Arts / Performing Arts

Internationally Acclaimed Conductor Returns Home to Houston For a Special Tribute Concert

John Axelrod's Love Letter to H-Town Will Energize Mercury's Opening Night — and He's Doing It For Free

BY // 09.06.22

Having conducted more than 175 orchestras across the world during his two decades of living in Europe, John Axelrod returns to Houston next month to conduct Mercury Chamber Orchestra in what the widely recognized talent describes as a musical tribute to his hometown. Mercury’s opening night concert at Wortham Theater Center will feature what Axelrod calls “Love’s Philosophy,” a program that includes works of Bernstein, Haydn, Mahler and Ives.

Longtime Houston residents will recall that St. John’s School graduate Axelrod founded OrchestraX in 1996, after earning a music degree from Harvard, a few unrelated career moves, and finally studying conducting at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia. Four years later with Axelrod expanding his career across Europe, two Orchestra X solo musicians — Antoine Plante and Jonathan Godfrey — and two others founded Mercury.

“Though my founding of OrchestraX and my connection to the Houston Symphony both have a long history with support from (Leonard) Bernstein to (Christoph) Eschenbach, it is Mercury that has the better story as they have continued to contribute to Houston culture for twenty years,” Axelrod emails PaperCity from Europe. “That I would be able to honor them as they pay tribute to our shared history makes for a unique storyline.  I want to help them. . .

“And as an important point, I am not taking any fee.”

Conductor John Axelrod following a performance in the Teatro Municipale Giuseppe Verdi in Salerno, Italy.
Conductor John Axelrod following a performance in the Teatro Municipale Giuseppe Verdi in Salerno, Italy.

The gala evening, which includes a seated dinner at the Wortham following the concert, is being chaired by popular gallerist Nancy Littlejohn. It honors longtime Mercury patron Lynn Wyatt,  Axelrod’s great aunt. (Her mother and his grandmother were sisters.)

Axelrod’s love letter to Houston is explained by Mercury: a deeply moving musical love letter (“Adagietto” from Symphony No. 5) from Mahler to his beloved wife; Leonard Bernstein’s take on the true nature of love (“Serenade” after Plato’s Symposium); and Ives’ deep questions of existence itself (“The Unanswered Question”). Haydn’s “Philosopher” symphony (Symphony No. 22 in E-flat major) rounds out the program.

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