Houston Symphony's Centennial Finale Features 400 Performers for MAHLER'S SYMPHONY NO. 8 This Weekend

Houston Symphony's Centennial Finale Features 400 Performers for MAHLER'S SYMPHONY NO. 8 This Weekend

Former Music Director Christoph Eschenbach returns for one of the largest choral-symphonic works ever written, Gustav Mahler's 8th Symphony, tonight and tomorrow, May 9 and 10 at 7:30 pm. Nicknamed the Symphony of a Thousand, Mahler's Symphony No. 8 will be performed by more than 400 musicians, chorus members and soloists together onstage at Jones Hall for an event seen only once before in the Houston Symphony's 100-year history.

Given its magnitude, performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 are usually reserved for important celebrations. Fittingly, this month's performance marks the final Classical concert of the Houston Symphony's Centennial Season and the 20th anniversary of its original presentation. Also conducted by then-Music Director Christoph Eschenbach, the work was performed for the first time in the Houston Symphony's history in May of 1994.

"I'm very, very happy that we can do it again for the 100th anniversary. It's a great piece, and it's really the right piece. . . .It's a piece for a celebration," said Maestro Eschenbach.

Although dubbed "Symphony of a Thousand", it is rare to have 1,000 performers on stage. That being said, these two concerts, which will feature a total of 437 performers, will be no small feat. As Steven Brosvik, Houston Symphony General Manager and Chief Operating Officer, and Aurelie Desmarais, Chief of Artistic Planning, state, "Producing a concert of this magnitude requires a great deal of strategy." From securing an international cast of soloists and members of an expanded chorus and orchestra, to coordinating the logistical and artistic needs of each group, the behind-the- scenes production of this work is an art in and of itself.

Making up this roster of 437 are 118 orchestral musicians, 250 members of an expanded Houston Symphony Chorus, including alumni of the Houston Symphony Chorus and 35 student performers from the Prairie View A&M University Chorus and members of the Clear Creek High School and Clear Lake High School Choirs, 60 members of the combined Houston Boychoir and Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas, 8 vocal soloists, and one conductor.

To put this number in context, a normal large-scale work, such as Verdi's Requiem, would feature approximately 275 people on stage: 95 orchestral musicians, 175 choristers, four soloists and one conductor.

To enhance the educational value, the student choristers will be scattered throughout the Chorus to learn from and engage with their experienced colleagues. They have attended choral rehearsals since January and are working closely with their directors to prepare for what will be a lasting and impactful experience as they are thrust into this professional setting.

To accommodate the more than 150 additional performers, the Houston Symphony's production team will build a special stage extension over the first three rows of audience seating. A larger choral riser, towering 12-rows high with extensions on either end to maximize its capacity from wall to wall, will also be used to provide seating for the more than 300 choral singers. In addition to using every inch of the stage, this production will use every corner of Jones Hall. All available spaces backstage will be put to use as additional rehearsal areas and dressing rooms for each group.

The performances of Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand will be an experience unlike any other, equally memorable for those on stage and in the audience. The powerful outcome generated by the joined forces will create a stunning visual and aural feast as the music is heard and felt throughout Jones Hall.

Performers include Christoph Eschenbach (conductor), Erin Wall (Soprano), Twyla Robinson (Soprano), Marisol Montalvo (Soprano), Kelley O'Connor (Mezzo-soprano), Jill Grove (Mezzo-soprano), John Pickle (Tenor), Markus Werba (Baritone), John Relyea (Bass-baritone), Houston Symphony Chorus and Alumni (Charles Hausmann, Director), Members of the Prairie View A&M University Chorus (A. Jan Taylor, Director), Members of the Clear Creek High School Choir (James Park, Director), Members of the Clear Lake High School Choir (Raul Dominguez, Director), Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas (William R. Adams, Founder and Artistic Director), and Houston Boychoir (Carole Nelson, Artistic Director).

Tickets start at $39.

In demand as a distinguished guest conductor with the world's finest orchestras and opera houses, Christoph Eschenbach was the Houston Symphony's music director from 1988 to 1999. In 2010, he began his tenure as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra as well as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. He has led that orchestra on tours in South America, Europe and Oman.

This season has included engagements with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Leipzig's Gewandhaus Orchestra.

As a pianist, he continues his collaboration with baritone Matthias Goerne. The duo has recorded Schubert's three song cycles for the Harmonia Mundi label. Eschenbach has an impressive discography as both a conductor and a pianist, with works ranging from J.S. Bach to music of our time.

