20 Questions with Timothy McAllister

Timothy McAllister, saxophonist of mystery

Timothy McAllister, saxophone

If you haven’t heard, Timothy McAllister is one of the world’s best classical saxophone players. He’s so good, in fact, that he inspired one of America’s greatest living composers, John Adams, to write a Saxophone Concerto just for him. It just might be the greatest Saxophone Concerto ever—but don’t take our word for it. Timothy McAllister will perform this virtuoso showpiece for saxophone and orchestra with the Houston Symphony at our upcoming concert that also features Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. On top of that, Timothy McAllister is from Houston, which obviously means he’s super cool. As evidence, we offer his answers to the 20 questions below.

Calvin Dotsey: What’s one thing most people don’t realize about playing the saxophone?

Timothy McAllister: The saxophone is probably the easiest instrument to pick up immediately and make a sound on, but one of the hardest to play in-tune with a good sound.

CD: If you could go back in time and meet one person, who would it be?

When you think about it, it would make sense to visit Einstein after using a time machine.

When you think about it, it would make sense to visit Einstein after time traveling.

TM: Albert Einstein.

CD: What is your biggest dream?

TM: I’m lucky to say I’m currently living it.

CD: What is your spirit animal?

TM: Velociraptor.

CD: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

TM: Flying, of course.  Heat vision rocks, too.

CD: What is the last recording you listened to?

TM: Philip Glass’s Meetings from the Edge (Pacific Symphony, Carl St. Clair, conductor).

CD: What’s something that scares you?

TM: Velociraptors. Oh, and heights.

CD: Describe the music you are going to perform in three words.

TM: Muscular, sweeping, nostalgic.

CD: What gets on your nerves?

I suppose a velociraptor might fear other velociraptors.

I suppose a velociraptor might fear other velociraptors.

TM: Tardiness.

CD: What are you most proud of?

TM: My six-year old daughter, Roya.

CD: What is your favorite place in the world?

TM: Michigan Stadium on a fall Saturday in Ann Arbor.

CD: What is the last book you enjoyed reading?

TM: The biography on legendary oboist Marcel Tabuteau by Laila Storch.

CD: What is the last movie or TV show you enjoyed watching?

TM: The Lego Batman Movie! It was epic.

CD: Name one person who inspires you.

TM: Michelle Obama.

CD: If you had to have a job in a different field, what would it be?

TM: Geology. I love the study of formations and how tectonic movement shaped beautiful features throughout the world.

CD: What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?

We are not that surprised.

We are not that surprised.

TM: Most people don’t realize I’m a massive Star Trek nerd. I think about Star Trek a lot. I mean a lot.

CD: If you were a musical key, what key would you be?

TM: Concert Pitch or transposed? Lol. I play an instrument pitched in either Bb or Eb. But if you must know, F# Major.

CD: What is the natural tempo marking of your life?

TM: Presto.

CD: What’s one quality you look for in all your friends?

TM: Openness.

CD: If you had to play another instrument, what instrument would you pick?

TM: Cello.

Don’t miss Timothy McAllister with the Houston Symphony February 23, 24 & 25, 2017! Get tickets and more info here.

Posted in 2016-17 Season, Classical, Q&A | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Power of Photography Through the Eyes of David Doubilet

Imagine someone gave you a camera and told you to go shoot the essence of Houston. But you only have an hour. And you have less than 100 feet of visibility.

That’s how David Doubilet described difficult assignments as an underwater photographer.

“Photography has the ability to illuminate, surprise, astound, humiliate, and celebrate. The power of photography is like the power of poetry. It has to go right to the heart,” says Doubilet.


A swimmer explores waters near Spring, Florida. Credit: David Doubilet.

Our upcoming National Geographic Live speaker series event, the second in a four-event series, features David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes, a husband-and-wife team who have no shortage of adventure in their lives. Doubilet is a National Geographic magazine legend, his captivating work with the publication spanning back to 1971. Hayes is an aquatic biologist, author, and published photojournalist.

From boiling tropics to freezing poles

Doubilet and Hayes routinely travel to remote areas of the world studying the environment and taking pictures that may sometimes seem to be from another planet. But those pictures are of this planet – 70% of it as Doubilet points out.

“Water powers life on earth. But what goes on beneath that surface is intriguing, extraordinary, exciting. It goes beyond the quality of our dreams,” said Doubilet.


A Papuan fisherman stands in a boat above waters teeming with fish. Credit: David Doubilet.

In Papua New Guinea, they were in the “epicenter of marine biodiversity, the empire of coral.” In this area, part of the Coral Triangle, there are over 500 coral species and over 3,000 species of fish.

Doubilet said that diving in the St. Lawrence Gulf is among his happiest adventure as part of this assignment. They spent time observing harp seals – an animal whose time on the ice is very short. They nurse their offspring a few brief days before sending them off on their own. They struggle to survive now as their environment is changing rapidly.


Two harp seals kiss. Credit: Jennifer Hayes.

Going from the boiling hot tropics to the freezing poles, Doubilet said that working in this field is part adventure and part science, but there’s also a lot of personal emotion involved. His job, he says, is to organize the chaos into the rhythm of an image.

Diving Among Oil Rigs

Part of Doubilet and Hayes travels include a dive near oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Doubilet said he knows first-hand how complex and intensely beautiful oil rigs can be underwater. He described how larvae, algae, armies of angelfish, and barnacles all surround a rig.

“People don’t realize how difficult it is to make gasoline – all that is required to do that,” Doubilet said. “There’s 33,000 miles of pipe there – mostly put down by divers. This goes to the heart of what Houston energy is all about. Doing that and being environmentally responsible – that goes hand in hand. It requires real vision.”


A school of Red Pinjalo Snappers swims through Kimbe Bay off the northern coast of New Britain, Papua New Guinea. Credit: David Doubilet.

Photography, Doubilet says, has the ability to convince the unconvinced, and it allows us to show the engine of life. Doubilet and Hayes want to open people’s minds to how vital the oceans are and what we’re learning about the systems that make the oceans work.

The future of biodiversity

Being underwater, Doubilet said, is always a challenge and every dive is an exploration. He says he feels that with these dives they are documenting a time and place that may be slipping by us.

Climate change is the looming threat to this intense biodiversity. This, Doubilet says, is where he feels a responsibility as a photographer.

“There are people aware and awake about climate change – they are ready to accept and change our lives for the better. We as Americans have to deal with it too.”

A plane flies above the Hook and Hardy Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: David Doubilet.

A plane flies above the Hook and Hardy Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef. Credit: David Doubilet.

When asked what advice he would give to future underwater photographers and biologists, he said:

“The sea needs you – your heart, mind, vision, dreams and poetry. It needs engineers and artists. It needs economists and it needs builders…We have 7.2 billion people on the planet. There’s no free lunch in that…Our children’s children will say, ‘You had your chance – why didn’t you do something about it?’”

This Tuesday evening is going to take you on a journey. And it’s going to challenge what you think you know. This Nat Geo Live speaker series will be held in Jones Hall on January 10 at 7:30pm. Tickets available from $20. 

Note: The Houston Symphony will not be performing at this event.

Posted in 2016-17 Season, Nat Geo Live | Leave a comment

A New Heart for the New Year


Waltrip band students play to raise money for a classmate’s heart transplant.

At the Houston Symphony, we are always amazed by the kids that we work with through our education and community programs, but sometimes we encounter something so remarkable it takes our breath away. Through our new residency program at Waltrip High School, we recently learned of one story of the power of music to unite a community that we feel compelled to share.

“I’m just a simple high school student who likes being in band, playing percussion instruments” said Jose Tovar – a 15 year-old student at Waltrip High School. “Oh and something else,” Jose continued, “I have a heart problem, but that doesn’t really bother me since I am with the band. They have been like a real family since the first day I walked in. They have always been there for me when I needed help most.”

By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29525846

Jose Tovar was diagnosed with a complete atrioventricular canal defect.

