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Monthly Archives: May 2010
For today’s blog post, our education department wanted to share something that has become near and dear to our hearts — dressing Associate Conductor Robert Franz in off-the-wall costumes for each of our Weatherford Family Concerts. If you ever wondered how those costumes came to pass, now’s your chance!
After a recent Weatherford Family Concert, Robert Franz encountered a patron in the lobby who remarked, “I can’t believe they make you wear all those crazy costumes!” To which Robert replied, “Yeah, I know. Can you believe it?”
If they only knew that under the feathers, beneath the pirate hat, and below the animal fur lay Robert himself – it is all HIS doing. Believing that family concerts should be as child-centered as possible, Robert’s imagination goes all out to make the theme of the concerts pop. While he dreams up these wild things, it falls to Carol Wilson, Francine Schiffman Lumia, and Roger Daily to make them go from idea to reality.
Here are a few recent examples of the conductor’s imagination, and the resulting attempts to dress Robert.
In February, Beauty and the Beast — Robert as, guess which one? A jet black sorceress wig was teased and sprayed into the mane of the Beast. Minutes prior to the conductor/Beast going on stage, black fur was furiously pinned around ankle and wrist cuffs, and out the top of his tuxedo shirt. As the Beast conducted, some fur flew from his wrists, threatening to land on a music stand.
In costume for Aladdin and the Arabian Nights in April 2009, Robert’s head bore a large chair-cushion of a turban – so big he could barely walk straight, much less conduct. For the feet, we found long, pointed slippers, which he chose not to wear for fear he wouldn’t be able to ascend the podium!
Pirates of the Symphony – Ahhrrrgg. In October 2007, Robert and his orchestral mates took a Caribbean journey. No one had to walk to the plank; in fact most pirates don’t have so many friends. Our neighbors at the Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet and Alley Theatre supplied most of Robert’s booty, including treasure chests and boats which decorated the stage. Sword and pistol aside, the crowd went wild as he stepped on stage in his ragged attire, baton pointed to do battle with violists’ bows.
May’s Carnival of Animals concert was all about the underdog of the animal kingdom: the chicken! There was talk of building a nest from which Robert would conduct, but instead the podium was converted into a coop with chicken wire and hay. There were very specific needs for the chicken costume. The feet couldn’t be too big so he could easily move around the podium, the wings had to have exposed hands so he could hold the baton, and the head piece could not cover his entire face, so he could see the entire orchestra. This was a serious matter when trying to find the most comical of costumes and much debate about feathers, etc. ensued.
All went well except for Robert having to spit the feather boa out of his face numerous times during the concerts. As for the big chicken feet – bigger than the Aladdin shoes – problem solved when Robert jumped on the “coop” podium with both feet.
Make sure to join us next season for the Weatherford Family Concert Series. Ghostbuster? Snowman? Lion? Astronaut? Who knows what Robert will dress up as next! Visit us online at www.houstonsymphony.org for more information.
Russian composer Igor Stravinsky is arguably the most important composer of the 20th century. Not only were his ideas new, complex and impressive to all who heard them, but his legacy as a musical risk-taker even landed him a spot as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the century.
This weekend in our 2009-10 Classical Season Finale, Maestro Graf leads the Orchestra in one of Stravinsky’s most notorious compositions – The Rite of Spring. Written for the famous company Ballet Russes, The Rite of Spring has a dramatic history connected to its 1913 premiere in Paris – a riot ensued as soon as the music began, halting the performance and cementing the event as one of classical music’s most unforgettable.
Of the event, Philip Glass wrote for TIME Magazine in 1998, “Trouble began with the playing of the first notes, in the ultrahigh register of the bassoon, as the renowned composer Camille Saint-Saens conspicuously walked out, complaining loudly of the misuse of the instrument. Soon other protests became so loud that the dancers could barely hear their cues. Fights broke out in the audience. Thus Modernism arrived in music, its calling card delivered by the 30-year-old Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.”
