Saturday, August 1, 2015

Houston Symphony Hires New Musicians for Concerts and Community

Last week, the Houston Symphony announced that it has hired four new string players as it first group of "community embedded musicians" who will perform, teach, and otherwise use their talents throughout the city.

Violinist Jenna Barghouti, bassist David D. Connor, violist Anthony Parce, and cellist and Hellen Weberpal will perform 25 concerts a year with the orchestra, but will spend most of their time outside the concert hall. The orchestra has a plan, for example, to create a music therapy program for these musicians (a "music and wellness program aimed at increasing the quality of health care through music," as the press release says).

The Community Embedded Musician program starts this season, and only time will tell how far it will go beyond the traditional outreach model, but making a real investment in talented musicians who can apply their talents in new ways shows that the Houston Symphony gets it. They get that orchestras they have to go out and prove their value in new ways, not just to attract new audiences and donors, but to keep the ones they have. 

The Houston Symphony joins the Detroit Symphony in sending a clear message to musicians--and those that teach them--that getting paid means being engaged. The Houston jobs are the first new positions that the orchestra has added in 10 years, at a time when orchestras are getting smaller, hiring fewer full timers or just doing without new musicians. Back in 2013, the Detroit Symphony board and musicians agreed on a contract, while cutting base pay by 23%, would offer musicians an extra $7,000 a year to participate in community programs. Last year, that orchestra also received a significant gift from Clyde and Helen Wu to help bolster its youth ensembles