Houston Symphony Subscriber Says “Bravo!”

Every November, we like to let our subscribers know how much they mean to us. As part of Subscriber Appreciation Month, we reached out to longtime subscriber George John to ask him about his experiences with the Houston Symphony. Here’s what George had to say.

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.

Hans Graf

Hans Graf served as the Houston Symphony’s Music Director from 2001 to 2013.

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?

Andrés Orozco-Estrada has served as the Houston Symphony's Music Director since 2014.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada has served as the Houston Symphony’s Music Director since 2014.

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?

George John, Houston Symphony subscriber

George John, Houston Symphony subscriber

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!

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WWII Veteran shares his story with our cellist at Community Connections concert

Houston Symphony cellist Louis-Marie Fardet (left) talks with Mr. Darwin Harris (right) about his experiences in World War II.

Houston Symphony cellist Louis-Marie Fardet (left) talks with WWII veteran Darwin Harris (right).

We always look forward to honoring our country’s veterans each year. As we remember the armistice that ended World War I and all the sacrifices of our soldiers before and since, it’s important to reflect on how American soldiers have fought to make the world a better place. We were recently reminded of this by a chance encounter one of our musicians had with a WWII veteran at one of our Community Connections concerts.

Following a performance at Orchard Park at Southfork Senior Living in Pearland, one resident, Darwin Harris, struck up a conversation with Houston Symphony cellist Louis-Marie Fardet after hearing Fardet’s French accent and invited him back to his room to show him a medal he had received for his service in World War II. We learned that Harris, now 92 years old, is a WWII veteran who was drafted into the Navy at 18 and was aboard the USS Texas during the Normandy landings.

The medal he was awarded for his service on D-Day is in fact The French Order of the Legion of Honor, which is the highest French order for military and civil merits.

Fardet had this to share after meeting Mr. Harris:

legion of honor medal

The front and reverse of Harris’s medal of The French Order of the Legion of Honor

“While talking about the Normandy landing with Mr. Harris, it resonated like the kind of talks I would have with Robert Fardet, my grandfather, about that same period; he let German soldiers stay, sleep and eat in their modest house of Saint Philbert de Grand-lieu. And Robert had to quit his main job from Nantes but was locally solicited to be in charge of food supply for the German soldiers. When I hear about that history of 70 plus years ago from this unique, extraordinary person, everything feels connected and I realize Mr.  Harris’s involvement in WW2 is one of the reasons that my grandparents recovered their freedom and that I didn’t grow up speaking German!

Mr. Harris and fellow sailors aboard the USS Texas. Mr. Harris is third from the left (the tall one).

Mr. Harris and fellow sailors aboard the USS Texas. Mr. Harris is third from the left.

“This reminded me that, as a musician, it is my mission to connect people and the world with music. Music has, in our case, also helped Mr. Harris and myself (as a French/American citizen) to refresh our history, to honor memories of fallen soldiers, to remember always and tell over and over again the history from a very important part of our past.”

From all of us at the Houston Symphony, we wish you and all of our country’s veterans a happy Veterans Day!

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Symphony Fosters New Orchestra Program at Ortiz Middle School

With the help of Houston ISD district leadership, Ortiz Middle School has earned fine arts magnet status and is in its first year of offering an orchestra program. Located near Hobby Airport in southeast Houston, Ortiz Middle School’s budding orchestra program promises students new opportunities to engage with music in a less affluent part of town where access to arts education has been historically limited. When the Houston Symphony heard this wonderful news, our Education Team was eager to help this new program get off to a strong start.

David Connor visits Ortiz Middle School.

David Connor visits Ortiz Middle School.

This year, the Houston Symphony has launched its first Middle School Mini-Residency at Ortiz. The Mini-Residency concept has grown out of the success of both our Residency at Crespo Elementary School (presented by BBVA Compass) and the frequent pre- and post-concert visits that children who attend our many Student Concerts throughout the year receive from our nationally recognized Community-Embedded Musicians. To scale the success we’ve had at Crespo and deepen the connections we’ve made through musician visits, we have launched six new Mini-Residencies this year.

They might be “mini” Residencies compared to the intensive program we have developed at Crespo Elementary, but make no mistake: these programs add considerable depth to a student’s musical education. At Ortiz, the Mini-Residency began this year with 50 6th-grade orchestra students, who are in the process of receiving five in-school Community-Embedded Musician visits, a clinic with our Musical Ambassador/Assistant Conductor Carlos Andrés Botero, seats at one of our Student Concerts and tickets to one of our Classical Series concerts in May.

Dave with an Ortiz student.

Dave with an Ortiz student.

This support is part of a strategic effort on the part of the Houston Symphony’s Education Team to foster instrumental music education in public schools in east and southeast Houston. With the success of our Residency at Crespo Elementary School, we want to make sure that students who age out of the program can continue their musical educations in Middle School. Located just 10 minutes from Crespo, Ortiz will be an ideal feeder school for local music students. Ultimately, we hope to work with our partners at HISD and this community to develop music education in public schools from Elementary through High School.

