Houston Matters

Houston Symphony Wins First Ever Grammy Award

The orchestra scores the Grammy for Best Opera Recording – a big win for itself, and for the city

The Houston Symphony took home its first Grammy. Hans Graf and Brad Sayles [R-L] accepted the award at the live ceremony in New York.


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"And the Grammy goes to ... Hans Graf, conductor. Hans Graf and Brad Sayles, producers ..."

With that short announcement from Madison Square Garden at the 60th Grammy Awards on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, a long-shot dream became a reality for former Music Director Hans Graf and Recording Engineer Brad Sayles.

Graf and Sayles co-produced the Houston Symphony's recording of Alban Berg's Wozzeck, which won the award for Best Opera Recording – the first Grammy in the orchestra's 104-year history. It beat out other major orchestras in the category, including the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Russia's Mariinsky Orchestra.

"I think this one got the Grammy win because it wasn't your usual Mozart, Beethoven. You know, those are played a lot," said Sayles.

He notes that even though Wozzeck is a modern opera with a tragic story, "it's the art and it's the music-making and the intense drama ... that's very captivating. And that's what I saw in it when we were first doing the rehearsals back in 2013. It was unlike anything we'd ever done before."

Listen to Houston Matters’ interview with Brad Sayles on co-producing the Grammy Award-winning Best Opera Recording:


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2012-13 was Graf's final season as Music Director of the Houston Symphony, during which they performed and recorded Wozzeck in concerts at Jones Hall. The Best Opera Recording Grammy Award goes to the conductor (Graf), producers (Graf and Sayles) and principal soloists (soprano Anne Schwanewilms and baritone Roman Trekel).

Released a year ago by Naxos, the album has been hailed by Gramophone as "One of the finest Wozzecks on record, orchestrally speaking" and by Fanfare as a "terrifically imposing performance" under the direction of "an experienced and confident conductor."

Sayles also points out that the Grammy's timing couldn't be better, coming on the heels of also winning the ECHO Klassik Award and just before the Houston Symphony's European tour in March.

"I think [the Houston Symphony is] posed to have a great leap into their future goals of wanting to be one of the top-tier orchestras."

And for a community still struggling with the effects of Harvey, Sayles – a resident of Kingwood, which was devastated by the storm – sees the win as something even greater.

"I hope it's just one little more step to getting us back on our feet and feeling proud about our city because we're Houston Strong."

A behind the scenes of Hans Graf’s Wozzeck performance in 2013.


Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Senior Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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