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

Haydn’s The Creation: The Sistine Chapel of Music

Joseph Haydn as painted by Thomas Hardy in 1791.

Joseph Haydn as painted by Thomas Hardy in 1791.

On September 29 and October 1 & 2, 2016, the Houston Symphony performs Haydn’s masterpiece, The Creation. Learn more about the concert here.

When it comes to grand choral works from the classical era, most symphony fans will immediately think of Mozart’s Requiem. Full of darkness, terror and passages of transcendent beauty, this is one of the few pieces of classical music that has become famous enough to crop up in mainstream pop culture every so often. While Mozart’s final, unfinished masterpiece certainly deserves its fame, it has perhaps overshadowed another great choral piece of the same era that in many respects is its polar opposite and equal: Haydn’s The Creation.

Like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Haydn's The Creation tells the story of the creation of the world as depicted in Genesis.

Like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Haydn’s The Creation tells the story of the creation of the world as depicted in Genesis.

Whereas Mozart’s Requiem is a pessimistic work focused on death and the end of the world, Haydn’s The Creation provides listeners with a radiant vision of the Genesis creation story similar to that depicted in Michelangelo’s frescoes for the Sistine Chapel. Mozart’s Requiem is music of darkness; Haydn’s The Creation, of light. Indeed, one of the most famous moments of Haydn’s The Creation is when the chorus says, “and there was light.”

Haydn finished The Creation in 1798, nearly seven years after his friend Mozart’s death. Despite their age difference (Haydn was almost 24 years older than Mozart), the two composers had been lifelong friends who frequently took inspiration from each other’s music. They would often gather with other friends to play chamber music in Mozart’s apartment in Vienna, Mozart on viola and Haydn on violin. Mozart famously honored Haydn by dedicating a set of six groundbreaking string quartets to his avuncular musical mentor, writing “A father [Mozart] who had resolved to send his children [the string quartets] out into the great world took it to be his duty to confide them to the protection and guidance of a very celebrated Man, especially when the latter by good fortune was at the same time his best Friend.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Haydn's longtime friend.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Haydn’s longtime friend.

Mozart may have even played a role in inspiring Haydn to compose The Creation. In 1789, Mozart produced a version of Handel’s Messiah with updated orchestrations. This may have been Haydn’s first exposure to Handel’s famous oratorio, which had been premiered in Dublin decades earlier and was still relatively unknown outside Britain. He certainly heard it and other oratorios by Handel during the celebrated trips to London he took after Mozart’s untimely death.

Handel defined the genre of oratorio for all composers who came after him. Oratorios were grand works for chorus, soloists and orchestra that told biblical stories through music. Haydn was greatly moved by Handel’s Messiah, and was determined to make his own contribution to the genre of oratorio. Any music lover who has enjoyed Handel’s Messiah will be delighted by Haydn’s The Creation; perhaps the main reason it is less famous is that The Creation has not been incorporated into any annual holiday tradition.

Haydn was a devoutly religious man; at the end of every score he finished he wrote “Laus Deo,” Latin for “praise be to God.” He himself saw The Creation as his greatest masterpiece, as the culmination of his life’s work as a composer. His depiction of the creation of the world, however, reflects the scriptural interpretations of contemporary Enlightenment era culture. Whatever one’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof), Haydn’s The Creation engages with fascinating philosophical ideas that remain as relevant as ever.

The Austrian Imperial Library, where Baron Gottfried van Swieten worked.

The Austrian Imperial Library, where Baron Gottfried van Swieten worked.

Many of these ideas are apparent in the text of The Creation. Unlike Mozart’s Requiem, which uses a traditional Latin text, or Handel’s Messiah, which draws directly from the Bible, Haydn’s The Creation uses an original text inspired by both the Bible and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The ultimate form of this text was fashioned by one of classical music’s most important patrons: Baron Gottfried van Swieten. Swieten was one of the great taste makers in music history; a patron of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, he was also a pioneering champion of earlier composers like Handel and Bach. Indeed, it was he who commissioned Mozart’s version of Handel’s Messiah. A learned man who fought for education reform and served as Imperial Librarian for many years, Swieten worked closely with Haydn on The Creation, drawing on many cultural influences current at the time.

Consider, for instance, that The Creation does not start with a void of nothingness. Instead, it draws on classical Greco-Roman mythology, beginning with a depiction of Chaos to which God will bring order. This primordial chaos is depicted in the famous instrumental overture, which contains bold and unsettling harmonies that many commentators have seen as ahead of their time.

This uneasy, even disturbing atmosphere is only resolved with the entrance of human voices and the famous “and there was light” chorus. Though it is on the whole a profoundly optimistic work, Haydn’s The Creation isn’t just sunshine and smiles the whole way through: it contains the full spectrum of human emotions. For instance, one dramatic chorus inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost describes the great war of heaven and the casting of Lucifer and the fallen angels into hell.

The Age of Enlightenment also saw increased interest in science and philosophy across Europe; many thinkers were fascinated by the study of nature and how it could help human society. The French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, for instance, famously argued that nature was fundamentally good and that human society needed to be reformed in accordance with natural law.

The Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel.

In this context, the Edenic paradise depicted in Haydn’s The Creation isn’t just a look back at a world that has been lost forever, but a reminder of the possibility humans have of living in harmony with nature. Haydn’s The Creation ends before the unfortunate business with the snake and the forbidden fruit. Instead, The Creation focuses on the wonder and beauty of the natural world, insisting that despite the problems of society, the world is fundamentally good, if only we strive to perfect ourselves and live in harmony with nature.

Today, in an era where the natural world is constantly under threat and violence frequently ravages communities both near and far, Haydn’s message of hope could not be timelier. Ultimately, however, it is the emotional power of his score that makes this one of the great masterpieces of music history. After a long career of composing over a hundred symphonies, dozens of string quartets, numerous operas, masses, concertos, sonatas and other pieces, Haydn knew the art of music as well as anyone ever had.

He poured all of his skill into this, the most ambitious project of his life. The music’s melodic inventiveness, originality and contrapuntal richness are dazzling; the orchestral writing is full of wit and color; the choruses full of grandeur and majesty; and the vocal solos truly soar. In the end, all of this musical genius serves to create a feeling of joy and optimism in listeners. Like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, it reminds us of the power of art to renew our appreciation of the world in which we live.

Hear Haydn’s The Creation live at the Houston Symphony! For tickets and more information, click here.

Posted in 2016-17 Season, Classical, Houston Symphony Chorus | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments