Category Archives: Classical

How to Dress Like a Virtuoso: Sunday Beach on Sarah Chang

Aside from being a world class violinist, Sarah Chang is also quite the classical music fashionista. In this post, local Houston fashion blogger Lauren Mills of Sunday Beach discusses Sarah’s signature style and gives us a few tips on how to get that glamorous virtuoso look.

edp3982-007-MFThis weekend the Houston Symphony welcomes international violin superstar Sarah Chang to Houston for three performances of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. Sarah has a strong sense of style and her love of fashion is evident in her concert wardrobe. She has become known for the gorgeous gowns she dons during her performances. Here’s what she has to say,

 I adore fashion. I also think the whole concert experience is something very old-school Hollywood and special. I always think of the composer first and which piece I’m playing. Then I choose the color and the style of my evening gown to fit a specific composer. I believe that the concert-going experience is visual as well as auditory. The music comes first, but I also want my fashion choices to compliment the composer’s music, not distract from it.


Simple silhouettes in solid colors dominate Sarah’s style. She wears minimal accessories, which I imagine is a necessity when playing an instrument. I love that her style reflects the music she performs. Take a cue from Sarah and dress like a virtuoso for your next formal event!

fashion blog photos

BaubleBar 360 Pearl Studs | Edie Parker Dottie Acrylic Clutch | Herve Leger Bandage Gown | BCBGMAXAZRIA Gracie Gown | Adriana Orsini Faceted Sterling Silver Earrings | Jimmy Choo Metallic Leather Heels

 -Lauren Mills

Don’t miss Sarah Chang with the Houston Symphony!

Sarah Chang Plus Copland
October 2, 4, 5, 2014
Cristian Macelaru, conductor
Sarah Chang, violin

Buy tickets now!


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Q&A with Sarah Chang

Violinist Sarah Chang

Violinist Sarah Chang

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask violin virtuoso Sarah Chang some questions about her up-coming performances of Barber’s Violin Concerto with the Houston Symphony this weekend.

Calvin Dotsey: When did you first learn and perform this concerto?

Sarah Chang: I adore the Barber Concerto! I learned it only 2 years ago, and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s a relatively new friend, but it has quickly found a special place in my heart!

CD: How has your interpretation of this concerto changed since then?

SC: I learn something new about the work every day I play it. I love the near-perfect balance Barber captured between the beautiful lyricism in the first two movements and the technical monstrosity he created in the third movement.

CD: Has research into Barber’s life influenced your interpretation of this piece?

SC: It absolutely has. With every work I perform, I try to read up on the composer and soak up as much knowledge as I possibly can. Getting inside the composer’s head and trying to understand not only his biographical background but also his personal state of being helps mold my interpretation of his work.


Sarah Chang performs Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with the Houston Symphony this weekend.

CD: Have you met any musicians who knew or worked with Samuel Barber? If so, did your interactions with them influence the way you play Barber’s music?

SC: I personally do not know anyone who had interactions with Barber. However, I have heard wonderful stories of his time at Curtis [Institute of Music], which is not far from where I grew up (I’m a Philadelphia girl), so I feel a connection there.

CD: This piece is being programmed with two other American works. How does this concerto’s “American-ness” influence your preparation and performance?

SC: There is something truly special and heroic about anything and everything that is American. American music, American movies, American sports…We aren’t afraid to show love and to put our hearts on our sleeves!

CD: I’ve read that spontaneity is one of the qualities you most value in performance. How do you balance the need to create spontaneity in the moment with the need to communicate the larger structure of a piece?

SC: I believe in intense preparation before a concert, but once you step onstage, it’s all about spontaneity and sharing that electric moment with the audience. I think the overall line and structure of a piece is paramount, but you need to give yourself as much freedom as the composer will allow and some liberties to take risks on the spot to make magic happen onstage.

CD: A number of our audience members will undoubtedly be amateur violinists (including myself), so here are a few questions specifically relating to violin playing. In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of performing Barber’s Violin Concerto and why?

SC: Ensemble in the third movement. There’s so much going on, you’re flying all over the fingerboard, and it’s incredibly technical for everyone onstage, not just the soloist. So, everyone has to juggle their parts as well as keeping their eyes and ears open the entire time.

CD: How do you practice? Describe your usual practice routine.

SC: I practice my basics every day. Doesn’t matter if I practice 20 minutes or 6 hours a day, I always do my scales, arpeggios and basic fundamental exercises.

Sarah Chang and her new puppy, Chewie!

