the contrast as the adventure grew that the crowd was practically inching forward on their seats so as to not miss a moment. The final crescendo hung in the air barely a flash before the roaring silence broke into an avalanche of cheering as people shot to their feet. Though the piano itself was a bit difficult to hear at times over the rest of the music, the performance as a whole was smooth and flowed wonderfully.
Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben rounded out the concert with a soft power. Translating to “A Hero’s Life” in English, the work is expectantly reflective and divergent. Concertmaster Frank Huang and the rest of the Symphony conveyed the nostalgia and conflict of the piece with reverence. Huang’s melancholy solos peppered over the wistful tone of the Symphony was both entrancing and hypnotizing at the same time. Guests left with a hushed satisfaction in the program as well as what is sure to come under the new direction of Andrés Orozco-Estrada.
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Erin Wall, soprano I – Magna Peccatrix
Twyla Robinson, soprano II – Una Poenitentium
Marisol Montalvo, soprano III – Mater Gloriosa
Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano I – Mulier Samaritana
Jill Grove, mezzo-soprano II – Maria Aegyptiaca
John Pickle, tenor – Doctor Marianus
Markus Werba, baritone – Pater Ecstaticus
John Relyea, bass – Pater Profundus
Houston Symphony Chorus and Alumni, Charles Hausmann, director
Members of the Prairie View A&M University Chorus, A. Jan Taylor, director
Members of the Clear Creek High School Choir, James Park, director
Members of the Clear Lake High School Choir, Justin Coffey, director
Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas, William R. Adams, founder and artistic director
Houston Boychoir, Carole Nelson, artistic director
Additional shows will be March 29, 2014 at 8 PM and March 30, 2014 at 7:30 PM at JONES HALL
ONLY THIS WEEK-END.
We have a special mother and daughter team of critics to let you know what they saw on the first night to help you decide to make the trip for the second or third performances.
The Houston Symphony
100 Years and Counting
May 23, 2014 — Last night was full of entertainment and great music and even a celebrity drop by. The show started in a subtle, playful tone with graphics running along with the symphony. I mean all night, the music was terrific, but I felt in the beginning, the graphics playing alongside the music didn’t pull you in right away. It was like I was watching windows media player from 2000. The music had such an adventurous vibe that the graphics at the time wasn’t complimentary. Right as I was finding a complaint, the next set gave me what I was looking for. The wedding march started with a video of Prince William and Kate’s royal wedding following pictures of U.S. Presidenta and their wives, and divorced celebrities. That was unexpected and what I was looking for. The highlight of the night had to be the NASA appreciation set. The photos were real and unreal at the same time. A statement was made before the presentation, that all the photos were real with no photo enhancement. They were amazing snapshots of the universe. It was a perfect transition for this part of the show. I mean every musician played perfectly for this part of the symphony. Victor Garber did an excellent job narrating during this set, giving us a window to see the bigger picture. Overall, it was a great night, full of history of this great city and the music it has been a part of for over a 100 years.
Symphony of a Thousand
Additional performance May 10, 2014
May 9, 2014
I left the event, had some drinks, came home, had adult activities and fell asleep. I truly I enjoyed it.
At first I kinda felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Lady when she was complaining about how she didn’t understand the opera, but towards the end it all hit me and I was moved by the music.
For a while I was distracted by one of the singers boobs and another’s sequin dress, but as I gained my focus, the TelePrompTer with the lyrics kept me engaged. The lyrics were so meaningful. For example, “things that are perishable are merely an image”. The more I watched the lyrics the more I connected with the dramatic approach of the symphony. One musician on the tuba or trumpet really seemed like he was playing off key. It seemed to throw off the musical. Maybe his instrument needed tuning. I really don’t know. I also noticed that there were two harp players. One was an older guy and in the beginning of the show he seemed to be falling asleep, but his female counterpart played her instrument with so much beauty and grace. Overall, the event was a great experience. One other thing I noticed was that 5 seats in front, two seats to the left of me, and 10 seats behind me were empty. Though there was a packed house, they seemed to draw my attention. As I looked around, different ethnic cultures were few the none. I couldn’t help but wonder “why hasn’t the gap been bridged between cultures?”. Due to the attendance at hip hop concerts which can be predominantly white, so are there not more African- Americans interested in going to the Symphony and why is cultural diversity so low. I truly enjoyed the show It allowed my perspective to change and gave me new inspiration on how music can manipulate your emotions.
