The Krajewski Legacy

Principal POPS Conductor Michael Krajewski is approaching his final Rocky-accompanied entrances onto the Jones Hall stage. Following 17 seasons and hundreds of Houston Symphony concerts, Mike will step down from the position at the end of the 2016-17 season after bringing unparalleled enthusiasm, creative programs, exciting musical arrangements and his wry wit to the Houston Symphony’s BBVA Compass POPS series. 

Michael Krajewski, Houston Symphony Principal POPS Conductor

Michael Krajewski, Houston Symphony Principal POPS Conductor

Since joining the Houston Symphony family in 2000, Mike has earned a special place in the hearts of musicians and Symphony patrons alike. Allan and Jean Quiat, longtime POPS series subscribers, are big fans who remember Mike’s first concerts as Principal POPS Conductor. As they recently reflected, “It has been wonderful to experience some of the unique programs Mike has crafted by creatively pulling together artists and genres, like Midtown Men and Cirque de la Symphonie.”

Indeed, Cirque de la Symphonie—the high-flying cirque-meets-orchestra concept—was conceived and brought to life by Mike and Cirque President and Managing Director Alex Stretlsov. In 2005, when the troupe was new on the performing scene, Alex approached Mike in hopes of performing with the orchestra.  

Mike led the Cirque artists through the initial challenges of developing the concept, making himself available to suggest ideas and provide advice. “Though Mike was initially skeptical about the idea of artists flying over the heads of an orchestra while they were playing, he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ He helped us develop the program, and our very first concert as a company was with the Houston Symphony in 2006.” Cirque de la Symphonie has continued performing with orchestras worldwide over the past 11 years.  

Mike with the cast of Cirque de la Symphonie

Mike with the cast of Cirque de la Symphonie

Together with Houston Symphony artistic staff, Michael Krajewski has developed many other brand-new, highly creative programs throughout his tenure with the orchestra, including UK Rocks, Bond and Beyond, Classic Soul, I Love a Piano and The Sounds of Simon and Garfunkel. Another audience favorite, PaintJam, brought speed-painter Dan Dunn to Jones Hall at the end of the 2014-15 season. Mike led the orchestra as Dunn painted huge canvases live to the sounds of the orchestra. Mike also developed Very Merry Pops, which has been a beloved holiday tradition for the past 16 years. 

The Houston Symphony POPS series, soon to be taken over by Principal POPS Conductor Designate Steven Reineke, is now widely respected as one of the foremost Pops programs in the American orchestra landscape. Mike’s energy and innovation have impacted Pops programming across the nation, as many of his original shows have found their way from Houston to other orchestras. 

“Mike has always been at the forefront of recognizing that popular Pops programming needs to have a consistently fresh appeal,” Stretlsov said. “His innovations have attracted more and more patrons to the music hall. His willingness to bring Cirque to Houston in 2006 is an example of that.”

Mike enjoys some repartee with Santa himself at Very Merry Pops.

Mike enjoys some repartee with Santa himself at Very Merry Pops.

Krajewski’s conducting style, described by Pink Martini front-woman Storm Large as “controlled fireworks,” is an essential element of his unforgettable, one-of-a-kind stage presence. Of his love for music, she added, “Mike simply loves music. His exuberance, although understated, is palpable and infectious.”

Whether leading a concert of John Williams’ blockbuster scores or humorously demonstrating the use of the whip during “Sleigh Ride” at Very Merry Pops, there has never been a dull moment in Mike’s 17 years onstage with the Houston Symphony. 

And then, of course, there is Mike’s trademark sense of humor, as much a part of his presence as the baton and the score. Many generous patrons share the same sentiment as Houston Symphony Principal Percussionist Brian del Signore, who said he will miss Mike’s easy-going style. “Mike’s legacy,” said Brian, “will be great jokes with great music.”

Successful Houston Symphony marketing and fundraising campaigns, which have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization, have been centered on Mike. Although the Symphony musicians, staff and—most importantly—audiences of Houston will certainly miss Mike’s frequent presence at Jones Hall, his time with the Houston Symphony has made a lasting mark on the city, community and hearts of all who have had the privilege of working with him or hearing one of his concerts.

When asked to share any final words on her memories or experiences with Mike, Storm Large took the words out of everyone else’s mouth: “I just love that guy.”

Be a part of Mike’s final concerts as Houston Symphony Principal Pops Conductor: Bond & Beyond and Classic Broadway. Visit for details.

Posted in 2016-17 Season, Pops | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

20 Questions with NASA Engineer Kobie Boykins

A mechanical engineer by training, Kobie Boykins has worked on projects from Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rovers to Ocean Surface Topography Mission over more than ten years at the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, Boykins comes to Jones Hall to share his amazing stories and give us the latest updates on travel to Mars. Get to know one of NASA’s most brilliant engineers with these fun questions!

Rich Rainen order 109700 management and actuator team inspecting MSL Actuators Kobe Boykins photog: Dutch Slager

Kobie Boykins poses in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Houston Symphony: What’s one thing most people wouldn’t know about being a NASA engineer?

Kobie Boykins: It truly is an AWESOME job!