Even in the first year of this new program, we can see the promise of things to come. During the first visit at Ortiz Middle School, Community-Embedded Musician David Connor (bassist) was thrilled to see two of his former students from Crespo Elementary who joined the 6th-grade orchestra after their experiences in the Houston Symphony Residency at Crespo. The students’ level of enthusiasm and engagement was contagious, leading to a high-energy group of enthusiastic and inquisitive first-year orchestra students. These students’ excitement to play an instrument and be creative is just what we hope to encourage for years to come.


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Enter the World of Big Cats with
Nat Geo Photographer Steve Winter

We caught up with wildlife photojournalist Steve Winter, who is our guest for On the Trail of Big Cats, the first of four presentations in our new National Geographic Live speaker series, presented by the Houston Symphony, beginning October 25 at Jones Hall.

Your photography is stunning. Did you learn photography at the Academy of Art, or elsewhere? Also, who’s part of your photography team?
Most of my photography skills come from my father, starting when he bought my first camera at 7 years old. He really emphasized composition and looking at the masters of painting and lighting. In the field, I have an assistant and camera man. What I do is extremely complicated and time consuming regarding permits and various laws in countries all over the world.

How did you capture the photo of the mountain lion with the Hollywood sign in the background?
I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to get a photograph of a mountain lion with the Hollywood sign?” All those cats in Santa Monica need to find their own territory. Eight months later, I received a text and a colleague said, “You’re not going to believe this, but a bobcat study

A remote camera captures a radio collared cougar in Griffith Park.

A remote camera captures a radio collared cougar in Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

team has remote trail cams up in Griffith Park County and they got a photo of a mountain lion.” Then, my goal was to find out how to put remote cameras in downtown Los Angeles without them getting stolen and to find a location that would be perfect for that image. It took 15 months for me to get that photograph because the Hollywood sign is not lit. That was a 4-second exposure with a flash.

What is your favorite country for photographing big cats?
Any place that’s easy to work is my favorite. I love India because I’ve spent a lot of time there working on tigers. However, India is a bureaucratic nightmare and they don’t allow people to stay on past 3-4 years so it depends on the director of the reserve or national park at that time. I need a director that will work with me and allow me to place remote cameras that work 24/7 while I’m photographing for other stories.

Tell us the story of how you captured the photo of the tiger and her cub.
I spent 24 days – many of them atop an elephant – trying to get that photo. The cubs were so young and they were shy. The elephant was an anti-poaching patrol elephant with mahout (elephant rider). The tiger mother had grown up with that mahout and elephant and she was totally calm – she would lay right at the base of it and I would have to put my

MM766 Tigers in Bandhavgarh Natl Park India

Mother tiger and her cub in
Bandhavgarh Nat’l Park, India.

feet up because she could be sitting down there nursing for hours. For that photo, the cub tentatively got up and I put my eye to the camera with a 600 mm lens to get the shot, and when I looked up the cub was gone again. I was so stressed about waiting more than three weeks to get one picture that I didn’t look at the back of the cameras for two hours. The one perfect frame ended up being the cover of the Tigers Forever book.

What have you least expected in your work with National Geographic?
I was a photojournalist who didn’t take a photo of an animal until I was 34 years old, so I least expected working with animals. It just didn’t enter into my mind when I was in school at University of San Francisco in the Academy of Art program. I wanted to walk dusty village streets that had exotic cultures and people that really excited me as a kid, so I never in a million years thought I’d be a wildlife photographer. The fact that I’m the “big cat guy” now is amazing.

What breeds of cats are native to Texas? Have you photographed any?
You all have pumas and everyone talks about the jaguar that’s in Arizona, but I’m sure you have some jaguars that come over from Arizona and across the Mexican border. You also have ocelot, a small spotted cat, but pumas, cougars, bobcats and jaguarundi would be the dominant predators.

Can you discuss causes are you most passionate about?
Stopping the trade in tigers. We have three main problems with endangered species right now – trading rhino horns, elephant ivory and tiger bone. We have 5,000 tigers in the United States and there’s only 3,500 in the wild. Many of those tigers are in Texas kept by private individuals. China has tiger farms and they say, “Why should we do anything with

A male tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park.

A male tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park

our tigers when you have as many in the states as we have?” They really have about 7-10,000. My wife and I had the Tiger Temple closed down, a tourism operation that was constantly accused of being part of the black market. It turns out they were. My wife never gave up and kept writing articles for Nat Geo, so the tiger temples were removed about 4 or 5 months ago. We actually have these animals for the future; there’s no way you can trade in tiger parts and not affect the wild population. Unfortunately, wild tiger bone and skins are often more valued than these farmed animals.

We read that you were once stalked by jaguars in Brazil. Can you talk a little about that memory?
I’ve been stalked by every big cat in the world! But that particular one was on the ranch where Teddy Roosevelt hunted jaguar in 1913. I went and saw the ranch because they said you could see a jaguar at dusk every day. There’s only one road on all these ranches because it’s the largest wetland in the world and in the distance I saw a jaguar. I got out of the pickup truck with a friend and we started walking, following this cat, and we got too close and when I looked up he was gone. That’s what jaguars do – if they see you, they will circle back around and he was sitting in the grass looking at us, waiting for us to come. When I finally saw him, he was only 12 feet away from me. I walked up a couple of steps closer to him so I could get his eyes looking at me through the tall grass. I couldn’t breathe, my heart was in my throat and the camera was shaking so badly I thought all of the photos would be blurry. But I got the opener to the first jaguar story in the history of National Geographic. That was incredible, but scary at the same time.

When I was doing my first Nat Geo history story, I was lying in bed one night and all of a sudden the stairs start creaking and I thought guys were coming to kill me. Then I heard

Steve Winter, photographer

Steve Winter, photographer

scratching and sniffing under the door and I’ve never been so scared in my life. I was there doing a story on a bird and that cat came to my door in a one-room shack on top of a mountain for one reason – I was the only person there and he just wanted to smell me. I whistled and that’s what got him to leave. I would walk back at night and all the hair on the back of my arms would stand up because we have a primeval part of our brains that knows we’re being stalked. I’d turn around and there was nothing there, but when I’d walk back, I’d see inside my tracks were the tracks of a jaguar. I called on the radio down the mountain and the naturalist said, “Oh, don’t worry; it’s just a black jaguar.” They didn’t want to scare me, but I saw it three weeks later when it actually came to where I was photographing. I marked my territory just like cats do and it went up the tree, bouncing across the branches. I didn’t get a photo of it.

What can audiences expect from your Big Cats presentation in Houston later this month?
The audience gets to go along with me in the field, see all these photographs I’ve taken and hear the stories behind them. I’ve had an incredible life doing something I’ve always wanted to do, even though my dream turned out completely different than what I thought it was going to be, which was photographing people. The lecture will have a lot of excitement, lots of laughs and take people on a great adventure that revolves around my experiences photographing jaguars, snow leopards, cougars and tigers.

Photos by Steve Winter

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Celebrating 50 Years in Jones Hall

The Houston Symphony has made its home in the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts since it opened on October 2, 1966.

Jesse H. Jones with President Franklin Roosevelt

Jesse H. Jones with President Franklin Roosevelt.

The Story Behind Jones Hall

Jones Hall is named after a man who financed extensive construction in downtown Houston, published the Houston Chronicle, and served in the Federal Government during the Great Depression in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation under Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, as the Federal Loan Administrator and then as Roosevelt’s Secretary of Commerce from 1940 to 1945.

Nobody knows more about Jesse H. Jones and his Hall than Steven Fenberg, the former historian of Houston Endowment, Jones’ philanthropic foundation, and author of a new book Remarkable Experiences, The Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts.

Fenberg traces the Symphony’s first performance in 1913 to a theater owned by Jones, the Majestic, where they remained for five seasons. Years later, Jones himself had the idea of replacing the Symphony’s home, the aging City Auditorium, though the project was completed under the co-direction of his widow and nephew.

To learn about the planning, construction and details of the building’s innovative architecture, read his insightful article in our latest In Tune magazine. We also include early details about future plans for the large-scale renovation of Jones Hall. You can pick up a copy of In Tune when you attend a concert, or read it any time online.

Listen to HPM’s Houston Matters interview of Steven Fenberg.

Listen to an earlier interview of Steven Fenberg and 50th Anniversary co-chair Alexandra Pruner with Houston P.A. host Laurent Fouilloud-Buyat, in his podcast here.

Don’t miss Fenberg discussing Edna Saunders, Houston’s influential arts impresaria, whose portrait hangs in the Green Room of Jones Hall.

Do You Remember 1966?

Transport back to the 1966 opening ceremonies, thanks to the wonderful unofficial online archive of the Houston Symphony Chorus. There you will find the digitized scrapbooks of local singer Lee Stevens, including items from the memorable Grand Opening events of October 2 and 3, 1966.

Jones Hall Grand Opening program

Jones Hall Grand Opening program.

You can see that weekend’s program listing the civic ceremony that officially made Jones Hall Houston’s property. You’ll also learn about the Symphony’s first concert in the new Hall.

The program listed events for the entire month, scheduled to celebrate Houston’s arts and the opening of this crowning performance space.

The scrapbooks include tickets, articles, photos and programs illuminating decades of Symphony and Chorus history. See the scrapbook.

Houston Symphony 100

Houston Symphony 100.

Houston Symphony History

To own a beautiful and comprehensive history of the Houston Symphony covering the opening of Jones Hall and going all the way back to the founding days of 1913, treat yourself to Houston Symphony 100: Celebrating a Century.

You can see selected highlights from our story in a historical timeline here on on our Web site.

Celebrate With Us

Acclaimed violinist, Itzhak Perlman

Violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Come celebrate our 50 years in Jones Hall on October 22 with a special performance featuring Andrés and the Orchestra, with acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Learn more.

Posted in 2016-17 Season, eNews Article, History Archives, Houston Symphony Chorus, Houston Symphony Magazine, Specials | Tagged , | Leave a comment