Our first critical review is of the Houston Symphony’s presentation of “100 Years of Broadway” March 28, 2014
Reviews by Mom S. and her 12 year old budding art critic daughter Amara S.
I honestly did enjoy the show. It was a great experience but at certain points I almost fell asleep.
So, today I went to the 100th anniversary of Broadway and, honestly, at first it sounded completely and utterly boring. Boy was I wrong, the vocalists were fantastic, as well as the orchestra and chorus. The chorus had amazing sound and when it was paired with the symphony, it was perfection. I was more partial to Rachel York’s powerful, booming voice over Christiane Noll’s soft, sweet voice. However, that is not my point, I believe that all three vocalists ( Christiane Noll, Christopher Johnstone, and Rachel York) all had magnificent voices and when they all sang together, it was harmonic. I have to say ,though, my favorite song was probably “Age of Aquarius” from the musical “Hair”. On a final note, I would definitely go see it again and any other show with the Houston Symphony POPS. I believe that children at my age would enjoy it a lot and have the same opinion as I.
All that Jazz – Broadway Soars in Houston
The Houston Symphony is celebrating part of its centennial with a bow to Broadway lights. Tonight was the opening for the 100 Years of a Broadway run through Sunday, March 30. So, tonight, audiences were treated to a “best of” from the last 100 years – ranging from an early operetta all the way to the most recent decade of Broadway hits with stops in the decades between.
The Houston Pops, led by conductor Michael Krajewski, pulled off an often rousing, and occasionally tearful review of notable and popular music from the last century of Broadway history. Conductor Majewski admitted toward the end how hard it was to decide what to include, but the results made for any engaging and fun evening, with perhaps some notable gaps along the way.
The evening began with a crowd pleasing nod to Cole Porter, with “There’s No Business Like Show Business” with all three soloists on hand: Christiane Noll, Rachel York ad Christopher Johnstone. After the boisterous start, a sweet Italian street song, courtesy of Ms. Noll, nicely transitioned to Show Boat. It was pointed out how this Rogers and Hammerstein musical was one of the first transitions to modern musical theatre format. In the medley version led by Ms. York, she keenly showed her chops for the originals sung by Ethel Mermen.
The evening continued through lovely and relevant pieces from the mid-century glory-days of Broadway, giving us signature tunes from My Fair Lady and a chorus-backed rendition of ‘”Climb Every Mountain”.
In the second half of the performance, the shift was decidedly to the latter half of the century, with a well-rendered, if awkward rendition of the “Age of Aquarius.” My small quibble here was with reducing the costuming for this to a quick head-scarf and a pair a sunglasses. The tone shifted back to the more assured tone of ‘All That Jazz’ with Ms. York taking the lead and Ms. Noll, providing support for this popular tune from Chicago.
One of the more riveting moments of the evening was provided next by Ms. Noll, as she first explained the story context of “A Little Night Music” and then gave us a particularly nuanced version of “Send in the Clowns”.
The tempo soon moved up with nice pieces bringing us to the current two decades – from Les Miserables, Wicked, and the long-running Phantom of the Opera. Bring Him Home and Music of the Night gave Mr. Johnstone a chance to shine. Ms. York lent her own intensity and float to ”Defying Gravity”.
The evening rounded out with a nod to Disney and Lion King. While perhaps too much of an attempt to be a generalized crowd-pleaser, it did finally give the well-appointed chorus a chance to shine.
Small gaps did exist – personally, I would have loved to hear something from West Side Story – but we all have our favorites, and you can’t always get them at once. It did remind me of the breadth of styles that has been Broadway music and the influence that Broadway and musical theatre have had on our popular culture. And to this point, the symphony – as backup – has not been mentioned –but their performance was solid and enjoyable. So, to that end, Pops performances continue to give enjoyment to broad ranging audiences and to remind us how good our home symphony can be.