Mentored by George Szell and Herbert von Karajan, Eschenbach held the posts of chief conductor and artistic director of Zurich's Tonhalle Orchestra, music director of the Ravinia Festival and artistic director of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. His honors include the Légion d'Honneur, Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Officer's Cross with Star and Ribbon of the German Order of Merit, and the Commander's Cross of the German Order of Merit. He also received the Leonard Bernstein Award from the Pacific Music Festival, where he served as co-artistic director.

Houston favorites Canadian soprano Erin Wall and American mezzo-soprano Jill Grove, a former member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, will return to Houston for these special performances. Also making return appearances are American soprano Twyla Robinson and Canadian bass John Relyea. American soprano Marisol Montalvo, American mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor, American tenor John Pickle and Austrian baritone Markus Werba will make their Houston Symphony debuts with these performances.

William R. Adams, founder and artistic director. Founded in 1982, the organization which started as one man's dream has grown to become one of the finest and largest ensembles of boy choristers in the nation. Performances before three U.S. presidents, collaborations with named entertainers, major opera companies and symphony orchestras have earned the Tour Choir the distinction as one of the premier groups of its kind. It has performed on local and national television, in numerous cathedrals and concert halls throughout the nation and the world, in addition to performances for the Texas Music Educators Association and the American Choral Directors Association conventions by peer selection. The choir is in high demand for concert performances, commercials, television specials, weddings and national conventions. It has also released many professional recordings.

The 200 boys in the organization form three treble choirs: Tour, Town and Training; an alumni choir called Cantabilé and Music Magic, a music introduction program for six- and seven-year-old boys. All choirs combine the freshness and enthusiasm of childhood with artistic maturity. In the choir's history, no boy has ever been turned away for financial reasons.

Carole Nelson, artistic director. Established in 1962 as The Singing Boys of Houston by the Houston Independent School District, Houston Boychoir became an independent arts organization in 1991. Today, the nonprofit Houston Boychoir continues to provide boys in the Houston Metropolitan area with exciting opportunities for vocal music study and choral performance. With a reputation of artistic excellence, Houston Boychoir is frequently featured with Houston's major performing arts organizations, including the Houston Symphony, Houston Bach Society, Opera in the Heights and Hope Stone Dance Company. HBC has performed before audiences at the Texas Music Educators Association annual conference and at Carnegie Hall, performing the Mass of the Children conducted by the composer John Rutter. As one of the country's premier boy choirs, it serves as an ambassador, representing our city, state and nation during annual concert tours across North America and throughout Europe and Asia.

Houston Boychoir provides a unique, positive, inspirational and lasting experience that contributes to each boy's potential as a whole, building character, developing life skills and nurturing a lifelong appreciation for the arts. Houston Boychoir also teaches service and giving through projects such as the Illumination Project, the Pink Ribbons Project, the Fire Fighter's Foundation, as well as the creation of a larger collaborative project with Texas Children's Hospital in a work called Ode to My Nurses.

Houston Symphony Chorus Director Charles Hausmann has worked with the Houston Symphony Chorus and directors and students from Clear Creek High School, Clear Lake High School and Prairie View A&M University in advance rehearsals to prepare the massive choral score in Symphony of a Thousand. Similar to side-by-side concerts with the Houston Symphony and local youth orchestras, these outstanding young choristers have been scattered throughout the Chorus to learn from and engage with their experienced colleagues. In addition to attending choral rehearsals since January with Dr. Hausmann, student performers have been working with their directors to prepare for what will be a lasting and impactful experience as they are thrust into this professional setting.

During the current 2013-14 Season, the Houston Symphony celebrates its 100th year as one of America's leading orchestras with a full complement of concert, community, education, touring and recording activities. In the upcoming 2014-15 Season, the orchestra begins its next century under the direction of Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada, the organization's first Hispanic music director and 15th overall. The Houston Symphony is one of the oldest performing arts organizations in Texas whose inaugural performance was held at The Majestic Theater in downtown Houston on June 21, 1913. Today, with an annual operating budget of $30.7 million, the full-time ensemble of 87 professional musicians is the largest performing arts organization in Houston, presenting more than 286 performances for 300,000 people, including 82,000 children, annually. For tickets and more information, please visit www.houstonsymphony.org or call 713-224-7575.