The Houston Symphony’s Conducting Fellow Yue Bao will be at the baton when the orchestra returns to Miller Outdoor Theatre with two programs this week. Romeo and Juliet, Piazzolla & More gets everything rolling on June 10, with the sold-out Mozart, Holst & More following on June 12; both are in-person and available over livestream.
Both programs are slightly more relaxed than those usually seen at Jones Hall. It's something closer to a music festival program, says Bao, the Shanghai-born conductor who joined the orchestra’s artistic leadership in 2019.
“They are all smaller, chamber-like pieces,” she says.
Unlike other organizations, the Houston Symphony was able to perform for much of 2020, but the orchestra’s summer performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre were among its cancelled shows. Bao, who is making her Miller debut with these concerts, says the orchestra is anxious to return to the venue—even with the unpredictability of the Bayou City’s recent weather.
“I’m excited to see what it’s like that day," she says. "All of the musicians tell me that the air conditioning and fans will be on high, so I’m not worried about it.”
We spoke to Bao about how the orchestra has gotten through the last year and what to expect during this glorious return to Miller.
First, what's it been like for the Symphony during the pandemic?
We do a lot in a normal season, and we were able to do a lot even in this last year. Probably we were the only orchestra in the states to perform a full season this last year, so I'm very grateful to have been part of that. Yes, everything was very different because of the pandemic, but we found ways to move forward. We are still sharing music; we are still making music during this time.
Because of the Covid constraints, we can't perform larger orchestrations. This whole year, we explored wonderful chamber-like pieces instead of big masterpieces with everyone on stage. These chamber pieces are music that we probably wouldn't perform that often in normal times.
You open with a short brass work, Dukas’s La péri. Then it’s the romantic Romeo and Juliet. Red Clay & Mississippi Delta is based on the blues, while the work by Piazzolla is a tango. Tell us about how you put all those very different pieces together into one cohesive program.
I'm thinking some of the people at the concert will be people who don't listen to classical music all the time or who don't come to the concert hall. For this program, I was thinking about sharing and introducing all sorts of music to the audience.
Dukas’s La péri is a very traditional brass piece. I was concerned with the brass players—what were the pieces that they would love to play, and this is one of their choices. Romeo and Juliet is a very romantic sweet and a very well-known story; even if the audience doesn't know the music, they know the story. The Mississippi piece is a very fun piece. I discovered it very recently. It's rooted in blues music, and it adds a very different color to the whole program. The tango music, I can't help but move around when I hear it. I hope the audience will respond in the same way.
The second performance, Mozart, Holst & More includes Shuo, for String Orchestra by Chen Yi, a Chinese American female composer.
Yes, Chen Yi, I always adore her music very much. The selections are inspired by folk songs in China. These are lovely small pieces. I think it will definitely add more color to the program as well.
Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Dr. The June 10 show is sold-out, though spots on the hill may still be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Seats are still available for the June 12, which will also be livestreamed. More info and tickets, which are free, at milleroutdoortheatre.com.