The theories floating around about the cause of the riot range from the story (pagan sacrifice), the ballet’s choreography (very suggestive), and the music itself (harsh, brutal rhythms, to be exact). Think of it as an early 20th century concert review that went terribly, terribly wrong. Who needs newspapers when you can throw punches? That was the rule of the day, after all.
Also on the program this weekend is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, a piece feared by pianists, but highly respected among orchestras. Both “Rach 3” and The Rite of Spring remain incredibly popular to this day, although they are stylistically completely different.
As Maestro Graf said, The Rite of Spring is “one of the most glorious and powerful staples of every great orchestra’s repertoire.” Pair that with guest pianist Garrick Ohlsson’s tremendous energy, technique and amazing musicality and you are in for an adventurous evening in music.
Dear Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky and all of the other great composer “Gods”:
I come to you a musical sinner. It has been … er… a while since my last confession. I have sinned because I have listened to a variety of Top 40 radio stations every day for a really long time, and, well, um … I really like it. I know, I know … I’m supposed to listen to NPR and know every symphony and opera and concerto ever performed on the face of the planet. But I don’t because I’m too busy listening to today’s top hits. I’m sorry … I guess.
But you have to understand, I just can’t tear myself away from it! I have fond memories of rocking out to No Doubt as a teenager. My husband and I happen to love the newest Ludacris album — those beats! Those rhymes! Lady Antebellum, it is a quarter after one and I really do need you now! It is a bad romance and you shouldn’t be plagued by the Papa-paparazzi Lady Gaga!
… Sorry … what was I saying? Oh yes …
Surely you can understand why I’m torn. I like to think that I’m just a harmless rebel. I can have my classical music cake and eat it too, just with a decadent layer of modern pop/rap/country/techno goodness on top. I promise, I love classical music and it is definitely part of my soul. I guess I just can’t be completely faithful to the genre. And really, is that a bad thing? You were a bit of a rebel yourself, Stravinksy. And Mozart, you were kind of like the Jonas brother of your day, with your child prodigy-ness. Right?
OK, so all I am saying, oh composer “Gods”, is that I like all music. I can’t help it. Generally music helps me to express myself a whole lot better than words can. Sometimes I’m in the mood to listen to a Rachmaninov piano concerto, while other times I’m more in the mood to dance in my car to the newest Beyonce hit. Does that really make me a musical sinner? Honestly, I don’t think so. Hopefully, you all see my argument and can understand. If not, I guess I will just be forced to go listen to rehearsal as “penance”.
Ha! As if that is really a punishment … looks like the joke is on you!
One slightly-guilt-ridden classical music lover
Last fall, all of our donors received a letter and/or email introducing myself (Danny Hutchins), Samantha Gonzalez and Jessica Ford. The Symphony hired us as Patron Services Specialists in September in an effort to provide a more personal approach to customer service for our donors. I thought I’d give you all a closer look at what we do here at the Symphony.
As YOUR Patron Services Specialists, we are happy to help with questions regarding your contributions to our Annual Fund and with any issues you may have, such as ticket exchanges or ticket donations. During the day you will find us tucked away in our cubicles working on thank you letters for our gracious donors or making phone calls in an attempt to raise money for our many programs that fall under Music Matters!. For those of you that don’t already know, Music Matters! touches the lives of more than 125,000 children and adults each year through various outreach activities including instrument lessons for middle school students, family concerts, recitals at nursing homes, homeless shelters and fun-filled education concerts for elementary students.
Now, getting back to our effort to provide a more personal approach to customer service, one of the main goals of this change was to stop out-sourcing our tele-funding. As of last September, every phone call that is made regarding our Annual Fund is made by the Patron Services Specialists. As musicians ourselves (see our bios here), all three of us are very passionate about music education and do our best to raise as much money as possible for the Annual Fund. To achieve this, every day we make phone calls and send out letters and e-mails asking that you consider making or renewing your gift to the Symphony. Once we receive your gift, Samantha, Jessica and I send out thank you letters or make thank you calls to every one of our donors.
Attending events and concerts is another way for us to get to know our donors. The three of us attend every private rehearsal, attend at least two concerts a month each, and go to just about every other Symphony event. One of the most rewarding parts of our job is meeting our donors face to face, so next time you see one of us at a concert or event, please stop by and say hello.