Sarah Chang and her new puppy, Chewie!

CD: What do you like to do when you’re not playing music?

SC: I love movies. I’m such a movie nut! I also love fashion, and I recently got a puppy who is, unapologetically, the center of my universe!

CD: You always perform in the most beautiful dresses. How would you describe your sense of style?

SC: Thank you! I adore fashion. I also think the whole concert experience is something very old-school Hollywood and special. I always think of the composer first and which piece I’m playing. Then I choose the color and the style of my evening gown to fit a specific composer. I believe that the concert-going experience is visual as well as auditory. The music comes first, but I also want my fashion choices to compliment the composer’s music, not distract from it.

Love Sarah’s dresses? Check back later this week to find out how to dress like a virtuoso from some of Houston’s trendiest fashion bloggers. Don’t miss Sarah Chang with the Houston Symphony!

Sarah Chang Plus Copland
October 2, 4, 5, 2014
Cristian Macelaru, conductor
Sarah Chang, violin

Buy tickets now!

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Hypnosis and Rachmaninoff 2: The Troubled Genesis of a Masterpiece

v4FNRBPPzdFlAD2uBiTuwaUR_IGMLXZQjq-XrJqdpxoT240UWqbbl3_s9Q0BITmMlifzhCAKICOeli0zcSRZjpI=s2048So often we imagine our favorite composers as musical superheroes: great geniuses who have total, unerring confidence in their own abilities to inspire us, confound the critics, and make history. Some composers do have egos to match their talents (Wagner comes to mind), but all too often, this godlike image obscures the struggles, doubts, and fundamental humanity of artists who are now safely enshrined in the canon. Rachmaninoff is certainly one of those artists.

Today it’s hard to find a concert pianist who hasn’t played Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. Given its current ubiquity, you may be surprised to learn that the piece (and everything else Rachmaninoff wrote thereafter) almost never came into being. Prior to writing his Second Concerto, Rachmaninoff had written almost nothing for three years. This extreme case of composer’s block (a tragedy for all Rachmaninoff fans – imagine what masterpieces he could have written in three years!) was brought on by the catastrophe that was the premier of his first symphony.

By March of 1897, the not quite 24 year old Rachmaninoff was a rising star of the Russian music scene. He had garnered successes as a pianist, conductor, and increasingly as a composer, and had recently passed a milestone in any composer’s output: the completion of his first symphony. This was a wild, sprawling, youthful work, teeming with ideas and references to the musical theme that would haunt many of Rachmaninoff’s compositions, the Dies Irae. The premiere was to be given in St. Petersburg by Alexander Glazunov, an esteemed composer and conductor in his own right. Unfortunately, like his countryman and fellow composer Mussorgsky, Glazunov had by this point developed a serious alcohol addiction. The rehearsals went badly, and the performance…was a disaster. It is quite possible that Glazunov showed up plastered, and what they played could not have been an accurate representation of this complex and difficult score.

Rachmaninoff depressed.

Rachmaninoff depressed.

As if the concert hadn’t been bad enough, insult was added to injury when Cesar Cui (one of the Kuchka, aka “the Russian Five,” aka “the mighty Handful,” a clique of nationalist Russian composers that also included Rimsky Korsakov and Alexander Borodin), wrote a scathing review of the symphony, railing that it was music that could only be enjoyed by the denizens of hell. Surely Rachmaninoff, aware of his own genius, paid no heed to the criticism of a composer whose music today is rarely heard in the concert hall. In actuality, Cui was at this time a big wig, Rachmaninoff a young upstart, and the review a crushing blow to his career and his confidence as a composer. Rachmaninoff fell silent, and entered a period of depression that lasted three years.

So, how did he get out of it? Rachmaninoff might never have written another note had it not been for the intervention of one man: psychologist Nikolai Dahl. In 1900, Rachmaninoff began a course of auto-suggestive therapy with Dahl, which included hypnosis. Rachmaninoff and Dahl’s sessions must be counted as one of the greatest successes of psychotherapy in history given what emerged from it: Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. When Rachmaninoff completed the concerto, he dedicated it to Dahl in gratitude for his services. Upon its premiere, with Rachmaninoff at the piano, the Concerto instantly became one of Rachmaninoff’s greatest successes, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Check back later this week to find out about the woman who may have inspired Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.

Don’t miss Watts Plays Rachmaninoff 2 with the Houston Symphony!

