Arts organizations around town are showing their versatility, demonstrating just how resourceful they can be during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alley Theatre was able to showcase 1984 to much fanfare via a recorded pay-per-view format. Theatre Under The Stars took its annual Tommy Tune Awards to a Facebook Live and YouTube platform. Countless organizations have launched podcasts or social media channels to show artists performing from home. Now, Houston Symphony is adding another option for viewers to still enjoy live performances.
The organization's newest endeavor, lovingly titled the "Living Room Series," will offer hour-long, livestream recitals by the world-class musicians of the orchestra Friday nights at 8 o'clock during the month of May. Streamed online via a private link to ticket holders, each recital spotlights an individual Houston Symphony musician, and in some cases, musician members of their household, performing at home.
The first of the series features Principal Keyboardist Scott Holshouser, performing along with his son, vocalist Sean Holshouser. The evening’s program includes music from Chopin, Mozart, Schumann, Debussy, and an improvisation on Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. As a bonus, before the concert, both will perform "It All Fades Away" from The Bridges of Madison County.
"Part of this is to keep a lifeline to the people who support us and have listened to us for years. It will remind them of the people in the orchestra and remind them we’re still here waiting for the moment when we can get back together. We want to thank people for whatever support people can give and to wait for that moment when we can return. It’s kind of a bridge [during this time]," Holshouser said.
These recitals reflect the personalities of the individual musicians, bringing the audience into their homes to hear performances curated by them. This lends the Living Room Series a colorful and wide variety to its programming. Each concert also features remarks by that week’s musician, and concludes with a Q&A from audience members.
As the inaugural performer, the onus falls upon Holshouser to set the bar, but he's found a playlist that he feels will offer fun for all viewers.
"We programmed pieces that are positive. We wanted to do pieces that were popular and well known and upbeat. There's nothing too serious because of the time we’re going through," he said.
But Holshouser reminds viewers that with all live performances, there's a chance for the recital to have some unexpected bumps along the way.
"Maybe our dogs will come out, but it it will be the normal stuff that happens when you film from home. It will be personal look at what happens in our living room, but it will be unexpected and fun," he said.
The list of future performers includes a verifiable "who's who" from the orchestra.
Houston Symphony Principal Clarinet Mark Nuccio is up next on May 8. He’ll perform a transcription of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy for Piano, two short pieces by Debussy, and several solo clarinet showpieces in an homage to Richard Strauss. Nuccio selected pieces from different regions of the world in hopes that the audience may be inspired to pair their favorite wines, spirits, or cuisine with each piece.
May 15, Principal Cello Brinton Averil Smith is joined by his pianist wife and frequent collaborator Evelyn Chen, and his vocalist daughter Calista, for a selection of short works inspired by the recordings of the legendary cellist Emanuel Feuermann. Composers on the program include Albéniz, Sarasate, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Handel.
On May 22, Associate Principal Viola Joan derHovsepian is joined by her husband, Houston Grand Opera Orchestra Bassist Erik Gronfor in a program to be announced.
Access to up close and personal performances from top notch musicians is tempting, but the price is even more enticing. Each week’s performance costs only $10. Those who purchase tickets will receive a private link to enjoy the live performance in the comfort of their own home.
While the concerts are a one-time-only livestream, there are still ways to enjoy the organization's music via its social media pages and at houstonsymphony.org/listenathome. Both feature daily, free content updates including musician videos, blogs, archival audio and video performances, and more.
Houston Symphony's Living Room Series takes place at 8 p.m. on Fridays in May. For information or to purchase tickets, visit houstonsymphony.org. $10.