HS: If you could go back in time and meet one person, who would it be?

KB: Wow, as I think about this there are so many people that come to mind. If I could only pick one, I think it would be Leonardo da Vinci, but Jesus, I don’t know how I could pass up on him.

HS: What is your biggest dream?

KB:  To see humans travel in space like in Star Trek, and it has to be on the USS Enterprise.

HS: What is your spirit animal?

"...and it has to be on the USS Enterprise."

“…and it has to be on the USS Enterprise.”

KB:  Dolphin.

HS: Which superhero’s powers would you most like to have?

KB:  Professor X.

HS: What’s your favorite fictional robot?

KB:  DATA then Wall-E. I am sure there are others, Big Hero 6…

HS: What’s something that scares you?

KB:  Not being able to act like a kid…

HS: Describe one of the topics you’ll cover at this event in three words.

KB:  The bad Sister.

HS: What gets on your nerves?

KB:  Neurons?

HS: What are you most proud of?

"...there is also that hardware on Mars that is very cool."

“There is also that hardware on Mars that is very cool.”

KB:  Being a father, brother, and a son. There is also that hardware on Mars that is very cool.

HS: What is your favorite place in the world?

KB:  Tahiti.

HS: What is the last book you enjoyed reading?

KB:  Re-read of the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn.

HS: What is the last movie or TV show you enjoyed watching?

KB:  Love The Blacklist.

HS: Name one person who inspires you.

KB:  My mother.

HS: If you had to have a job in a different field, what would it be?

KB:  Physiologist or Sociologist. I love learning about people and how their minds work.

HS: What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?

I cry every time, TRULY.

“I cry every time, TRULY.”

KB:  I am a sucker for good love stories. My favorite love-story movie is The Notebook. I cry every time, TRULY.

HS: If you were a robot, what would be your purpose?

KB:  To seek out new life, new civilizations, to boldly…make everyone love science and engineering!

HS: What scientific discovery would you most like to see?

KB:  Picture of another Earth-like planet around another star.

HS: What’s one quality you look for in all your friends?

KB:  Intelligence, trustworthiness, love of life, honesty—see I can’t follow directions.

HS: Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the universe?

KB: Honestly, I can think of a lot of places, but I really like right where I am. With my wife, my kids, my friends, my family, and the work I get to do, this is the best time and place in the universe.

Don’t miss Kobie Boykins at Exploring Mars: The Next Generation, part of our National Geographic Live! speaker series. Get tickets and more info here.

Posted in 2016-17 Season, Nat Geo Live, Q&A | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cellists Brawl at Symphony Hall: Yo-Yo Ma vs. Brinton Smith

Scandal has rocked the Houston Symphony after an anonymous source leaked disturbing photos that appear to depict a physical confrontation between Houston Symphony Principal Cellist Brinton Averil Smith and world-renowned cello superstar Yo-Yo Ma.

From left to right: Brinton Smith and Yo-Yo Ma

From left to right: Brinton Smith & Yo-Yo Ma

The attack is alleged to have occurred after Ma’s sold-out, one-night-only appearance with the Houston Symphony last February. The cause of the altercation appears to have been a love-triangle centered on Petunia, Ma’s primary performing instrument.

Petunia was built by Domenico Montegnana in Venice in 1733, and is valued at US $2.5 million. The name “Petunia” was suggested by a student Ma met at a school event in Salt Lake City, and has stuck ever since. “She might be 284 years old, but she is the most beautiful cello I’ve ever seen,” confessed Smith. “After hearing Yo-Yo Ma play her, I was overcome with jealousy. I knew Petunia and I were meant to be together.”

Sources inside the Symphony have confirmed that after the concert Smith secretly stole Petunia from Ma’s cello case and replaced it with his own. The subterfuge was revealed at an exclusive post-concert banquet when Ma recognized the distant sound of a cello coming from another room. Leading a train of high-profile donors and VIPs, Ma followed the sound only to discover Smith with Petunia.

Ma and Petunia

Ma and Petunia

When confronted, Smith lashed out, initiating an intense brawl fueled by caviar and Veuve-Clicquot. “Music is a passionate art form,” explained Houston Symphony CEO Mark Hanson. “Musicians are passionate people, and sometimes that passion extends beyond the stage. We shouldn’t blow these sorts of things out of proportion.”

Others, however, have remarked on the extraordinary nature of the incident. “We’ve had donor events with carnival dancers; we’ve turned Jones Hall into a wine cave; we’ve had an Academy Award-winning movie star narrate Peter and the Wolf; but nothing like this has ever happened. The only thing that comes close is the rumored pistol duel between our concertmaster and Leopold Stokowski at the 1956 Opening Night Gala,” mused Symphony Board Development Committee Chair Jerry Simon. “To be fair, I’ve been told that Stokowski’s tempi were often unorthodox.”

"When confronted, Smith lashed out..."

“When confronted, Smith lashed out…”

After some struggle, the two cellists were separated and the instruments returned to their rightful owners. “Despite this aberrant behavior, Mr. Ma has assured us that he has no hard feelings toward the Houston Symphony and looks forward to playing with us again someday,” said Senior Artistic Advisor Aurelie Desmarais.

Comforted by members of the cello section, Smith later came to his senses and apologized for the scene, attributing his momentary madness to the stress of preparing for his upcoming revival of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco Cello Concerto. Not all of his fellow musicians were so understanding, however. “I don’t know what all the fuss was about,” commented Co-Concertmaster Eric Halen. “Who cares about cellos anyway?”

Happy April Fool’s Day from the Houston Symphony!

Posted in 2016-17 Season, Classical | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Brinton Averil Smith Brings a Lost Masterpiece Back to Life

What do Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony have in common? Answer: All three pieces went unplayed for decades only to become concert hall staples when rediscovered by later generations.

This same process of musical rebirth will unfold at Jones Hall this April when Principal Cellist Brinton Averil Smith performs a long-lost cello concerto.

This concerto was written by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, an Italian composer of Sephardic Jewish ancestry who settled in California after fleeing antisemitism and fascism in 1938. Today, he is perhaps best remembered for the many works he composed for the virtuoso Andrés Segovia, which continue to form part of the core classical guitar repertoire.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s influence extends far beyond guitar music. Once in America, he contributed music for dozens of Hollywood films such as Lassie Come Home, Gaslight and the 1949 serial Batman and Robin, often uncredited. He was a teacher and mentor to the next generation of film composers, including John Williams, Henry Mancini and Jerry Goldsmith.

Brinton puts it succinctly: “You may think Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s music sounds like Hollywood. It doesn’t. Hollywood sounds like Castelnuovo-Tedesco.”

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Despite having friends and champions such as conductor Arturo Toscanini and violinist Jascha Heifetz, many of the concert works Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote before immigrating to America have fallen into obscurity. His Cello Concerto has not had a professional performance since its starry premiere in 1935, which featured cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic.

For Smith, our upcoming concerts are the culmination of a life-long fascination with this mysterious lost work. “When I was probably 12 or 13 years old, I read Gregor Piatigorsky’s autobiography, Cellist,”  Smith said. “and there’s a passage in there where he discusses learning this concerto and debuting it with Toscanini…I looked for the music for years…it wasn’t published, and I couldn’t find anything about it.”

In fact, it was only about a year ago that Smith was able to access the original score from 1935. With his wife, Evelyn Chen, playing a piano reduction of the orchestral parts, he gradually learned the concerto. Little by little, a masterpiece began to emerge.

“My whole year has been built around the anticipation of hearing that first first rehearsal with the orchestra and actually hearing the notes come to life,” Smith said. “This is a piece that needs an advocate, and every time when I’m practicing, I’m thinking, I owe it to this piece to do everything I can.”

Watch excerpts from the concerto performed by Smith and Chen:

Be among the few to hear this remarkable work performed live with full orchestra on April 13, 14 & 15. >>Get tickets.

Posted in 2016-17 Season, Classical | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

20 Questions with Ingrid Fliter

Ingrid Fliter, piano

Ingrid Fliter, piano

Meet Ingrid Fliter! This internationally renowned Argentinian pianist joins the Houston Symphony on March 9, 11 & 12 for performances of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Get to know our special guest with these fun questions.

Calvin Dotsey: What’s one thing most people don’t realize about playing the piano?

Ingrid Fliter: That it is indeed a percussion instrument, but we shouldn’t make it sound like one (except for some specific works).

CD: If you could go back in time and meet one person, who would it be?

IF: Beethoven.

CD: What is your biggest dream?

IF: To save animals from mistreatment.

CD: What is your spirit animal?

IF: Dog.

CD: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

IF: Flight.

CD: What is the last recording you listened to?

IF: Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin as performed by pianist Zoltan Kocsis.

CD: What’s something that scares you?

IF: Loosing freshness of spirit.

CD: Describe the music you are going to perform in three words.

IF: Beautiful, sparkling, alive.

CD: What is the last really delicious thing you ate?

IF: Argentinian Asado.

Lake Como. Photo Credit: Bernini Massimo.

Lake Como. Photo Credit: Bernini Massimo.

CD: What are you most proud of?

IF: My family.

CD: What is your favorite place in the world?

IF: Lake Como.

CD: What is the last book you enjoyed reading?

IF: A Year with Schopenhauer by E. Yalom.

CD: What is the last movie or TV show you enjoyed watching?

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an American police sitcom.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an American police sitcom.

IF: Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

CD: Name one person who inspires you.

IF: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

CD: If you had to have a job in a different field, what would it be?

IF: Painter or…hairdresser.

CD: What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?

IF: That I’ve designed a dog’s coat collection.

CD: If you were a musical key, what key would you be?

IF: Eb Major.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was one of the great baritones of the 20th century.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was one of the great baritones of the 20th century.

CD: What is the natural tempo marking of your life?

IF: Allegro agitato.

CD: What’s one quality you look for in all your friends?

IF: Honesty.

CD: If you had to play another instrument, what instrument would you pick?

IF: Clavicembalo or French Horn.

Don’t miss Ingrid Fliter with the Houston Symphony March 9, 11 & 12, 2017. Get tickets and more info here.

Posted in 2016-17 Season, Classical, Q&A | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment