It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got those strings. Houston Symphony will present "American Strings: From Folk to Film" November 20 - 22. The exciting program spotlights all-American composers who helped shape the country’s musical landscape pertaining to popular music. Principal POPS Conductor Steven Reineke will lead the world-class all-string section of the orchestra.
When planning the program, Reneike points to a suggestion of Lesley Sabol, Houston Symphony's director of popular programming, as the spark for the show. "She said, 'What if we just used the string section?' and that was enough to get me up and running," he said. "As I started to research and look at selections, it started to become clear to me that most of the music I was choosing was by American composers. I liked that, so I ran with that. I noticed a pattern where I had some early Americana fiddle music and then some film music, and then the idea came to me 'from fiddle to film.'"
Not only does the all-string theme make for fun programming, it also presents a way to meet the new challenges of performing arts groups during the pandemic. With a limit placed on the number of players who can take the stage, the idea of highlighting the string section appealed to him.
"In this new time, we can’t use the full forces. We have to use smaller orchestras. If it’s a mixed orchestra, I have to really cut down the string section. If we just use strings, I can use almost all of them. I have about 32 string players for this concert. A normal orchestra might have about 40 players, so it’s very close to a full section," Reineke said.
For the program, Reineke brought in a selection of pieces that cover multiple genres. It includes music by Leroy Anderson, known as one of the great American composers of light concert pieces and popular music. Early 20th century is represented through "The King of Ragtime" Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer." Plus, no all-string concert would be complete without the most popular and memorable film scores by John Williams and Henry Mancini.
The program also features recognizable compositions like "Shenandoah" and "Hoedown from Rodeo for strings." Since string instruments are also played by plucking the strings, a technique known at pizzicato, Reineke made sure to incorporate a few pieces that use that distinct sound, including Jessie Montgomery's "Strum" and Anderson's "Plink, Plank, Plunk."
"Although we are capturing nearly 100 years of music in this program, this concert is not so much a music lesson or a lesson in string playing. It’s more about a carefully crafted and entertaining program of music that spans several genres through several decades," Reineke said.
Due to social distancing requirements, in-person seating for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is very limited and current 2020-21 Season subscribers receive priority. Robust safety measures will be in place for all performances. Saturday evening’s performance will be livestreamed. Reserve a spot on the waiting list for in-person performances via the Houston Symphony's website.
Houston Symphony presents "American Strings: From Folk to Film" at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 20; 2:30 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 21; and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 22 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana Street. The 8 p.m. Saturday concert will also be live-streamed. For information or standby tickets, visit houstonsymphony.org or call 713-224-7575. Livestream tickets are $20.