The Houston Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2008-2009 season and there’s one minor surprise: Conductor André Previn will return to the podium after an absence of 40 years.
Previn was the Houston Symphony’s conductor-in-chief from 1967 to 1969, but the relationship was an uneasy one (for one thing, Previn’s freewheeling lifestyle upset prominent symphony supporters) and the parting was not amicable.
But that was a long time ago, and now Previn will return in March 2009 to conduct Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 and Richard Strauss’ Symphonia Domestica.
A couple of other season highlights include appearances by conductor Leonard Slatkin (in April and May 2009) and Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (reading from his poetry in conjunction with performances of Shostakovich’s Babi Yar Symphony in September 2008).
Meanwhile, back in this season, the Houston Symphony’s performances this past weekend were a bit unconventional. The largest work on the program was Strauss’ Alpine Symphony. Music director Hans Graf led a greatly expanded orchestra on an impressive mountain journey as scenes from the Bavarian Alps were projected by German photographer Tobias Melle onto a large screen behind the orchestra.
The photography was magnificent and well coordinated with Strauss’ story line and the audience seemed to be caught up in the audiovisual experiment. The orchestra had to play from memory in the opening and closing measures as Jones Hall went completely dark, but the stand lights came up for the bulk of the piece.
The concert was part of Houston’s “SoundPlusVision” series, which seeks to attract listeners by adding a visual element to the aural.
The rest of the program was more orthodox: Beethoven’s Fidelio Overture and Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Houston’s principal cellist, Brinton Averil Smith, gave a lovely performance of the Elgar that combined great sonority with a subtle, singing line. Smith is a former principal cellist of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.