by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State
On June 21, 1913, socialite Ima Hogg sponsored the first concert of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Symphonic music already had a history in the city and the state, often championed by the singing societies and classically-trained artists of the Texas German community. This had been true in Houston since the 1880s, and the interest in the music only increased with the creation of a symphony club in 1902 and a touring visit by a Russian orchestra in 1912 and 1913. It was in that latter year that Ima Hogg, daughter of the former governor and a patron of so many cultural endeavors in the city, set out to create a true symphony orchestra for Houston itself.
Hogg sponsored that first summer concert under conductor Julien Paul Blitz, featuring the music of Mozart as well as popular songs of the day. The symphony folded during American involvement in WWI but was, miraculously, reformed in the depths of the Great Depression in 1931. The symphony rose with the city, expanding its base and hosting such guest conductors as Leonard Bernstein and Igor Stravinsky.
Today, the symphony orchestra is the largest performing arts organization in Houston, working from its base in Jesse Jones Hall and performing throughout the city in school and neighborhood concerts. Texas music rightfully conjures the sounds of country and blues and Tejano, but groups like the Houston Symphony, too, have a vital history in the culture of the Lone Star State.