Bayou City

A Post-Harvey Houston Symphony Plays to the Heartstrings

Volunteers from the Houston Symphony played at First United Methodist Church in Dickinson as the statewide Harvey relief efforts continue.
Volunteers from the Houston Symphony played at First United Methodist Church in Dickinson as the statewide Harvey relief efforts continue. Photo courtesy of the Houston Symphony
Like many other storm-battered citizens along the Texas coast, the Houston Symphony and its members are doing their best to bring relief to the decimated area the best way they know how: through the universal language of music and with heartfelt compassion.

As the city of Houston begins the process of picking up the pieces and building anew, some members of the Symphony have banded together to provide light entertainment for people looking for a reprieve from Harvey.

"We’re among the many musicians who are out in many areas and playing in shelters and in places of need. The orchestra is really trying," said Mark Nuccio, principal clarinetist of the Symphony. "As entertainers, we’re trying to lift people’s spirit a little bit."

The Symphony can understand the need for soothing music and entertainment in a post-Harvey Houston. Jones Hall, the home base of the arts group, sustained damage in its rehearsal rooms. Several shows and events were cancelled in response to the hurricane-turned-tropical storm, including Theater District Open House, Ella at 100, The Best of John Williams, Opening Night Concert + Gala with Susan Graham and Fiesta Simphónica.

The few weeks of missed performances and ticket sales weren't the only collateral damage for the Symphony and its members.

"Ten musicians lost their homes. One person left with just her violin on her back," said Nuccio. "Even though we’re doing this [volunteering], we’re the ones affected also."

In the spirit of compassion, several symphony musicians have answered the call for help. They have been playing at shelters since Thursday, September 31, according to Lauren Moore, operations manager for the Symphony.

"There have been some musicians who lost everything, and they still give what they can. It's really heartwarming to see our musicians come together like that." — Lauren Moore, Houston Symphony Operations Manager

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"We’ve been at the George R. Brown and Salvation Army areas," she says. "We’ve done at least 12 shelter visits. There have been some musicians who lost everything, and they still give what they can. It's really heartwarming to see our musicians come together like that."

Last Wednesday, the organization started making appearances at NRG Stadium for people who are still in need of shelter. Moore says they performed daily through Saturday.

One extra performance added to this make-shift relief effort took place in the parking lot of First United Methodist Church in Dickinson last Thursday. It was the result of an organized effort between the Symphony and Nuccio's daughter.

Nuccio's family spends part of its time in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where his daughter used to work at Cugino’s Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant. Like many people across the country, restaurant owner John Gamradt was looking for a way to help out the flood-stricken Texas area when inspiration struck.

Gamradt drove from Colorado to Dickinson to deliver 1,000 pizza crusts, which were then cooked in a food truck donated by Satellite Pizza. It was enough food to provide a warm meal for up to 3,000 people — all while a group of volunteer musicians played an impromptu concert in the church's parking lot to ease the distress.

Senior pastor at the church Jack Matkin says, "It's wonderful we can be a part of this and to use our parking lot for ministry," citing the church's passion for collaborating with the community and its central location to many people affected by the waters.

"Hopefully they’ll see that everyone is lifting them up a little bit," adds Nuccio.

Perhaps the sentiments and actions of the orchestra are best expressed by Houston Symphony Society's Board President Janet F. Clark in a statement she released via the organization's web site.

"Our hearts go out to everyone in our beloved Houston community affected by Hurricane Harvey," she said. "This is an incredibly challenging time for all of us."

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The symphony will be based out of Rice University while Houston's Theater District recovers from damage caused by Harvey.
Photo courtesy of the Houston Symphony
In her statement, Clark also mentioned Jones Hall had some water penetration, but the stage and auditorium appear to have been untouched. Water did reach the basement level, where some equipment was stored, but the most valuable and hard-to-replace items were moved to higher floors prior to Harvey’s arrival. As of Saturday, Theater District underground garages were still being pumped.

The Symphony will resume its regularly scheduled 2017-18 season this week with a new temporary home at Stude Concert Hall at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.

In a second message to Symphony ticket holders, supporters and fans, Clark mentioned Rice University will be its temporary home while repairs are made to the Theater District, and the organization will let people know when it will return to Jones Hall.

In her message, she also mirrored the giving spirit of the symphony.

"To help serve our community at this difficult time, we invite the public to attend all three of these performances for free," Clark said. "We are grateful to Rice University’s generosity in making Stude Hall available for these concerts."

Starting today, the Patron Services Center will contact current ticketholders with reserved tickets to these concerts and will share information with the public about how to secure free tickets for these performances.

As for the Classical Series opener, it will feature some of the best music ever composed, this time with Mahler & Dvorák. Both composers were born in Europe yet spent considerable time in America, which can be felt in each man's music. Dvorák was able to blend in with American culture, while Mahler felt very much like an outsider. Both, though, created everlasting music based on their experiences. The symphony will conjure visions of heavenly life through Dvorák’s Te Deum and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. Soprano Mojca Erdmann and baritone Nicholas Brownlee, along with the Houston Symphony Chorus, will lend their talents to the show.

For anyone who wants to help the affected musicians, the Symphony is an established nonprofit organization and has set up a tax-deductible Houston Symphony Employee Assistance Fund. Anyone can help in the recovery efforts by clicking this link and selecting “Employee Assistance Fund” in the dropdown menu.

The Houston Symphony will resume regular programming with Mahler & Dvorak at 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Rice University's Stude Concert Hall, 6100 Main. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit Free.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd