The Houston Symphony is an American orchestra based in Houston, in the U.S. state of Texas. Since 1966, it has performed at the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts in downtown Houston.
The first concert of what was to become the Houston Symphony took place on June 21, 1913, sponsored by the Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg. Initially, the orchestra was composed of only 35 part-time musicians. Despite its small stature and budget, the orchestra and its first conductor, Julien Paul Blitz, enjoyed a good response and continued to perform. Blitz conducted until 1916, then Paul Bergé, until the orchestra disbanded in 1918.
The orchestra reformed in 1930, still as a semi-professional orchestra, and gave its first full season of concerts the following year conducted by Uriel Nespoli. In the spring of 1936 the symphony society officially became the Houston Symphony Society. Ernst Hoffmann began his tenure that year with increased support from the Society and began hiring professional musicians. The orchestra continued to expand over the next several decades, and its first 52-week contract was signed in 1971.
When conductor Leopold Stokowski invited noted African-American opera singer Shirley Verrett to sing with the Houston Symphony in the early 1960s, he had to rescind his invitation when the orchestra board refused to accept a black soloist. Stokowski later made amends by giving her a prestigious date with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The orchestra performed in either the City Auditorium or the Music Hall until the construction in 1966 of the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts. In 2001, the orchestra lost millions of dollars' worth of instruments, music, and archives when Tropical Storm Allison flooded the basement levels of Jones Hall. In 2003, the musicians went on strike for 24 days, and the settlement included a pay cut for the musicians and a reduction in the size of the orchestra.
Hans Graf was the music director of the orchestra from 2001-2013, the longest tenure of any Houston Symphony music director. In September 2009, the orchestra announced the conclusion of his tenure as music director at the end of the 2012-2013 season, upon which Graf took the title of conductor laureate of the orchestra.
In 2012, the Houston Symphony performed Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905) by Dimitri Shostakovich under the direction of Hans Graf at concerts in Jones Hall, Houston, Carnegie Hall, New York, and at the Festival of The World's Symphony Orchestras at Column Hall, Moscow. The Houston Symphony was the first American orchestra invited to perform at the Festival of The World's Symphony Orchestras. Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony has long been associated with the Houston Symphony, since it was given its American premiere by them in 1958, under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. The Houston Symphony released the first ever commercial recording of this work, also in 1958, on Capitol Records.
In October 2012, Andrés Orozco-Estrada made his first guest-conducting appearance with the orchestra. This appearance led to a return engagement with the orchestra, for a private rehearsal. In January 2013, the orchestra announced the appointment of Orozco-Estrada as its next music director, as of the 2014-2015 season, with an initial contract of five years and twelve weeks of appearances per season. He holds the title of music director designate for the 2013-2014 season.
Notable musicians, past and present
Arlene Weiss Alda, clarinet, assistant principal 1956–1957
James Austin, trumpet, principal 1960-1977
Edward Carroll, trumpet, associate principal 1975–1976
Wayne Crouse, viola, principal 1951–1983
Paul Ellison, bass, principal 1964–1987
Frank Huang, violin, concertmaster 2010–present
Benjamin Kamins, bassoon, principal 1981-2003
Hal Robinson, bass, assistant principal 1977–1985
Elaine Shaffer, flute, principal 1948–1953
Joseph Silverstein, violin 1950–1953
William VerMeulen, horn, principal 1990–present
John McLaughlin Williams, violin
Harold Wright, clarinet, c. 1949–1952
Houston Symphony official website
Extensive history from The Handbook of Texas Online