See La Houssaye, Pierre.
City in Texas, USA. In its earliest days, after its foundation in 1836, professional musical activity was largely imported in the form of travelling performers. From 1919 to 1925 the Chicago Opera Association and Civic Opera appeared annually in Houston. Other later visiting productions included Antonio Scotti's company, the German Grand Opera Company, Fortune Gallo's San Carlo Opera Company and the Metropolitan Opera. Since World War II Houston's own symphony orchestra, opera, ballet and chamber groups have emerged and risen to national prominence.
In 1913 a group of citizens formed the first symphony orchestra in Houston. The original ensemble consisted of 35 musicians with a budget of $1500. Julian Paul Blitz (1913–16) was the conductor; he was succeeded by Paul Berge (1916–18). Towards the end of World War I the orchestra was disbanded, but the society continued to function and brought a number of American orchestras to Houston. In 1930 the Houston SO was revived, first under Uriel Nespoli (1931–2), then Frank St Leger (1932–5) and Ernst Hoffmann (1935–47). During Hoffmann's tenure the orchestra emerged as a fully professional ensemble.
Following Hoffmann, Efrem Kurtz (1948–54) directed the Houston SO, introducing then unfamiliar works by Honegger, Bartók, Ives and others. Ferenc Fricsay oversaw a partial season in 1954, followed by Thomas Beecham (1954–5) and Leopold Stokowski (1955–61). Stokowski's tenure included a number of recordings by the orchestra, guest conducting appearances by Villa-Lobos, Stravinsky and Walter Susskind, and the founding of a Houston Contemporary Music Society. During the next six years under John Barbirolli (1961–7), the orchestra was enlarged and undertook a series of tours in the USA. Barbirolli presided over the first performances in Jesse Jones Hall, completed in 1966, which remains the orchestra's permanent home. André Previn followed Barbirolli for two seasons. From 1969 to 1971 various guest conductors were in charge, with Antonio de Almeida as principal guest conductor. Lawrence Foster became principal conductor in 1971 and musical director in 1972. Upon his departure in 1978, a full season of guest conductors resulted in the appointment of Sergiu Comissiona, first as artistic adviser (1979), then music director. Comissiona pursued a vigorous programme of audio and television recordings and touring, but left the orchestra demoralized. Christoph Eschenbach became music director in 1988. An enthusiastic proponent of new music, he has encouraged the commissioning of new works by Picker, Reimann, Singleton and Rouse. Under his leadership the orchestra has grown artistically, undertaking ambitious recording projects and embarking on regular international touring programmes in addition to its customary season. These activities, while well received critically, precipitated a financial crisis that threatened the orchestra's long-term stability. However, in 1998, two local philanthropic foundations donated a total of $7·3 million to the orchestra, eliminating its accumulated budget deficit.
The orchestra's season expanded rapidly in the 1970s, allowing for the musicians to have a full year's contract each season. In addition to the regular concert season of 20 subscription programmes performed three times each, the orchestra plays for the Houston Grand Opera season, summer open-air concerts and a popular series. A nucleus of symphony players formed the Houston Chamber Orchestra under Charles Rosekrans. Eschenbach founded the Houston Symphony Chamber Players in 1993; they tour with the orchestra and present an independent concert series that mirrors the orchestra's adventurous programming.
The Houston Grand Opera was founded in 1955 with Walter Herbert as general director, a post in which he served – as artistic and business manager and principal conductor – until 1972. During the first season two operas were produced. This increased to three productions the next season, four in 1962 and five in 1965. Performances took place at the Music Hall at the Coliseum until the opening of the general-purpose Jesse Jones Hall in 1966. In its early years the company's repertory consisted largely of popular operas, with occasional exceptions such as Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel, Henze's Der junge Lord and Orff's Der Mond. After David Gockley's appointment as general manager in 1972 the Houston Grand Opera established itself as a champion of new opera and innovatory productions. Beginning in 1974 with Pasatieri's The Seagull, Gockley has overseen the world premières of operas including Bernstein's A Quiet Place, Adams's Nixon in China, Tippett's New Year, Moran's Desert of Roses and Wallace's Harvey Milk, and the American premières of Vaughan Williams's Hugh the Drover and Glass's Akhnaten. Private funding underwrote the planning and development of the Gus Wortham Center, which opened in 1987 as a permanent home for the opera and ballet, boasting large (Brown Theater, cap. 2176) and small (Cullen Theater, cap. 1066) auditoriums. In addition to its regular seasons, the Houston Opera has been active in promoting operas in schools. The company gives a large number of performances of its regular operas for student audiences and also sponsors groups which go into the schools to perform scenes and chamber operas. The Houston Opera Studio was founded by Gockley and composer Carlisle Floyd in 1977 as a training programme for talented young artists. Its success has helped to launch the careers of Kathleen Battle, Rockwell Blake, Catherine Malfitano, James Morris, Samuel Ramey, Neil Shicoff, Frederica von Stade, Marietta Simpson, Renée Fleming and Denyce Graves. Formerly associated with the University of Houston, the Opera Studio is now independent. In 1989 the Houston Opera established the Genevieve P. Demme Archives and Resource Center, becoming only the second major American opera company to establish its own research facility.
Chamber music and recitals have featured less prominently in Houston's musical life. The Houston Friends of Music has presented visiting string quartets and other professional chamber ensembles since 1960. The Society for the Performing Arts presents concerts in Jesse Jones Hall and the Wortham Center. While the area university music schools at Rice and University of Houston present varied concert series and faculty recitals in all genres, no new music ensemble has taken hold in the area. A Bach Society disbanded in 1968. Recognizing both a gap and a market, Sergiu Luca founded the Da Camera Society in 1987 in conjunction with several art museums, presenting performances of thematically related mini-series ranging from early chamber music to crossover works. Sarah Rothenberg, who succeeded Luca as artistic director in 1994, has continued the eclectic approach, emphasizing interdisciplinary connections among music, art, film and literature. Da Camera's programmes have been repeated in New York and emulated elsewhere.
Houston is home to numerous school and church choirs, many of which present public concerts. The Houston Symphony Chorale is the official chorus of the Houston SO. The American Guild of Organists has an active chapter in Houston. The Houston Harpsichord Society, founded in 1965 and renamed Houston Early Music in 1997, is host to eight concerts. The Houston Gilbert and Sullivan Society (1952) presents one operetta each summer.
The Houston Ballet Foundation, originally a presenting organization for touring companies, created a resident professional ballet company in 1969. The Houston Ballet is unusual among American regional companies in that it supports its own pit orchestra, independent of the Houston SO. While offering a number of performances in Houston, this group is most active in regional tours.
Among the various colleges with degree courses in music the largest is the University of Houston Moores School of Music, which built a new campus in 1997. With 550 students and a teaching staff of 63, it is one of the leading music departments in the USA. The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, which built its own new music campus in 1990, has 300 students and a staff of 50.
D.W. Pugh: Music in Frontier Houston, 1836–76 (diss., U. of Texas, 1970)
H. Roussel: The Houston Symphony Orchestra, 1913–1971 (Austin, 1972)
R.I. Giesberg: Houston Grand Opera: a History (Houston, 1981)
R. Craven, ed.: Orchestras of the United States: Selected Profiles (New York, 1986)
G. Schmidgall: ‘Can Do: how Houston came by its Grand New Arts Complex’, ‘Architect Eugene Aubry’, ‘General Director David Gockley’, ON, lii/4 (1987–8), 12–16, 16–18 and 66–7, 20, 70 only
A. Holmes: 50 Years of the Arts in Houston (forthcoming)
LAURIE SHULMAN (with PAUL COOPER, ROBERT D. JOBE)