Now is definitely one of those times. Jose suffers from a complete atrioventricular canal defect. That basically means that there is a big hole in his heart that allows blood from different chambers to mix. A healthy human heart has chambers that separate oxygenated and deoxygenated blood to maximize effeciency. When oxygenated and deoxygenated blood mix, the heart has to work extra hard to try to get the same amount of oxygen out to the body so that it can function. This leads to a number of complications, including hypertension and ultimately heart failure.

After four surgeries, doctors have determined that Jose urgently needs a heart transplant. Unfortunately, heart transplants are prohibitively expensive. Jose’s family is looking at a bill for half a million dollars.

Fortunately for Jose, he’s in the band. As he told us, “If you want extra brothers and sisters, come here to the Waltrip Ram Band and trust me, you won’t turn back.” The Waltrip Ram Band has taken Jose’s diagnosis as a call to action. Band members are currently fundraising in every way they can imagine to help the Tovar family raise $500,000 for the heart transplant.

“I’ve been a part of few occasions where I have seen the power of this community come together so fast and so strong to make things happen,” said Waltrip High School band director, Jesse Espinosa. “I’m hoping this community can do the same for Jose Tovar. We need a miracle—Jose deserves it.”

“What inspires me to fundraise for Jose,” says classmate Jose Del Campo, “is the fact that even through his darkest moments, he manages to push forward and have the will to live. When Jose isn’t there, it feels as though a familiar and warm positivity that is usually living here is gone.” Another classmate of Jose’s, Teresa Landeros said “You hear stories like this every day, but when it’s one of your own people, it hurts to see them suffer such great pain. I miss his fun, spirited personality.”


“If you want extra brothers and sisters, come here to the Waltrip Ram Band and trust me, you won’t turn back.” –Jose Tovar

When the Waltrip Ram Band performs—whether on the marching field, at City Hall or in concert—music clearly means so much more to these students than notes on the page—it’s about connecting with each other. “The Waltrip Ram Band is home and that’s where Jose belongs, with his family and friends, who care for him” says classmate Gissel Gomez. “That’s what motivates me to not only fund raise, but to also try my best in anything and everything I do with the band.”

The Houston Symphony has gotten to know the Watrip Ram Band pretty well over the years. We first partnered with the school in 2010, and the Waltrip Band was recently selected as one of this year’s High School Residencies presented by Occidental Petroleum. Our musicians have made regular visits to the school to help students take their music-making to the next level, and Waltrip band students regularly attend Houston Symphony concerts, perform in the lobby of Jones Hall, volunteer in the instrument petting zoo and attend rehearsals and masterclasses. In September, twenty-eight students from the Waltrip band even played traditional Peruvian instruments as part of the Houston Symphony’s Fiesta Sinfonica concert at Jones Hall, conducted by our Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada.

Our musicians are constantly inspired by the incredible students and overall culture at Waltrip High School. After a few moments of interacting with students from this school, their radiant passion, hard-work and drive is evident.

To help the Waltrip Ram Band family and Jose Tovar, visit Jose’s GoFundMe page. Sharing this blog post or the GoFundMe link goes a long way.

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Fire Survivors Get New Violins

Houston Symphony Community Embedded Musician Tony Parce tunes up Hadas'sah Sims' new violin.

Houston Symphony Community Embedded Musician Anthony Parce tunes up Hadas’sah Sims’ new violin.

It’s easy to take having a place to call home for granted.

“I never envisioned college graduation from the University of Houston with honors, marriage, children, and living in a homeless shelter,” wrote Nakia Sims, the mother of two beginning Suzuki Violin students, Azania and Hadas’sah.

When the Sims family lost their home in a fire this past summer, they lost everything. Nevertheless, Nakia was determined “to keep as much of a routine, academic rigor, music appreciation, and family fun in my daughters’ lives.”

Azania and Hadas’sah were both enrolled in the Suzuki program at the Mandarin Immersion Magnet School, and they quickly took to the violin. “Azania is extremely shy unless she’s dancing or playing the violin. When Azania plays violin, dances or flips into splits she is happy….Hadas’sah loved teaching me to play twinkle twinkle,” says Nakia.

