Cushney Roberts Tells the Story of Motown

Spectrum will appear with the Houston Symphony as part of our The Men of Motown concert this July at Jones Hall.

Spectrum will appear with the Houston Symphony as part of our The Men of Motown concert this July at Jones Hall.

On July 16, the Houston Symphony presents The Men of Motown Featuring Spectrum, a concert celebrating the rich musical legacy of some of Motown’s greatest artists. Headlining the concert will be the vocal ensemble Spectrum, one of the best Motown-style ensembles around. Spectrum vocalist Cushney Roberts took some time to share a bit of the remarkable history behind this music.

Well into the 1950s, music recordings by American black artists were classified as “race” records and were typically forbidden or severely restricted from radio airplay on “white” stations. Many of the songs were rerecorded, or covered, by white artists who often prospered from broader airplay and sales while the original artists struggled. Perhaps most notably, songs by Fats Domino and Little Richard were covered by Pat Boone (“Ain’t That a Shame,” “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally”); Big Momma Thornton’s “Hound Dog” was covered by Elvis Presley; and The Beatles covered Chuck Berry, the Marvelettes and Little Richard with “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Please Mr. Postman” and “Long Tall Sally,” respectively.

Since airwaves cannot be controlled, white audiences first heard these “forbidden” tunes on black-oriented radio programs. The demand grew, and white-orientated stations were pressured into playing recordings by the black artists. The “crossovers” moved into an arena where a larger, more lucrative audience awaited.

Spectrum I RCCL WR promo 2

“Groomed at Motown’s finishing school, well-mannered young black performers thrilled audiences with their flashy, yet classy, costumes and exquisite choreography.”

Paralleling the era of segregation in the 1950s and ’60s, Berry Gordy founded Motown Records, named for Detroit: Motor City. He envisioned a style and presentation of music that would capture the attention of all of America’s youth. By tapping into a deep pool of talented young performers, writers, musicians and producers, he mined great songs and presented them to an eager public. Groomed at Motown’s finishing school, well-mannered young black performers thrilled audiences with their flashy, yet classy, costumes and exquisite choreography.

Once on the airwaves, the music took root, and the cornerstone of the soundtrack of the 1960s and ’70s Vietnam and Civil Rights era found its place in American history. The Motown sound shared top rankings on the American pop charts with America’s British Invasion, while it made its mark on Britain and beyond. Gordy’s acts made regular appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and numerous TV specials.

An American institution and unique musical and entrepreneurial phenomenon, Motown stands as a shining example of a merger of American ingenuity and talent.

–Cushney Roberts

Don’t miss Cushney Roberts and Spectrum perform the Music of Motown at our concert on July 16! Click here for tickets and more information.

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Ima Hogg Competition Finalists Announced!

After many amazing performances at the Semifinal round today, our judges have after much deliberation decided on four finalists for the 2016 Ima Hogg Competition. We present them to you in alphabetical order:

Samuel Chan, marimba

Samuel Chan, marimba

Samuel Chan, marimba – Koppel Marimba Concerto No. 1

This 22-year-old marimba player is a graduate of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) and New England Conservatory and currently attends The Juilliard School in pursuit of a Master of Music degree. Click here to learn more about Samuel Chan.

Luke Hsu, violin

Luke Hsu, violin

Luke Hsu, violin – Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

This violinist is currently a candidate for the prestigious AD program at the Royal Academy of Music in London, studying with Rodney Friend. Click here to learn more about Luke Hsu.

Christine Lee, cello

Christine Lee, cello

Christine Lee, cello – Schumann Cello Concerto

This 24-year-old cellist is a recent Master of Music graduate of The Juilliard School and an artist-in-residence at Queen Elisabeth Chapelle Musicale for the 2015-16 season. Click here to learn more about Christine Lee.

Brian Lin, piano – Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1

Brian Lin, piano

Brian Lin, piano

This 24-year-old pianist received his bachelor’s degree from The Juilliard School in 2014, where he is currently pursuing his master’s degree with Joseph Kalichstein and Yoheved Kaplinsky. Click here to learn more about Brian Lin.

See these talented young musicians compete for first prize and the $25,000 Grace Woodson Memorial Award Saturday at 7:00 pm at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. Click here for tickets and more information.

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Meet Stephanie Zyzak: 2016 Ima Hogg Competition Semi-finalist

Stephanie Zyzak, violin

Stephanie Zyzak, violin

Meet Ima Hogg Competition Semi-finalist Stephanie Zyzak! This talented 22-year-old violinist currently studies with Miriam Fried at New England Conservatory. We recently got a chance to ask Stephanie a few questions about herself and her musical life.

