The Houston Symphony's Opening Night Celebration

Of Centennials and Coloratura

Seth Vaughan. Photography Wilson Parish, Anthony Rathburn.  |  Photos by Wilson Parish, Anthony Rathburn
December 04, 2013
Event Date:
September 07, 2013

The opening night of the Houston Symphony’s centennial season was unforgettable for the best of reasons. A triptych invitation called for guests to rendezvous at the Corinthian for cocktails, including Ima Hogg’s infamously stout punch. Once sufficiently primed, the symphonic squad was shuttled to Jones Hall, which was near-capacity due to record-breaking ticket sales, its stage flanked by massive arrangements of white phalaenopsis, care of Richard Flowers’ The Events Company. Once everyone took their seats, recognition went to Symphony board member Ralph Burch, Conoco Phillips deputy general counsel (this marked the 27th season the company has sponsored); honorees Janice Barrow and Mike Stude; and community partner honorees, the Houston Texans and the team’s owner, Bob McNair, with wife Janice (accepting the honor in their stead was Texan’s general manager Rick Smith, with wife Tiffany).

The spirited program brought Spaniard Juanjo Mena to the podium; Mena, chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, is one of many guest conductors the symphony has interjected into the season in anticipation of the arrival of Hans Graf’s successor, Andrés Orozco-Estrada. The performance opened with pieces from Strauss and Wagner. Guest soloist Renée Fleming, dressed to the nines in the grand tradition of opera divas, delighted with a piece from Strauss’ Walzer aus Wien. More highlights included Puccini’s O mio babbino caro and such Great American Songbook selections as West Side Story favorites “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere.”

Two encores later, the formally attired audience headed back to The Corinthian for a seated dinner and dancing. The night’s chairmen, Carolyn and Mike Mann and Kathy and Paul Mann, exemplified the intergenerational involvement of many Houston families — a theme that will be explored at other symphony fund-raisers this season. The night paid tribute to Ima Hogg’s crucial early involvement with the symphony; fittingly, her spirit of arts appreciation permeated the dinner decor, including flower arrangements referencing the colors of Bayou Bend gardens. Guests tucked into dinner from Jackson and Company, followed by an extravagant dessert course that saw servers parading cakes and candelabra amidst the tables before stationing them on multiple buffet tables for serving. Coffee and brandy Alexanders ensued, as well as dancing to the Richard Brown Orchestra.

Ready for an encore: Joanie Haley, director of the McNairs’ foundation, with husband Don Haley; Phoebe and Bobby Tudor; Margaret Williams and Jim Daniel; Symphony CEO Mark Hanson with wife Christina; Tenenbaum & Co.’s Tony Bradfield and Kevin Black; Symphony board president Bob Peiser with wife Nancy; Cora Sue and Harry Mach; centennial co-chairmen Mary Lynn and Steve Marks, Barbara and Pat McCelvey, and Betty and Jess Tutor; Ting and John Bresnahan; Audrey and Brandon Cochran; Marie Bosarge; Symphony League president Kelli Cohen Fein with husband Martin Fein; Joella and Steve Mach; Lilly Andress; and Beth Madison.