IV. The Heroic Deeds And Petrification Of Ilya Murometz
Ray Fliegel, solos as concertmaster - my brother's stand partner for years after he moved to principal second violin.
From 1955 to 1961, Leopold Stokowski was the Music Director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. He arrived, loaded with charisma, exotic tastes, and exciting plans for several premieres each season, at which he often had the composers present. The orchestra bloomed under his direction. Although a segment of the audience did not appreciate his programming and some players resented his demands, under Leopold Stokowski the orchestra gained a new sense of its position and widened its coverage of new music. He left it more polished and confident, with a sharpened stylistic facility. For his debut appearance with the orchestra he gave the first performance of the Symphony No. 2 Mysterious Mountain by Alan Hovhaness -- one of many living American composers whose music he championed over the years. He also gave the U.S. premiere in Houston of Shostakovich's 11th Symphony (April 7, 1958) and made its first American recording on the Capitol label. Stokowski's other recordings with the Houston Symphony included Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and his own edition of Reinhold Glière's Symphony No. 3 Ilya Murometz, both for Capitol; and Brahms's 3rd Symphony and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra for Everest.
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.
Since 2001, Hans Graf has been music director of the Houston Symphony. 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 is to take the title of conductor laureate of the orchestra.
• 1913--1916 Julien Paul Blitz
• 1916--1918 Paul Bergé
• 1918--1930 dissolved
• 1931--1932 Uriel Nespoli
• 1932--1935 Frank St. Leger
• 1936--1947 Ernst Hoffmann
• 1948--1954 Efrem Kurtz
• 1954 Ferenc Fricsay (resigned mid-season)
• 1955--1961 Leopold Stokowski
• 1961--1967 John Barbirolli
• 1967--1969 André Previn
• 1971--1979 Lawrence Foster
• 1980--1988 Sergiu Comissiona
• 1988--1999 Christoph Eschenbach
• 2001--present Hans Graf