Here's is something of a gem for Houston history buffs. Famed philanthropist Ima Hogg, in an effort to rouse attendance for the Houston Symphony's inaugural 1913 performance on June 21, penned a bulletin that read, "Let us all go to that concert and so pack the Majestic Theatre that there can be no doubt in the promoters' minds that Houston wants such an orchestra."
Tickets sold for 25 cents to $1.
One hundred years later, is there any doubt of the ensemble's remarkable achievements?
It's tidbits such as this one that render Houston Symphony: Celebrating a Century a treasure that chronicles the blossoming of a city whose arts scene is the envy of other major national and international destinations. The 200-page hardcover book unravels an intertwined tale of a bevy of can-do personalities, many of them women, who thrived through periods of prosperity and persevered in times of crisis to nurture what's today a forte that defines Houston's ethos.
Written by former Houston Post critic Carl Cunningham, one of Houston performing arts' most influential critical voices, in collaboration with Houston Symphony archivists Terry Ann Brown and Ginny Garrett, Houston Symphony: Celebrating a Century has been a work in progress for three decades.
"We should consider ourselves lucky to be Houstonians, to call home a place whose generosity has formed an oasis unlike anywhere else in the country."
"Writing the book wasn't without setbacks," Cunningham tells CultureMap. "Similar to the journey of the Houston Symphony, writing the book has been its own adventure."
The idea for the tome was proposed nearly 30 years ago by former board member and longtime Houston Symphony patron Katherine Taylor Mize, but complications that saw Cunningham out of work when the Houston Post closed, in addition to health concerns, personal loss and the destruction caused by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 derailed the completion of the project. Finally, in observance of the Houston Symphony's 100-year milestone, the Houston Symphony Society revived the venture.
For the symphony's early days, Cunningham says he's indebted to the work of his Houston Post predecessor, Hubert Roussel, whose publication Houston Symphony Orchestra, 1913-71 offers a detailed account about the ensemble's beginnings. Numerous interviews with a band of historians, conductors, musicians, staff, volunteers and city stakeholders sketch the continuation of the nonprofit's growth and development.
Historical photos and a well-thought-out timeline supplement the rich narrative that's not only about the classical group.
"What the story of the Houston Symphony says is that this city has an invincible spirit that can't be broken," Cunningham adds. "We should consider ourselves lucky to be Houstonians, to call home a place whose generosity has formed an oasis unlike anywhere else in the country."
Houston Symphony: Celebrating a Century, published by Herring Design, is available for $70 at the Symphony Store (located in the lobby of Jones Hall), the Patron Services Center (box office) and by calling 713-224-7575. The book is also available at the River Oaks Bookstore.