The article below includes extended content from the article of the same title featured in the March 2014 magazine.
THIS MONTH IN SYMPHONY HISTORY
The Houston Symphony Visits New York
The Houston Symphony Magazine’s trip down memory lane stops in New York at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall where the Symphony made its debuts. March is significant to Carnegie Hall because it was in this month in 1889 that Andrew Carnegie organized the Music Hall Company of New York when he purchased nine parcels of land along 7th Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets. Architect William Burnet Tuthill was hired in July, and the Music Hall opened in 1891.
Since the Hall was built prior to required structural steel construction, its walls are primarily brick and masonry. Carnegie Hall’s exterior Italian Renaissance design showcases the era’s eclectic architectural taste; Tuthill focused on simple, elegant style elements and created an exceptional acoustic setting.
The Houston Symphony made its New York debut, led by Conductor Sir John Barbirolli (Giovanni Battista Barbirolli) on March 3, 1964, at Lincoln Center in honor of its 50th anniversary season. The program included: Berlioz’ Corsair Overture, Tone Poem in Summer Garden by Delius, Symphony No. 6 by Vaughan Williams and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Harold C. Schonberg of the New York Times called the Vaughn Williams piece “a combination of savagery, modality and folk music. It has its share of moving melodies, and the long phrases given to the tenor saxophone in the third movement make the dubious instrument actually sound noble. It is the bleak last movement, though, that grips the imagination as much as any symphonic movement composed this symphony. With the playing he drew from his orchestra, Sir John is welcome anytime.”
The following year on March 11, 1965, Barbirolli led the 94-person orchestra in its first of 16 performances at Carnegie Hall. This festival emerged when Carnegie Hall’s prime tenant, the New York Philharmonic, moved to its own hall, Lincoln Center, in 1960; executive director Julius Bloom brainstormed events to fill empty dates.
The Symphony appeared at the International Festival of Visiting Orchestras at Carnegie Hall alongside several other orchestras, including the Vienna Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic of London, the Toronto Symphony and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The festival’s program included: Weber’s Euryanthe Overture, Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, (Enigma), Sibelius’ Lemminkainen Suite The Swan of Tuonela and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5. New York Times reporter Theodore Strongin said the Symphony’s performance of Weber’s Euryanthe “was played with ease and affection and . . . a great hit with the audience.”
On March 25 and 26, 1966, Barbirolli and the Houston Symphony returned for a spring East Coast Tour that included 19 cities. According to the Texas State Historical Association, Barbirolli continued to build an enthusiastic audience by including a fair amount of modern music in his programs. The eastern seaboard tour, which included Washington D.C., garnered unanimously good reviews, rating the Symphony among the major orchestras of the country. When the Houston Symphony returned from this particular tour, the audience shared a renewed enthusiasm for the orchestra. Barbirolli led an annual spring tour until the end of his term in 1967.
Conductor Lawrence Foster continued the Carnegie Hall performance streak on March 19. 1973—a month after Luciano Pavarotti premiered at the historic venue. Conductor Christoph Eschenbach, who is often credited for enhancing the orchestra’s national and international presence, led the Houston Symphony in Washington D.C. and New York on March 3, 1991, the year that Carnegie Hall celebrated its 100th anniversary. Eschenbach, and the Symphony returned to the Hall on March 5, 1998. on the Shell 1998 U.S. Tour.
For more information on these musicians and others, stop by the box office or Symphony Store to buy a copy of the new Houston Symphony commemorative book, Houston Symphony: Celebrating a Century.
See more articles like this in the Houston Symphony Magazine, available before each Houston Symphony concert at Jones Hall. Or click here to see our magazine archives.