Calvin Dotsey: When did you first become interested in classical music? Was there a special family member, friend or teacher who introduced you to it?
George John: My elementary school had a music program, and I began to learn how to play cello in 3rd grade. I recall our teacher playing Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals and Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, and watching on TV Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. The one that stood out most for me was his episode “Who is Gustav Mahler?” Perhaps this planted the initial seeds of my current 40+ years of love for the music of Gustav Mahler, in my estimation the greatest composer for symphony orchestra.
CD: When did you first attend a Houston Symphony concert?
GJ: Early in my freshman year at Rice University in 1971, I learned of a special offer from the Houston Symphony, 20 concerts for $20.00! My roommate and I bought two subscriptions for $40.00 each with the intent of taking dates. It worked! Rice and University of Houston co-eds loved going to Jones Hall and hearing the Houston Symphony.
I was a subscriber on and off until Hans Graf’s performance of Hindemith’s Symphony: Mathis der Maler. Many years earlier this was my favorite orchestral work. Hans Graf’s performance was perfect! I told my wife at the end of the performance, “I can now die a happy man.” More importantly, I became a subscriber again. An orchestra and conductor this great needed to be heard live!
CD: Do you have any other favorite Houston Symphony memories you would like to share?
GJ: I have had so many great experiences with the Houston Symphony, it’s difficult to recount all of them. Early on with Lawrence Foster I was introduced to some of the greatest works of the 20th century. The highlight was Charles Ives’ Fourth Symphony. I can’t tell you how excited I was to learn that our new maestro intends to do a complete Ives Symphony cycle! Two live performances of Ives’ Fourth in one lifetime in the same city? How often does that happen?
Other great moments were Hans Graf’s performance of the Deryck Cooke completion of Mahler’s Tenth, and Frank Huang’s extraordinary performance of the Berg Violin Concerto. Another highlight was Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s interpretations of the Ives First and Second Symphonies, exceptional performances that deserve to be released on CD. Finally, the Houston Symphony’s multimedia collaboration with NASA on the HD Odyssey series is a singularly unique, outstanding accomplishment.
CD: How has the Houston Symphony changed since you first began attending?
GJ: The Houston Symphony has evolved from a good orchestra to one of the truly greatest in the world. Seriously, there is no orchestra that I would prefer to hear. I urge you to buy a recording of the Dvorak Symphonies 6, 7, and 8. The Sixth is the most recent. This is a truly special recording. You will hear no better playing than on this release. It is such a pleasure to hear such a beautiful performance.
CD: What does the Houston Symphony mean to you?
A famous poet once remarked that music gives us our closest glimpse of heaven. The symphony orchestra is the apex of that vision. We Houstonians are blessed with a symphony unrivaled in the world. Those many standing ovations are justly deserved. BRAVO!
Thanks to all our subscribers! You make the music possible. Share your memories in the comments below!