UHCL The Signal
The official student newspaper of the University of Houston-Clear Lake

Houston Symphony wins Grammy five years in the making


CORRECTION 2/26/2018: This article has been updated to reflect that the principal tubist’s name is Dave Kirk. 

The Houston Symphony won a Grammy for the first time in the orchestra’s history at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards held Jan. 28. Not only is this Grammy the symphony’s first golden gramophone in their 104-year history, but it is their first nomination as well. The award was won for Best Opera Recording of “Berg: Wozzeck.”

“They’ve all been making great music for many years, and it’s always nice to be recognized,” said Houston Symphony harpist Megan Levin. “I’m willing to bet that this Grammy Award is the first of many.”

Conductor Hans Graf and Symphony Engineer Brad Sayles produced the recording in 2013, but it was not released until 2017. The Houston Symphony makes recordings of their performances and archives them for future broadcast on KUHT/Houston Public Media and American Public Media.

However, the orchestra’s execution of Alban Berg’s difficult piece was considered powerful, Graf and Sayles took on the task of producing it commercially. As his farewell symphony in 2013, Graf planned two nights of performances to perfect the recording.

The two-disk album also featured The Chorus of Students and Alumni from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and the Houston Grand Opera Children’s Chorus. Anne Schwanewilms and Roman Trekel were featured soloists in the piece.

PHOTO: Conductor Hans Graf, left, and recording engineer Brad Sayles accepting the Grammy for best opera recording. Photo courtesy of the Houston Symphony
Conductor Hans Graf, left, and recording engineer Brad Sayles accepting the Grammy for best opera recording. Photo courtesy of the Houston Symphony.

The three-act opera, composed by Berg, is a dark story of madness filled with alluring twists of rhythm and melody. Led by Graf, the orchestra brought Berg’s opera to life.

“Wozzeck’s tuba part is challenging and gratifying to play,” said principal tubist Dave Kirk.  “In Act 2, it requires the tubist to briefly leave the main orchestra to join a small tavern band playing a spirited waltz. In our staged performance, we offered up a bit of show business when one of my bandmates, tired of standing close to the tuba, stuffed a mute down the bell. It was a good ol’ time.”

The Grammy is not the only award the album won. The Houston Symphony’s recording of Berg’s “Wozzeck” also won the renowned worldwide ECHO Klassik award last fall.

“Each year, the Deutsche Phono-Akademie, the German music industry federation, awards the ECHO to honor the most successful and outstanding achievements of German and international musicians,” said Houston Symphony Senior Director of Communications Vanessa Astros. “To be recognized among the world’s greatest classical musicians and to represent Houston in other parts of the world is an amazing feeling.”

Under current Music Director Andres Orozco-Estrada, the symphony will represent Houston in a four-country, eight-city tour through Europe’s most prestigious music halls and festivals March 9-19. The orchestra will perform in world-class venues in Brussels, Berlin and Vienna, just to name a few. Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 5” and “Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7” will be the featured pieces. An homage to famous composer Leonard Bernstein is also on the agenda.  

“Providing stimulating and entertaining performances to patrons remains our core mission,” Kirk said. “It’s a great honor to be a part of it.”

Since its founding in 1913, the Houston Symphony has taken on the mission to inspire and engage Houston and the world through extraordinary musical performances, educational programs and community involvement. For more information about the symphony’s mission and values, visit https://www.houstonsymphony.org/about-us/mission-vision-values/

“Our full-time ensemble of 88 professional musicians presents nearly 170 concerts annually, making it the largest performing arts organization in Houston,” Astros said. “We offer a wide array of music and entertainment options that is fit for all Houstonians and are committed to increasing the quality of life in Houston through music.”

The symphony performs in the heart of Houston’s theatre district at Jones Hall for the Performing Arts. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.houstonsymphony.org/.