Arts & Culture

Mercury Starts Season With A “Rock Show,” Takes on New Projects

Artistic Director Antoine Plante talks about the orchestra’s 2018–2019 season, including a touring project, collaboration with Juilliard and return to the Wortham Center after Harvey

Now in its 18th season, Mercury specializes in authentic, period-instrument performance. Artistic Director Antoine Plante told Houston Public Media about what that means and why that’s important:

“So, when we perform music from Vivaldi, from the Baroque era, we use gut strings, the different type of bows, the different type of equipment in the wind instruments. The timpani would be different. Of course, we use keyboard instruments that are appropriate for the time … I believe that this really gets us close to the music, and it speaks to the quality of our presentation.”

At the same time, the orchestra combines their period-instrument approach with contemporary concepts, like a rock show featuring Vivaldi and Pagnini, multi-media staging and intimate community venues, like a museum gallery and a converted barn.

“I’m always really interested in being relevant for our audience right now, and how can classical music – even music that was composed hundreds of years ago – how can we keep making it evolve with us?” said Plante.

Click below to listen to an interview with Antoine Plante on how Mercury continues to evolve through new projects and programs this season:

Highlights from the conversation

On diversifying their programs:

One of the things that we’re really proud of is the diversity of our programming … We present lots of different music but also lots of different types of music. So we have kind of a “rock show” approach for the Miller Outdoor Theatre concert, we have really high-quality symphonic concerts, we also have grand concerts with choirs and great soloists. But we also have multi-media productions that address more of the visual aspect or even a narrative aspect … We have large programs, but we also have chamber music. With our Neighborhood Series, it’s all about intimacy and accessibility. So through this season, we really touch on a lot of different things and you don’t always get what you expect, hopefully in a good way!

 

On being selected for the 2018 – 2020 Texas Touring Roster by the Texas Commission on the Arts:

It’s development of relationships and concerts outside Houston … so we’re really excited about this. It is an honor to be a part of this roster. What I want to achieve with it is just to have more partners, because we work really hard to present a product that is, I think, really high quality and that means something to our community. But to be able to take that work and to multiply it, and to give it access to much larger audiences is super attractive. We hope that we are able to create a following all across Texas.

 

On bringing the next generation of top period-instrumentalists to Houston:

The Juilliard School of Music in New York … started a special program that specializes in teaching how to use period instruments and how to know the style. And so every year, we go and we audition many kids from their school. We select two or three of them, and they come and are part of our orchestra for the following season. So it’s been a really, really great addition to what we do because we get this energy and this talent from Juilliard that comes and inspires everybody in the orchestra … so you have to come! They are in [many of] our concerts. You’ll have a chance to see these “youngsters” – I’m telling you these people are so talented, it’s really exciting.

 

On their season-opening “rock show”:

We called it Vivaldi vs. Paganini, kind of a reference to a “battle of the bands.” In the same concert, we present these two most celebrated violinist-composers. They really pushed a technique, they wrote so much for the violin. And so we are putting them next to each other so that people can experience the different styles. Of course, Vivaldi is a Baroque composer, earlier on. A hundred years later, Paganini is in the midst of Romantic music … In a way they were two rock stars of their times. So we’re kind of embracing this approach on the stage of Miller – which is a fantastic, big stage –  with some lighting effects and big projections in the back as well. And so really our approach is just like a rock band approach. Lots of different surprises in this concert.

 

On starting the season a year after Harvey:

We struggled all the way through most of [last] season just dealing with the space issues … we didn’t have a concert hall [because the Wortham was flooded], so we were really grateful to Rice University, which opened the door for us and we were able to perform at Stude Concert Hall for most of last season, and Zilkha Hall [at the Hobby Center] for the stage show that we had … Of course, it was also a big challenge financially, as we had to rethink a lot of things and move a lot of things around, and it was an expensive season because of that … and we still had great support from the community. But we are really excited to come back into our concert hall, and just be able to focus on what we should be focusing on – just making a great impact … We have a wonderful administrative staff that worked so hard, so that on the outside we were lucky that it was a really smooth ride last season, but on the inside we just sweated! So we’re excited about going into a more regular way of doing things and addressing other challenges that we have ahead of us.

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Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

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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