But even before the fire, a limited supply of school violins and family resources meant that Azania and Hadas’sah didn’t have violins they could take home to practice.

Then Houston Symphony Community Embedded Musician Anthony Parce met this family while performing at a Salvation Army event. When he shared their story with other Houston Symphony staff, we were determined to help. Through our partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters, we invited the Sims family to attend our Family Concerts, and even gave them a backstage tour. “It was like magic watching my daughters get excited about attending violin class after the Houston Symphony’s dynamic team gave them a tour,” Nakia said.


From left to right: Kenneth Gayle, Program Director, Music Doing Good with Instruments; Hadas’sah Sims; Marie Taylor Bosarge, President and Founder, Music Doing Good; Azania Sims; and Nakia Sims.

At our 12 Days of Christmas Family Concert on December 3, we decided to give them a special surprise with the help of our friends at Music Doing Good.

Music Doing Good is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts organization committed to “Creating a world where we all live in concert.” Through their outreach programs—In Schools, With Instruments and With Scholarships—Music Doing Good brings music to children in Houston who would otherwise not have access.

Houston Symphony Education and Community Programming managers Emily Nelson and Joshua Dada realized that the Sims sisters would be perfect candidates to receive instruments from the Music Doing Good with Instruments program. At our December 3 concert, Music Doing Good was able to present Azania and Hadas’sah with new violins of their own so that they can continue to pursue their love of music.

This is just one example of how the Houston Symphony is partnering with other non-profits to maximize our impact in the Greater Houston community. You can help make more stories like this possible by supporting our Community and Education programming here. Stay tuned for more news, and happy holidays!

Posted in 2016-17 Season, Education, Family | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And the Winners Are…

This November we launched a contest on Facebook asking our subscribers to share their favorite guest soloist memories with us as part of Subscriber Appreciation Month. We received many wonderful responses, and we wanted to share the two winning memories with you here. Each of our winners will receive dinner for two at the Lancaster Hotel, located just across the street from Jones Hall.

At the Houston Symphony, we love our subscribers. These dedicated fans are our core audience, our biggest cheerleaders and our most enthusiastic advocates in the community. By buying ticket packages, subscribers save money and give us the revenue we need to bring great artists to Houston and maintain the highest standards of artistic excellence for our orchestra. They get to see more of the amazing artists and programs we present, discovering new music and relishing old favorites.

But the people who can best tell you why it’s great to be a Houston Symphony subscriber are our subscribers themselves.

Martin Fröst, clarinet

Martin Fröst, clarinet

Ruth Seubert Paige – Subscriber for 9 Seasons

According to our records, Ruth has been a Houston Symphony Classical Subscriber since 2009 and has also generously contributed to the Houston Symphony Annual Fund. In her memory, Ruth recalls clarinetist Martin Fröst’s 2015 performance of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto:

“I was so excited when I heard Martin Fröst was going to be here! My son is also a clarinetist and he introduced me to Fröst’s work a few years ago. I was hooked and when I saw he was to be here I was ecstatic! He did not disappoint in any way at all! Absolutely fantastic as I knew he would be. I appreciate our wonderful Houston Symphony so much….See you Sunday! Happy Thanksgiving!”


Chris Botti, trumpet

Chris Botti, trumpet

Cynthia Nelson – Subscriber for 27 Seasons

Cynthia Nelson has been both a Houston Symphony’s POPS subscriber and a generous donor since 1990! In her memory, she recounts the kindness of trumpet player Chris Botti:

“…It’s difficult to select one guest artist, but I remember Chris Botti making sure he met and had a special word with everyone in the Green Room. He stopped a shy young girl and gently had a conversation with her.”

Many thanks to the Lancaster Hotel for donating the prizes for this contest, and thank you to all of our subscribers for your support of our orchestra. Your commitment to the Houston Symphony helps bring great orchestral music to our whole community.

Do you have a great Symphony Story? Share your Symphony Story in the comments below!

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