Now that you know a little more about what your friendly Patron Services Specialists are up to, remember that next time the phone rings, it could be one of us calling to say hi or to thank you for your generous contribution.
As I scroll through the past blogs of my colleagues, trying to move past the writer’s block that I am having, I can’t help but notice how great and intimate the blogs are. Of course, you’re probably thinking that this is a really biased opinion. But seriously, we have done a pretty good job with giving you the inside scoop of what happens within this organization. If you like these blogs, you would definitely enjoy our private rehearsals.
Thursday, April 29 was the final private rehearsal for the 2009-10 season. There is no better way to connect with the Houston Symphony than to go to our private rehearsals. Throughout the year, we have 5 rehearsals that are opened exclusively for our Houston Symphony donors who donate $100 or more to our annual fund. Three out of the five private rehearsals are for upcoming classical performances. However, the other two rehearsals are part of the Pops series. Since Samantha already gave you the scoop on what the rehearsals are in her blog a few weeks ago, I won’t bore you with any more technical details.
This private rehearsal featured the music that was played for the Woodlands performance and the first half of the Pink Martini concert this past weekend. Conducting the concert was our very personable and quirky family and education concerts conductor Robert Franz. The pieces performed during these concerts hold special significance, as Franz explains to the audience before the rehearsal starts, because they are tribute to Houston icon and arts philanthropist Cynthia Woods Mitchell.
The rehearsal began its very festive and exciting journey through great works of opera with Overture to Die Zauberflöte. The spirit of the music continued with the Triumphal March from Aida, and then we settled in to stay a while in Spanish territory (as portrayed by French composer George Bizet) with five selections from the opera Carmen. After the first piece, I knew that I was going to be in heaven because I absolutely love opera. It was so great to hear some of the best and most well-known opera scores played by the Symphony. We rounded up our trip through the opera world with the Overture to Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld). The rehearsal was completed with selections from Evita, Flying to Rio, and Tchaikovsky’s Capricio Italien.
Robert worked hard to complete the program without an intermission, but he gave audience members and the musicians a break before conducting the Tchaikovsky. I decided that this would be a perfect chance to mingle with a few of their patrons and get some reactions to the music.
I first approached Ms. Debra Ortega, guest of our patron John Beury. Debra occasionally accompanies John to the private rehearsals. She has been to a few classical concerts but this was her first Pops performance. When I asked her what she thought of the rehearsal, she said that she really liked it. She confessed that the classical music she normally hears when she comes to the rehearsals didn’t really appeal to her. “It moves a little too slowly, and I have to admit I have fallen asleep before”. However, she liked this rehearsal because the music is upbeat and exciting.
Niki Demaio has been a contributor and subscriber of the Houston Symphony for about 5 years now. When I asked her and her guests their opinion about the show, they had a lot to say. “I have been to a lot of private rehearsals and this one was one of the best. This is actually my first time seeing Robert Franz conduct a performance and he is so personable and inviting. He gave a speech at the beginning to give us a little background about the concert and introduced each piece as it was being played. Also, when he gave notes to the orchestra you could actually hear him. A lot of the conductors speak in hushed tones during the other rehearsals that I have been to and it’s really hard to hear what’s going on. Because Franz spoke loudly, I felt like he was inviting us into the conversation, and it wasn’t some big secret. It really makes a difference when you engage with the audience.
“I always try to bring my friends with me when I go, and one of things my friend Jane likes about going to the rehearsal is hearing the process of what happens when you work on a piece. During the first run through she will try to listen for mistakes. After the conductor has given his notes and runs through it again, she listens out for the changes that were made and how the piece is making its way toward perfection.”
So it seems that our last private rehearsal was a success. Even though it was a smaller turnout because it is the one daytime rehearsal we open to the public, all the patrons left musically fulfilled and excited about going to next year’s private rehearsals. It is never too late to join in on the experience for next year. Just contact any of the Patron Services Specialists in the Development Department, and we will be happy to assist you.