Houston Symphony History

Media Contacts:  

Vanessa Astros
Senior Director, Communications

(713) 337-8560

Mireya Reyna
PR Coordinator

(713) 337-8557

The Houston Symphony has played a central role in Houston’s cultural and civic life for more than  100 years. Founded in 1913 by the guiding hand of Miss Ima Hogg, the Houston Symphony is one of America's oldest performing arts organizations with a distinguished musical history. Over the years, the orchestra has grown and matured under the direction of distinguished leaders such as Ernst Hoffmann (1936-47), Efrem Kurtz (1948-54), Ferenc Fricsay (1954), Leopold Stokowski (1955-61), Sir John Barbirolli (1961-67), André Previn (1967-69), Lawrence Foster (1971-78), Sergiu Comissiona (1979-88), Christoph Eschenbach (1988-99), Hans Graf (2001-13), currently serving as conductor laureate, and Andrés Orozco-Estrada who will take the podium as the fifteenth music director of the Houston Symphony in September 2014. Principal POPS Conductor Michael Krajewski is beginning his 15th season in Houston, and Associate Conductor Robert Franz is starting his 7th season.

The orchestra’s inaugural performance was held at The Majestic Theater in downtown Houston on June 21, 1913. The Palace Theatre served as a location for six concerts in 1931-32.  City Auditorium and the Houston Music Hall showcased Symphony performances from the late 1930s into the 1960s. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, the orchestra’s current home, was dedicated on October 2, 1966, with a special performance by the Houston Symphony under the baton of Sir John Barbirolli.

In 1937, the Houston Symphony began a series of special student matinee concerts coordinated with Houston Independent School District. By 1956, there were six pairs of concerts with an average attendance of 3,000. Toward the end of the 20th century, the Symphony was an annual destination for 5th grade students in HISD. Today, the David Dewhurst Student Concert series serves young people in Kindergarten through 8th grade from 21 school districts throughout Greater Houston with hour-long, school day concerts throughout the season. The program is comprised of two series: Cameron Symphony Explorer Concerts and The Robbins Foundation Symphony Detective Concerts, which collectively served more than 40,000 students through 15 concerts in 2013-2014. These concerts support the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) by integrating third and fifth grade curriculum, while engaging the students in some of the greatest masterworks written for orchestra. In the 2014-15 season, we look forward to introducing our Middle School Concerts for band and orchestra students in 6th through 8th grade. 

The orchestra came of age in the 1940s, when Maestros Hoffmann and Kurtz began hiring highly talented professional musicians, many of whom remained with the orchestra for more than thirty years. Leopold Stokowski brought the Symphony international recognition by commissioning new works and making recordings, and, in Sir John Barbirolli's years, the Houston Symphony flowered under the influence of his lush romantic style.

The Houston Symphony Ima Hogg Competition, managed by the Houston Symphony League, celebrates its 40th year in 2015 and continues to be a prestigious international event for emerging professional musicians, ages 13-30. Additionally, the Houston Symphony League Concerto Competition, now in its 66th year, is a regional contest for high school musicians from southeast Texas.  Both competitions afford the winning students with not only prize money but also a coveted opportunity to perform in the spotlight with the Houston Symphony.

Road tours were common for the Symphony in the 1940s, especially wartime visits to military bases in Texas and Louisiana. The orchestra embarked on its first national tour in 1950 to seventeen cities as far north as Chicago. Its Carnegie Hall debut occurred March 11, 1965, as part of the International Festival of Visiting Orchestras.  To date, the Symphony has performed 16 times at the world-famous venue with the most recent performance being in May 2012 when the Houston Symphony kicked-off the second annual Spring for Music Festival. The orchestra’s first overseas trip took place in June 1990 with an appearance in Japan at the Singapore Festival of Arts. Throughout the 1990s, the Houston Symphony toured Europe several times and once more to Japan. In October 2010, the orchestra returned to Europe for the first time in a decade performing the hit program, The Planets – An HD Odyssey, to sell-out crowds in a seven-city, eight-concert tour through the United Kingdom. More recently in June 2012, the Houston Symphony represented the first ever American orchestra to perform in the Annual Festival of the World’s Symphony Orchestras in Moscow, Russia which is known as the highlight of the Moscow musical season.

In 1986, the Symphony commissioned more than 20 fanfares from American composers to commemorate Texas’ sesquicentennial. Sadly, in 2001, the fanfare scores along with the entire contents of the Symphony’s music library were destroyed in the devastating floods caused by Tropical Storm Allison. Since 2001 the library’s holdings have been brought back up to 2,300 catalogued items, including scores, sheet music and reference materials. The support from American Express and generous donations to the Focus on the Music campaign played a substantial role in restoring the library's holdings.

Today, outside of television and radio broadcasts, the Houston Symphony performs approximately 300 concerts and recitals for more than 330,000 Houstonians. The season includes the 18-concert Classical Series, the 9-concert POPS series made possible posthumously by Mr. George Mitchell and POPS Presenting Sponsor BBVA Compass, the 4-concert Family Series and a number of Symphony Specials. The Classical Series offers multiple packages including the Frost Bank Gold Classics series sponsored by Frost Bank; the Great Performers series; Shell Favorite Masters series sponsored by Shell Oil Company; Sound Plus Vision sponsored by Margaret Alkek Williams and supported in part by The Cullen Trust for the Performing Arts Endowed Fund for Creative Initiatives; and Sugar Land Series at Sugar Land Baptist Church supported in part by Regions Bank.  Throughout the year, the Symphony also performs in The Woodlands at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. For the 2014-15 season, we introduce yet another offering, “Musically Speaking with Andrés,” at Rice University’s Stude Concert Hall supported in part by Rand Group. Andrés will guide “Musically Speaking” patrons through an exploration of classical works filled with historical context, commentary, anecdotes and personal experiences.

In the summer, the orchestra tours the region with approximately 10 free Summer Neighborhood Concerts reaching more than 7,000 Houstonians. The Houston Symphony welcomes more than 20 Houston-area performing groups to its venue during the annual Day of Music in July. This day-long musical celebration, that attracted over 8,000 people this year, culminates with a concert performed by the Houston Symphony.  Another of the summer offerings, Summer in the City, is a series of innovative, multi-media experiences that encourages new audiences to experience live orchestral performances featuring familiar entertainment. Additionally, the Houston Symphony presents ExxonMobil Summer Symphony Nights at Miller Outdoor Theatre, where the orchestra has performed free concerts for more than 70 years, including the annual “Star Spangled Salute.” The last free performance of the summer is the annual Fiesta Sinfónica at Jones Hall, a concert in salute to Hispanic
Heritage Month.