It could have been an evening affair studded with a who's who of Houston's blue blood echelon shelling up top dollar for gala tables, each guest slipping into couture — nothing off the rack — to strike a pose for the city's social pages.
But the musical spectacle that celebrated Houston Symphony's centennial at Miller Outdoor Theatre on Friday night wasn't for a select few. The free concert bowed to the citizens who have welcomed the Bayou City's premiere classical music ensemble as a vital part of their cultural fabric. Because no arts entity of any kind has a chance of thriving if it isn't relevant to its home and its people.
An estimated audience of 18,000 — enticed by the official start of summer, a cloudless sky, the verdant mantle of Hermann Park, the genteel waters of McGovern Lake and the sparkling fountains of the Reflection Pool — gradually trickled in hours prior to the 8:30 p.m. curtain call. Frisbee with the family dog, wine and cheese picnics on the hill, coolers topped with refreshments — this was an informal, al fresco gala of a different nature, organized 100 years to the day from the inaugural 1913 concert performed by what would evolve in time into the Houston Symphony.
Courtesy of an official state proclamation presented by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, June 21, 2013, will forever be imprinted as Houston Symphony Day.
"It's an honor to be invited to celebrate this event. That I can do contribute through song — I am humbled."
That first performance 100 years ago was held in downtown's Majestic Theater (local history buffs refer to it as the second of the Majestics) located where the Houston Chronicle building stands today. The orchestra that comprised 35 musicians each receiving $5 for their service has bloomed into a solid enterprise with a budget of $30.4 million for its 2013-14 anniversary season.
Associate conductor Robert Franz kindled the memory of the 1913 musicale by programming a couple of the selections of the historic playbill, including excerpts from Bizet's Carmen and Tchaikovsky's The Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker — the latter in hopes of imagining cool December temperatures. Complementing the two-hour soiree were scores that carried happy messages of appreciation such as "Be Our Guest" from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Collaborations with University of Houston's Spirit of Houston Marching Band on stage and around the amphitheater enveloped concert goers with regal sounds appropriate for the festivities.
While Westside High School's Inertia Dance Company added a touch of comedic relief with a light-hearted number, the powerhouse of rendition of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" by American Idol finalist LaKisha Jones, who wore a classy white Tadashi gown, caused the crowd to break into a standing ovation.
"Though I was born in Flint (Michigan), part of my heart belongs in Houston," Jones, who lived in the Bayou City for six years, tells CultureMap. "It's an honor to be invited to celebrate this event. That I can do contribute through song — I am humbled."
Imagine everyone's surprise when part of the Houston Symphony Chorus rose from within the theater to belt out the last movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 "Ode to Joy." The blissful tenor of the text served as the finale that was followed by a dazzling fireworks display.
It could've been a Fourth of July tribute with all the fixings. That it recognized the Houston Symphony's accomplishments with such fervor is validation that Houstonians value — beyond perhaps even crude oil, aerospace and agriculture — the fine arts and creative pursuits.
Of course, we all owe a great deal to one charitable dame who supported the orchestra's early days.
Surely, somewhere, Ima Hogg is smiling.