UH graduate student makes conductor debut with Conroe Symphony on Saturday
Conroe Symphony conductor Anna-Maria Gkouni
Photo: Ford and company
Although Anna-Maria Gkouni was appointed Musical Director of the Conroe Symphony Orchestra last March, her first rehearsal was only a few weeks ago. She wasn’t sure what to expect.
âWhat surprised me was how open, kind, warm and welcoming they were,â said the native of Athens, Greece. âI guess they were surprised (by) the privilege of playing with an orchestra (after) all this time. They were very anxious to start over.
So impatient, she adds, that the players got a little emotional. âThat’s what I realized in our first rehearsal: the sound was so loud, like everyone’s hearts were racing (like) they were waiting for the moment to release it,â Gkouni says. âThe first rehearsal was a blast.
As her Conroe podium debut looms on July 3, Gkouni joins Libi Lebel of the Texas Medical Center Orchestra as one of the few female conductors in the Houston area. She found out about the job because graduate students from the University of Houston, where Gkouni is pursuing his doctorate in conducting, also played in the Conroe Orchestra and told her about the overture. His interviews and auditions were all carried out remotely.
When: 7:30 p.m. July 3
Or: Heritage Site, 500 Collins, Conroe
Details: Release; 888-823-6610; conroesymphony.org
Growing up in Athens, Gkouni’s parents were amateur musicians who encouraged her to pursue a variety of interests. Piano lessons unlocked a natural talent, which led her to a music-oriented high school, where she found opportunities to perform alongside other people: âPretty much before that, the only experience I had. ‘ve had with the piano (was) alone in a room, “she says.
Performing with the National Youth Choir of Greece allowed Gkouni to attend large orchestras for the first time, but when it comes to playing with just one, as a pianist she felt a bit like not to really fit in. That feeling never really went away. – in his doctoral program, Gkouni wishes to explore the evolution of the role of the piano in the orchestral repertoires of the 20th and 21st centuries.
But his dilemma also led to a consequent decision: if being a pianist prevented him from joining an orchestra, why not conduct one instead?
âMainly because I was a pianist, I thought it was the best way to be close to an orchestra, to work with an orchestra,â says Gkouni. “I was so impressed (by) the scale: all the different instruments, all the possibilities you have, the different colors of sound.”
Now, as the conductor of her own orchestra, Gkouni wants to connect with her volunteer musicians and the public based on “the ideals of kindness and sharing my thoughts for a better world,” she says. “I love that I can shape music the way I feel that inspires me.”
However, “I really don’t want to do that about myself,” Gkouni adds. “I want to do this experience on the musicians and then on the composers, the works of art that we present to the public.”
Gkouni says she is interested in presenting contemporary composers, but also in finding new ways to approach the more canonical repertoire. She believes the old masters still have a lot to say to the modern public and wants to remind people that the ideals to which many of them aspired – freedom, brotherhood, justice – may have been clouded in recent times but haven’t have not been completely smothered.
âI think modern society needs to move away (from) the superficiality of the lifestyle and social media that has been built up over the past decade or a little more, maybe; and this endless consumerism that is all around us, âsays Gkouni. “I think people need to seek a deeper meaning and ideals that represent our hopes for peace, equality, inclusiveness and, in general, a more harmonious way for humanity to live on this. planet.”
With that in mind, Gkouni’s debut program as the Conroe Symphony leader could not have come at a better time. Entitled “Stars, Stripes & Symphony”, it features a variety of patriotic-themed selections, including a Broadway tribute, Morton Gould’s American Symphonette No. 2 and the overture to Scott Joplin’s ragtime opera “Treemonisha” .
Specifically, Gkouni hopes that reuniting with a live audience after such a long time will also highlight the ability of music to heal.
âEspecially after this last year, I think we’re at a crossroads,â she says, âand that’s where the arts come in: cultivating a healthy mindset and teaching beauty, teaching kindness and how we can all be united. . “
Chris Gray is a writer based in Galveston.