Houston Symphony: Where did you grow up and how did that community affect whom you have become?

Stephanie Zyzak: I moved around a lot when I was young, and I think all the different communities and people I met gave me a well-rounded perspective on music and life.

HS: Are there other musical people in your family?

SZ: My brother and I are the only musical people in my family (he plays the cello). Both my parents are scientists and have always been supportive of our music. They always try to relate to music in their own scientific way, but sometimes they just pretend to understand 😉

HS: At what age did you begin playing your instrument and what memories do you have of your first rehearsals or performances?

"The first performance I remember happened at the Aspen Music Festival when I was around seven years old."

“The first performance I remember happened at the Aspen Music Festival when I was around seven years old.”

SZ: I was four years old. The first performance I remember happened at the Aspen Music Festival when I was around seven years old. Performing there gave me an amazing feeling, although I don’t remember how I played…hopefully it was okay!

HS: What has been the most exciting event for you in your musical career?

SZ: Always traveling to different places and meeting and performing for many people.

HS: Do you have any pre-performance habits or rituals?

SZ: I like to take a nap, read the news, and listen to music.

HS: Who are some of your most profound influences and what is the impact they have had on you?

SZ: Definitely my parents. Even though they aren’t musicians, their perspective on music gives me knowledge on how to connect with audiences that may not know that much about music.

Joshua Bell, violin

Joshua Bell, violin

HS: Who is the most famous person you have met or worked with?

SZ: Joshua Bell.

HS: What are the “top five” pieces or songs on your playlist or iPod?

SZ: Usually pieces I’m playing at the moment or works I want to play next. I like to listen to a lot of chamber music as well.

HS: Do you have any favorite TV shows?

SZ: Anything on Netflix or Hulu.

HS: Do you have any favorite sports teams?

SZ: The New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox.

HS: Do you have any favorite kinds of food?

SZ: Korean, Pizza (any Italian), Chinese or a really good burger.

HS: Do you have any favorite cities or travel destinations?

SZ: North Carolina, Chicago, Boston or New York.

HS: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of music?

SZ: Is eating a hobby? Cooking isn’t really a strength of mine so I turned to eating.

See Stephanie Zyzak perform for FREE at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music on Thursday, June 2. And don’t forget to get tickets to the Finals Concert!

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Q&A with Ima Hogg Semi-finalist Charles Seo

Charles Seo, cello

Charles Seo, cello

Meet Ima Hogg Competition Semi-finalist Charles Seo! This talented 20-year-old cellist is currently a sophomore at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, where he studies with Professor Ronald Leonard. We recently got a chance to ask Sam a few questions about himself and his musical life.

Houston Symphony: Where did you grow up and how did that community affect whom you have become?

Charles Seo: I grew up in Houston ever since I was in the fourth grade. The music community in Houston was pretty far advanced from what I remember. I joined the Houston Youth Symphony, and started entering local competitions at a young age. Because of the supportive environment, I was able to mature into not only a musician, but as a good human being.

HS: Are there other musical people in your family? What have you learned from them? If you are the only musical person in your family, how have they encouraged your musical career?

CS: My mother majored in music composition and my father served in the Korean Military Band. When I was a baby, my mother placed me underneath the grand piano she played at church. Ever since I learned how to play the cello, our family became a trio that performed numerous amounts of times. My parents always reminded me to use my musical talents to glorify God’s name and to praise him. If I were the only musical person in the family.

HS: At what age did you begin playing your instrument and what memories do you have of your first rehearsals or performances?

CS: When I was in the fourth grade, I began playing the cello. I remember winning the Houston Youth Symphony Concerto Competition with the Shostakovich Cello Concerto, and performing with the orchestra at Rice University. I think I will feel very nostalgic and old once I get on the same stage with the same piece that I performed many years ago.

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“…being at the Moscow Conservatory was a sensational experience.”

HS: What has been the most exciting event for you in your musical career?

CS: A miracle happened to me recently. I applied to the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition even though I wasn’t completely ready. I made it into the preliminary round, and I was invited to compete In Moscow. When I arrived at the airport in Moscow, an interviewer and a cameraman Immediately followed me and I’ve never felt so excited in my life. I’ve only watched the competition through live stream, and being at the Moscow Conservatory was a sensational experience. I will work harder and hopefully go back alter three more years.

HS: Do you have any pre-performance habits or rituals?

CS: I like to drink hot cocoa before I go on stage. It seems to help me calm down and restore energy. I’ve tried everything from bananas to eating nothing at all, but a little bit of sugar seems to help me. Also, I always pray that he will be with me right before I perform.