Watts Plays Rachmaninoff 2
September 19, 20 & 21
Andrés Orozco-Estrada, conductor
André Watts, piano

Buy tickets now!

Renowned pianist André Watts returns to Houston to perform Rachmaninoff’s deeply romantic Piano Concerto No. 2. Enduringly popular since its 1901 debut, the concerto’s themes have found fame in movies such as Brief EncounterThe Seven Year Itch and the popular song “All by Myself.” Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada also leads the heroic symphonic tone poem Ein Heldenleben by R. Strauss.

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A Cellist in Colombia – Brinton Smith works with Youth Orchestra

Brinton Averil Smith, Principle Cellist of the Houston Symphony

Brinton Averil Smith, Principle Cellist of the Houston Symphony

Recently, Houston Symphony principal cellist Brinton Smith and principal trumpet Mark Hughes went to sunny Santa Marta, Colombia to teach and mentor young musicians in the Colombian National Youth Orchestra.  Below are Brinton Smith’s own reflections on their experiences there.  

It is difficult to believe that it has been more than a week since principal trumpet Mark Hughes and I—still groggy from the previous evening’s Fourth of July concert at Miller—boarded planes to take us to Bogota, Colombia en route to our residency with the Colombian National Youth Orchestra (Filarmonica Joven de Colombia). After a short night in Bogota, we boarded another flight bound for Barranquilla, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, and I quickly began to regret my poor Spanish language skills when I tried to explain to the Avianca counter attendant that my cello also had a plane ticket! (Any valuable cello needs a separate full fare ticket each time it travels, or else disaster is eventually inevitable.)

Houston Symphony principal trumpet Mark Hughes follows the rehearsal with the other faculty members.

Houston Symphony principal trumpet Mark Hughes follows the rehearsal with the other faculty members.

A driver from the youth orchestra met us at Barranquilla and drove us the 60 miles around the bay to Santa Marta, where the orchestra spends a week in intensive rehearsals before its national tour. Begun in 2010, the Filharmonica project unites the best young players, ranging from high school through age 25, from around Colombia. They are selected each year by recorded audition, and then meet for four intensive residencies and tours throughout the year. The foundation flies in professional orchestral leaders and professors from around the world to work with the players of each instrument during their weeks of rehearsal residency. Our own connection to the group comes from Andrés, who recently agreed to become the director of the Filharmonica. While his busy career precludes him from being at all the residencies, the students clearly relish the time they have with him. You can imagine what it means to be a young player in a country whose classical traditions are just beginning to be established to work with someone who is not only one of the very best in the world, but also a fellow Colombian!

The beautiful Caribbean beach we never have time to enjoy!

The beautiful Caribbean beach we never have time to enjoy!

Colombians say that they are simultaneously a first, second, and third world country, but the beautiful resort in Santa Marta shows little evidence of the latter; the scars of a multi-generational civil war and the simultaneous violence of the drug cartels are clearly beginning to heal. Andres talks of regularly seeing bodies on the side of the road when he was young, but the generation of this youth orchestra is growing up in a different country, with a booming economy (recently discovered oil reserves are likely to soon make Colombia the second largest oil exporter in South America and may be a source of further ties with Houston). While barbed wire and security posts remain around many buildings as reminders of the old days, today the threat of violence is mostly a distant memory, and the students of this youth orchestra know a country of growth, optimism, and opportunity. With towering mountain ranges, lush rainforests, tropical beaches, and everything in between, Colombia is perhaps the most diverse and beautiful country in the Americas, and Colombians are also among the friendliest people you will ever meet. Not every person can match Andrés’ buoyant cheerfulness, but in this country you can at least see where it comes from.


Peacocks beg at the lunch tables!

Unlike El Sistema in Venezuala, which is intended first as a social project and only secondarily concerned with the music, the Filharmonica Joven de Colombia is primarily focused on music. Students come from all walks of life, but are selected solely on ability and desire. Their goal is to improve their own individual playing, as well as that of the orchestra, and they follow a schedule that seems almost impossibly grueling to those of us who are coaching them. There are breaks for meals—in Colombia there is a tradition of small snacks in late morning and early afternoon, in addition to the main meals and it has all been excellent. We are not losing any weight here! But aside from these breaks, the students begin rehearsal at 9:00 AM and continue the schedule of full orchestra rehearsals, family (wind, brass or string) sectionals, individual instrument sectionals, and chamber music rehearsals until 10:00 at night. Last night I scheduled an extra master class for them in the evening and finally let them go at 10:40, but even then they were eager to keep going, and still had more questions! Their hard work pays off. Their ambitious program of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, along with Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, the Abe marimba concerto (both with accomplished Colombian soloists) and a recent Colombian composer’s work has pulled together impressively in this week and the concerts should be excellent.


