Founded in 1913 by the guiding hand of Miss Ima Hogg, the Grammy Award–winning Houston Symphony has played a central role in Houston’s cultural and civic life for more than 100 years. The symphony is now one of America’s oldest performing arts organizations and the largest performing arts organization in Houston.
During the 2021–2022 Season, the Houston Symphony celebrated its final season under Andrés Orozco-Estrada after eight years as Music Director and continued its second century as one of America’s leading orchestras with a full complement of concert, community, education, touring, and recording activities. One of the oldest performing arts organizations in Texas, the Symphony held its inaugural performance at The Majestic Theater in downtown Houston on June 21, 1913. Today, with an operating budget of $28.8 million (FY22), the full-time ensemble of professional musicians presents nearly 170 concerts annually, making it the largest performing arts organization in Houston. Additionally, musicians of the orchestra and the Symphony’s two Community-Embedded Musicians offer over 1,000 community-based performances each year at various schools, community centers, hospitals, and churches reaching more than 200,000 people in Greater Houston annually, prior to COVID-19.
The orchestra’s inaugural performance was held at The Majestic Theater in downtown Houston on June 21, 1913. Two decades later, 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 through the early 1960s.
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 17 cities as far north as Chicago. The orchestra’s current home, Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, was dedicated in October 1966.
The orchestra’s Carnegie Hall debut was March 1965, as part of the International Festival of Visiting Orchestras. The Symphony has performed 16 times at the world-famous venue, with the most recent performance in May 2012 when the Houston Symphony kicked off the second annual Spring for Music Festival.
The orchestra has grown under the direction of leaders such as Ernst Hoffmann (1936–47), Efrem Kurtz (1948–54), Ferenc Fricsay (1954–55), 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), and Andrés Orozco-Estrada (2014–2022).
- The 2022−2023 Season marks Juraj Valčuha’s inaugural season as music director
- Andrés Orozco-Estrada began his role as the 15th music director of the Houston Symphony in September 2014 and celebrated his final season during the 2021–2022 Season
- Steven Reineke serves as Principal POPS Conductor
- Robert Franz celebrated his final season as Associate Conductor during the 2021–2022 Season
- Dr. Betsy Cook Weber directed the Houston Symphony Chorus from 2014 until the 2021–2022 Season
- Michael Krajewski celebrated his 17th and final season as POPS conductor during the 2016–17 season
The orchestra’s first overseas trip occurred 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 returned to Japan. In October 2010, the orchestra journeyed to the United Kingdom to perform The Planets – An HD Odyssey to sold-out crowds in a seven-city tour. In June 2012, the Houston Symphony became the first-ever American orchestra to perform at the Annual Festival of the World’s Symphony Orchestras in Moscow, Russia, known as the highlight of the Moscow musical season.
In March 2018, Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada led the Houston Symphony on a four-country, eight-city tour through some of Europe’s most prestigious concert halls and festivals. World-renowned violinist and three-time Grammy Award winner Hilary Hahn joined the Houston Symphony for all performances. The high-profile tour, which featured concerts in Belgium, Germany, Poland and Austria, was Orozco-Estrada’s first international tour with the orchestra and the Houston Symphony’s first major European tour in more than 20 years. View European Tour recap
In 1986, the Symphony commissioned more than 20 fanfares from American composers to commemorate Texas’ sesquicentennial. Unfortunately, in 2001, the fanfare scores – along with the majority of the contents in the Symphony’s music library – were destroyed in devastating floods caused by Tropical Storm Allison. Since 2001, the library’s holdings have returned to more than 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 assets.
The Grammy Award-winning Houston Symphony has recorded under various prestigious labels, including Koch International Classics, Naxos, RCA Red Seal, Telarc, Virgin Classics, and, most recently, Dutch recording label Pentatone. In 2017, the Houston Symphony was awarded an ECHO Klassik award for the live recording of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck under the direction of former Music Director Hans Graf. The orchestra earned its first Grammy nomination and Grammy Award at the 60th annual ceremony for the same recording in the Best Opera Recording category.
In a typical year, the Houston Symphony serves more than 46,000 elementary, middle and high school students from 350 schools in more than 20 Texas school districts through a combination of programs, including low-cost or free student concerts in Jones Hall, musician classroom visits, and school residencies.
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 HISD’s fifth grade students. Today, three student concert series serve K-8 students with hourlong concerts: the Robbins Foundation Lower Elementary Concerts, the Upper Elementary Concerts and Middle School Concerts.
The Houston Symphony launched its Community-Embedded Musicians program in 2015, the first position of its kind in the country.
The musicians holding these specialized, hybrid performer/teaching artist positions have facilitated thousands of students’ and community members’ connections with music through interactive performances and activities. These highly skilled musicians possess a special passion and skill for community engagement and work in many different settings—schools, hospitals, senior centers, traditional performance venues, and more.
Community-Embedded Musicians are full-time, salaried musicians who also perform on stage with the Houston Symphony. In a typical year, Community-Embedded Musicians present over 400 musical experiences for people throughout Greater Houston, with a special emphasis on racial and ethnic minorities.
The Houston Symphony Archives maintains organizational records and makes available for scholarly use materials which document the Houston Symphony since its founding in 1913. These materials include concert programs, organizational minutes, press clippings, departmental records, photographs and audiovisual materials, and manuscript collections, including volunteer organization records.