HS: Who are some of your most profound influences and what is the impact they have had on you?

CS: My mentor, Brinton Smith, loves to try new things, and push everything to the limit. He got me to experiment and play with violin pieces and challenged me to learn difficult repertoire. Without him, I would have never gotten the chance to learn pieces like that, and I would’ve never had the mindset of trying new, revolutionary things on the cello.

HS: Who is the most famous person you have met or worked with?

Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat. Photo courtesy of Chechevere at English Wikipedia.

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. Photo courtesy of Chechevere at English Wikipedia.

CS: I have met many famous cellists and artists. I will be meeting more in May at the Piatigorisky International Music Festival. There will be many world-renowned cellists there such as Yo-Yo-Ma, Mischa Maisky, Truls Mork, Frans Helmerson, David Geringas and many more. I will be participating in masterclasses and cello ensembles at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I am thrilled to be given such an opportunity.

HS: What are the “top five” pieces or songs on your playlist or iPod?

CS: 1. “Close Your Eyes by Stacey Kent.
2. “In Your Own Sweet Way” by Wes Montgomery.
3. “Panic Station” by MUSE.
4. “Chant du Menestrel” by Mischa Maisky.
5. “Liszt’s Liebestraum No.3 Op.62 S541” by Arthur Rubinstein.

HS: Do you have a favorite TV show?

CS: House of Cards.

HS: Do you have a favorite sports team?

CS: The Rockets.

HS: What kind of food do you like?

CS: Anything spicy!

HS: Do you have a favorite city or travel destination?

CS: Salar de Uyuni.

HS: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of music?

CS: I love bowling, traveling, and snowboarding.

See Charles Seo perform for FREE at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music on Thursday, June 2. And don’t forget to get tickets to the Finals Concert!

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Meet Ron Cohen Mann: 2016 Ima Hogg Competition Semi-finalist

Ron Cohen Mann, oboe

Ron Cohen Mann, oboe

Meet Ima Hogg Competition Semi-finalist Ron Cohen Mann! This talented 25 year old oboist is currently an Artist Diploma candidate at the Yale School of Music, studying with Stephen Taylor. We recently got a chance to ask Ron a few questions about his life in music.

Houston Symphony: Where did you grow up and how did that community affect who you have become?

Ron Cohen Mann: I grew up in Israel, the Netherlands, and in Vancouver, Canada. It was fun to move around as a kid and I am fortunate to have had so many opportunities to travel.

HS: Are there other musical people in your family?

"I played Mozart's Symphony No. 35 "Haffner"; I had a huge smile on my face throughout the first rehearsal."

“I played Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 “Haffner”; I had a huge smile on my face throughout the first rehearsal.”

RCM: I’m the only musician in my immediate family. My parents always asked me to practice less and I guess it didn’t work! My family has been incredibly supportive and I can’t thank them enough.

HS: At what age did you begin playing your instrument and what memories do you have of your first rehearsals or performances?

RCM: I started oboe at the late age of 14! I’ll always cherish my first experience playing in orchestra a year later. I played Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 “Haffner”; I had a huge smile on my face throughout the first rehearsal.

HS: What has been the most exciting event for you in your musical career?

RCM: My Weill Hall debut at Carnegie Hall was in April, which I shared with my dear friend and colleague, harpist Noël Wan. Other highlights include performing Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite in India, and touring to China with the Manhattan Symphonie.

Wynton Marsalis. Photographer: Luigi Beverelli

Wynton Marsalis. Photographer: Luigi Beverelli

HS: Do you have any pre-performance habits or rituals?

RCM: I like to stay very relaxed on performance days: sleeping in if I can, watching Netflix and making reeds to keep my mind off of the performance.

HS: Who are some of your most profound influences and what is the impact they have had on you?

RCM: My biggest influences are my oboe heroes and teachers: Stephen Taylor, Sherry Sylar, and Beth Orson.

HS: Who is the most famous person you have met or worked with?

RCM: Wynton Marsalis, Valery Gergiev or John Adams.

HS: What are the “top five” pieces or songs on your playlist or iPod?

RCM: Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, Schumann Konzertstück, Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit, Megan Trainor “No”, Beyoncé “Love on Top”

HS: What is your favorite TV show?

RCM: RuPaul’s Drag Race.

HS: What is your favorite place to eat?

RCM: Chipotle Mexican Grill.

HS: Do you have a favorite city or travel destination?

RCM: New York City.

HS: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of music?

RCM: I’m an avid photographer.

See Ron Cohen Mann perform Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C major and Strauss’ Oboe Concerto in D major for FREE at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music on Thursday June 2. And don’t forget to get tickets to the Finals Concert!

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