It takes balls to be the concertmaster of a major symphony orchestra such as the Houston Symphony. It takes bigger balls to want that position in one of the country's best, notorious (pun intended) and oldest musical institutions such as the New York Philharmonic.
The somewhat subdued, polite yet musically fierce Frank Huang, concertmaster of the Houston Symphony, has been appointed concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, a chair that he will take over starting in September.
That's a huge accomplishment that deserves its own standing ovation. Because the audition process to secure such a respected and somewhat politicized chair requires its own set of skills outside of what's necessary for performance. The concertmaster chair, after all, is considered to be the most influential musically after he or she who waves the "You will do as I say" magic wand. The responsibility is much more involved than just getting a solo bow before pointing to the oboe to sound a series of tuning A's.
"Being part of the Houston Symphony over the last five years has been an incredible experience."
According to philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert (who plans to leave his post in 2017), Huang had a balance of "virtuosity, flair, musicality and collegiality" that won the unanimous approval of the search committee. Houston Symphony concert goers already knew that from Huang's interpretations of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole.
What's most memorable about the 36-year-old's tenure in Houston so far is when he had two days' notice to whip up Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto when a scheduled soloist's travel plans were thwarted by inclement weather. Huang also had the flu. Talk about the perfect storm.
"Being part of the Houston Symphony over the last five years has been an incredible experience and I am grateful to my exceptional colleagues in the orchestra and the staff for their tireless dedication," Huang said in a statement. "There is so much excitement and energy in this great orchestra that I look forward to continuing this momentum next year when I'm back in Houston for part of next season."
That means there's no reason for sad fiddle music yet. Huang will be able to perform as concertmaster with the Houston Symphony as his schedule allows.
Huang will replace Glenn Dicterow, who sat in the New York Philharmonic concertmaster chair for 34 seasons. He also will be in the company of another musician who called Houston home for a while. Matthew VanBesien, the philharmonic's executive director, led the Houston Symphony's administration from 2005 to 2010.
Yet considering the current positivity and excitement around the Houston Symphony coupled with the more troubled funding climate in New York, one has to wonder if Huang will be happy in his new position, particularly as his wife, violinist Sarah Ludwig, is staying in Houston as a member of the Houston Grand Opera orchestra.
While it's almost impossible (read that: nuts) to pass on the opportunity to play with the New York Philharmonic — many orchestral musicians will concede that the philharmonic is the zenith of American orchestral accomplishments — let's hope that Huang finds fulfillment in his new musical journey.