Houston is one of a handful of cities in the United States that can boast major symphony, ballet, opera and theater companies of worldwide acclaim. In fact, the downtown Theater District—which includes the Alley Theater, Jones Hall, the Hobby Center and the Wortham Center—contains more seating capacity than is available in any other city except New York. Thanks to the Society for the Performing Arts, Houstonians routinely have access to some of the world’s best musical, dance, and theatrical talent. Cited by the New York Times as “one of the nation’s best ballet companies,” the Houston Ballet is the fourth-largest company in the United States. The ensemble of more than 50 dancers performs around the world and treats Houston’s ballet aficionados to more than 100 performances a year in the Wortham Center. An integral part of the local arts scene since 1913, the Houston Symphony performs more than 170 concerts a year at Jones Hall, Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. One of the nation’s largest opera companies, Houston Grand Opera is internationally recognized for its innovative repertoire that blends the classics with contemporary works and world premieres. Houston Grand Opera is the only opera company in the nation to win two Grammy awards, a Tony and two Emmys. Da Camera of Houston, founded in 1987, brings together leading American and international musicians. It is nationally acclaimed for provocative chamber music, contemporary music and an annual jazz series that showcases renowned performers and emerging artists. Other musical offerings in Houston are performed by such groups as the Houston Friends of Music, the Houston Masterworks Chorus, the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University.
Love the Theater?
Houston’s rich theatrical tradition began in 1947 with the opening of the Alley Theatre in, literally, an alley. Today the Alley is one of only a few professional theaters in the country to employ its own resident company of actors. Performances are year-round in the Alley’s two-theater complex—the 824-seat Hubbard Stage and the 310-seat Neuhaus Stage. Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), one of the largest non-profit producers of musical theater in the country, has cast more than 300 musicals in its 45-year history—to national acclaim. TUTS stages Broadway classics, world premieres and new works at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts downtown—also home to Broadway in Houston, featuring touring productions of Broadway hits. Other local theater groups include Stages Repertory Theatre, A. D. Players, Main Street Theater and the Ensemble Theatre, as well as the Rice Players at Rice University and the University of Houston’s annual Houston Shakespeare Festival.
Houston’s renowned Museum District lies just south of downtown near Hermann Park, the Texas Medical Center and Rice University. A dynamic testament to the city’s commitment to the visual arts, the district offers something for everyone—with special touring exhibits throughout the year. Eighteen museums are located within the district. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), opening in 1924 as the first art museum in Texas, features a collection of more than 56,000 works. Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, the restored mansion of Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg, houses decorative arts and contains one of the finest collections of American furniture, paintings, glass and textiles from 1620 to 1870. Another home, Rienzi, donated to MFAH by Houston philanthropists Harris Masterson III and his wife, Carroll Sterling Masterson, holds the Southwest’s most important collection of European decorative art, including ceramics, furniture, paintings and sculpture. The Houston Museum of Natural Science features more than a dozen permanent exhibit areas showcasing space science, Native Americans, paleontology, energy, chemistry, gems and minerals, seashells, Texas and African wildlife and ancient Egyptian culture. Included within the museum are the Wortham IMAX Theatre, the Cockrell Butterfly Center and the Burke Baker Planetarium. The museum’s satellite facility, the George Observatory, is located in Brazos Bend State Park, south-west of the city. It houses the largest telescope available for public viewing in the Houston area: a 36-inch, 10-ton research telescope, as well as two smaller telescopes. The Contemporary Arts Museum is a non-collecting museum for visual arts focusing on international, national and regional art of the last 40 years. And the Menil Collection displays an immensely significant private collection of nearly 16,000 works dating from the Paleolithic period to present day. Other museums in the district include Cy Twombly Gallery and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, which are parts of the Menil Collection, as well as the Rothko Chapel, the Children’s Museum of Houston and the Health Museum. Historical museums of interest include the San Jacinto Museum of History, within the San Jacinto Monument at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, featuring a wealth of artifacts and documents covering more than 400 years of early history. Within the Museum District are the Holocaust Museum, which tells the stories of Houston-area survivors of the Holocaust through film, photographs, and exhibits and the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, which preserves the history, tradition and contributions of African American soldiers since 1866. South of Houston in Clear Lake is the Disney-designed Space Center Houston, the visitors center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center. It features Texas’ largest IMAX Theatre, live demonstrations, space capsules, space suits and the world’s largest collection on moon rocks.
Seeking Something Different?
Cultures from all over the world come together in Houston, and the city celebrates this diversity with exciting annual festivals and one dazzling rodeo. Every late February and early March, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo comes to town at Reliant Park. The largest livestock show and the richest regular-season Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo in the world, the event attracts nearly two million visitors who come to view the animal exhibits, watch the cowboy competitions, and see their favorite music stars performing onstage. The Livestock Show and Rodeo provides millions of dollars in scholarships to area students. Each year a “Go Texan Day” and a spirited rodeo parade through downtown Houston kick off the main events. Beyond the “true Texan” culture of the rodeo, various festivals throughout the year celebrate the heritage and traditions of the international community. Among these are the Original Greek Festival, Fiestas Patrias, the Asian American Festival, Festa Italiana and the Houston International Festival. Other annual events include the International Jazz Festival, Art Car Weekend and the Texas Renaissance Festival.