Sunday, September 2, 2007

Telling Stories


It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Houston Grand Opera, and to our new blogsite. I'll be your host here, with plenty of colleagues and guests taking part in telling our story - or, more accurately, stories. There are hundreds of people working in dozens of departments to make our season happen, each with his or her own significant tale. One of the major events of our year, in fact, revolves around a mosaic of stories. There's much to tell.

For us, everything starts with the music, the great repertoire that exists and is still being created. I'm HGO's Head of Music Staff. My days involve work with our conductors, directors, pianists, and coaches, liaison with our choruses and orchestra, contact with our library, and meetings with staff from all departments. Most rewarding of all, I'm heavily involved with the daily work of the HGO Studio members, singers and pianists who are taking their first steps - and leaps - onto our stages, under our guidance. This is a remarkable vantage point from which to watch our season take shape.

Yesterday was a beginning for the Studio as we all returned from our summer activities. We met with the Studio Program Director, Hector Vasquez, and our Program Coordinator, Rubena Buerger, and began planning and preparing for the year ahead. It was so good to hear everyone. I've missed these gifted musicians, and am thrilled at our new arrivals. This year will see these people in major roles, supporting roles, in recital, in competitions, and away at other companies.

Our first day was merely the continuation of work for most of HGO's people. Our chorus has been at work for a week, learning the complex and beautiful music of UN BALLO IN MASCHERA under maestro Richard Bado's guidance. Our marketing and development departments are catching their collective breath after a successful open house last week (and a hugely successful new subscription campaign over the summer). Senior staff members have been all over the world taking in productions, hearing singers, and continuing the constant work of planning for the future.

Woven through all of this is HGOco, our company's innovative revamping of education and outreach. This initiative is ambitious, challenging, risky, and totally exciting, and its first project will consume our collective energy this fall. HGOco's stated goal is to unite our community through art, and THE REFUGE meets that goal head-on. It's an oratorio that tells the story of Houston through narratives collected from the city's diverse immigrant populations. It's a massive work for orchestra, chorus, soloists, and community musicians. This is going to stretch us all in ways we've not experienced. The soloists, for example, are from the Studio. We have a good idea of how to teach challenging new music to skilled singers. A world premiere, even a piece on such a large scale, is something of which HGO's people have deep experience. But now we have a chance to meet and work with musicians from other traditions, in musical idioms we haven't all practiced. Our composer, Christopher Theofanidis, has skillfully written music that goes from the florid style of Indian singing to African-tinged call and response to hard-driving, complex Latin rhythms. Another challenge lies in the stories themselves, which are by turn wrenching, brave, desperate, good-humored, angry, and hopeful. The people from whom these stories come deserve our honor, and our best musical performance; the responsibility is great.

All of this and we're not yet past Labor Day! Tuesday morning will bring the first voice lessons and coachings. Singers and pianists will work to put one note together with the next, striving for beauty and consistency, all in the service of telling stories old and new. I hope you'll meet us here often in the coming weeks!

Thanks for reading.

Kathy Kelly

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