Petrushka loving iguana!

A few things that I know I will remember from our time here: the beautiful beach (although since we work on the student’s schedule, I still haven’t found any time to do anything more than look at it!); the incredible selection of exotic juices at every meal, many from fruits unknown in the States and some not even known outside of this local area of Colombia; the iguanas living wild in the trees, one of whom walked past our window bobbing his head as the cellos rehearsed excerpts from Petrushka; and, most of all, the friendliness, devotion and excitement of the students. I have never seen a group of students who have worked this hard, always with a good attitude, and who have been so eager to drain every drop they can from this experience. I’m often tired of being in a foreign land, of sitting in endless rehearsals, missing my family and home (and my daughter’s 13th birthday), but every time I work with these kids, I come away excited, energized, and hopeful. I’m grateful to be able to share with them the secrets of a beauty that transcends both our worlds, and to be a part of the deepening relationship between our orchestras and our countries. If they represent the future of Colombia, it will be truly extraordinary, and I’m glad to know them.

See Andrés live! Learn more about our ¡Bienvenido, Andrés! Weekend:
Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Music Director
September 12 at Miller Outdoor Theatre – FREE Bienvenido, Andrés Concert
September 13 at Jones Hall – Opening Night with Andrés Concert
September 14 at Jones Hall – Annual FREE Fiesta Sinfonica Concert


The Filharmonica cellists are Houston Symphony and Andrés fans!


Posted in 2014-2015 Season, Classical, Conductors and Musicians, eNews Article | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tribute to Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

The acclaimed Spanish-born conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, revered in the orchestra field and beloved by Houston Symphony musicians, passed away on June 11, 2014.

In tribute to Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos and his legacy, the Musicians of the Houston Symphony decided to share their April 8-10, 2011 performance, which Frühbeck de Burgos guest conducted. This concert, featuring Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, was his final appearance with the Houston Symphony.

Our own Adam Dinitz, English Horn and Chair of the Musicians Committee, led the effort to make this recorded performance available to stream via our website and mobile app for a limited time. We asked him to share his thoughts about what it was like to work with Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos, and why our musicians were so inspired to honor the legendary conductor in this way.

A Tribute to Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos
By: Adam Dinitz

Adam Dinitz, English Horn and Chair of the Musicians Committee

Adam Dinitz, English Horn and Chair of the Musicians Committee

“Frühbeck de Burgos was one of the most universally respected and loved conductors of our time, especially among musicians. One of my colleagues recently remarked to me that he was the “last of the old school conductors.” I think what this person meant by that statement was that he was a no nonsense kind of conductor. He had a clear vision of how the music was supposed to go, and he knew exactly how to lead an orchestra in order to get them to buy into his ideas and give a spectacular performance. He also used this “old school” conducting baton that was extremely long. I used to joke with my colleagues that if he wanted to cue the French Horns, he could just reach over and tap them on their heads with it!

Something I always found amazing about Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos was his ability to rehearse without using a score. Many conductors refrain from using a score in a performance, but not using one in rehearsals is almost unheard of. He never made a big deal of it, however. It wasn’t about an ego or showing off, it was only about the music. (In fact, the first time I worked with him, I didn’t realize he wasn’t using a score until the third rehearsal!)

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

The performances with Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos were some of the most memorable concerts of my career in Houston. My colleagues and I felt it was important to share the April 2011 Houston Symphony performance because of how proud we are of what we created with Maestro Frühbeck de Burgos and what an honor it was to share the stage with him. We hope audiences join us in reliving a spectacular and rewarding weekend of music-making at the Houston Symphony.”

The 2011 concert weekend included:

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, conductor
Aralee Dorough, flute
Mozart: Serenade No. 6 in D major, K.239 (Serenata notturna)
Mozart: Flute Concerto No. 2 in D major, K.314
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, Opus 35

Listen to the full concert on our website!

This free stream of the concert broadcast – available online for three weeks – is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Musicians of the Houston Symphony, American Federation of Musicians, and Local AF of M 65-669 for making this streaming activity available without further compensation. Thank you also to our radio partner, Houston Public Media’s Classical 91.7, for recording the concert for broadcast.

Posted in 2014-2015 Season, Classical, Conductors and Musicians, History Archives | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment