As we learned from the last blog posting about Dr. Kalsi and his wife, Ise, they met at the University of Houston. Soon afterwards, they discovered a common interest in classical music. While Ise was exposed to classical music her entire life, Kalsi wasn’t introduced to western classical music until he immigrated to the United States. This article is an interview with Kalsi and Ise about their love of classical music, and their devotion to the Houston Symphony, and other music events.
1. How did you come to know and appreciate classical music?
Ise: I have been listening to classical music as far back as I can remember. But actually going to a symphony and listening to it live didn’t begin until I was in college in Munster, a city in the Westphalia region of Germany. Later, in 1963, I began to go to the Houston symphony with the Zein Eldins, family friends from Galveston. We had season tickets, and we attended the Symphony at the Houston Music Hall. It was not until 1966 that we saw the Symphony perform in Jones Hall.
Kalsi: Growing up in India, we did not listen to western classical music. We listened more to Western Pop and, of course, Indian music. I didn’t get to know classical music until I learned that the International Student Organization (ISO) had a complimentary tickets program with the Houston Symphony. Whenever the tickets were offered, I would go to the box office to see if there were any tickets left. It was on a first come, first serve basis. Ise and I would sometimes go together for a date.
2. Where did you get to sit when you got tickets from the ISO/Houston Symphony program?
Ise: Yes, I was very poor at the time. So when I would go with my season tickets, my seats were way up high at the back of the balcony. So when Kalsi would get tickets, we would always have much better seats.
Kalsi: That was really a treat. The seats were really quite good. We were able to sit in the front row of the balcony.
3. After you were married, the Houston Symphony was still a big part of your life. Did you have season tickets all along?
Ise: Yes! The Houston Symphony has played a big part in our lives. We would go each season on Saturdays. It was a date night with Kalsi and we would go out to eat beforehand at a restaurant. We still do the same thing today.
Kalsi: Oh yes. Ise and I have always been very regular attendees of the Houston Symphony. I learned that I really enjoyed the western classical music, and have even started taking piano lessons to play some of the classical pieces that I get to hear every season.
4. Are you still sitting in the balcony?
Ise: No! In the 1980s, Jones Hall went through a major renovation. In order to support that process, Kalsi and I bought two chairs, Seats 11 and 12 on Row F. This began our support of the Houston Symphony in a big way. We then decided to support members of the symphony.
Kalsi: We would support the Assistant Concert Master seat, which is the 1st violinist. Sitting closer allowed us to get to know the symphony members and become more interested in the persons making the music. Now we give annually as well to support the entire Symphony orchestra. It is something that is very important to us because we want to see this wonderful music stay alive.
5. What did your evening consist of each Saturday you went to the symphony?
Ise: Oh, well, we always made a date out of it. At first Kalsi and I would go to dinner at a hotel or a Red Roof Inn. Then later when we had more money to spend, we would go to Charlie’s 517. We ate there every time we went to the symphony until it closed. That was sad for us. We moved to the Lancaster Hotel dining room. Lo and behold, our same waiter was there. His name is Alvaro and we have known him for over 35 years! Going to the symphony has afforded us a real tradition to continue.
Kalsi: Ise and I would get dressed up for the Symphony night out. We always made a special night of it, even to this day. When we began eating at Charlie’s 517, we were able to have our car parked and walk across Texas Avenue. So convenient! Now at the Lancaster we get to keep our car right outside! That’s what continuing a tradition affords you. We have so enjoyed all the years of Symphony patronage.
6. What is your favorite classical music?
Ise: My favorites are Bach, Brahms and the Mozart Requiem.
Kalsi: My number one favorite is Beethoven. I also like Mozart, Chopin, Bach and Debussy.
7. What was your most memorable Symphony experience?
Ise: When Peter Schreier, a tenor and conductor, performed the St. Matthew’s Passion by J. S. Bach. As I said earlier, Bach is my favorite composer, and this particular music is simply beautiful.
Kalsi: My favorite instrument is the piano. Any piano concerto by Beethoven is my favorite. My most memorable performance of a piano concerto was performed by Alicia de Larrocha. Her style was so clean and flawless. She really was not dramatic or full of flare at all, but her playing was amazing to me. I also really enjoyed seeing Emanuel Ax and Andre Watts perform.
8. Are there other Music programs that you support?
Ise: Yes, in 1985, I was looking through a National Geographic Magazine. In this particular edition, I learned about the Carmel Bach Festival in Carmel, California. I was looking for a place that I could get away on my own to recharge after a long year of teaching at the university. Of course, the name says it all. Bach is one of my favorite composers. I decided to go out to Carmel and see what it was like. It was a wonderful place to be and I have been going ever since. I also support musicians at this symphony but only the leftover ones. I usually end up supporting 5 to 6 musicians like the concert master, violinist, wind instrument, soloist and members of the choral.
Kalsi: I didn’t get to go to the Bach Festival until 1993. In 1991, I decided to intrude upon Ise’s getaway. Since there were no cell phones back then, I wasn’t able let anyone know that I was on my way. I was going to just show up! Unfortunately, my first attempt to surprise her failed when I had a flat tire on the way. After I got help with the car, I had to turn back and missed my chance. But luckily, Ise relented and has allowed me to join her when I can. We take many long walks in the beautiful surrounding area. It is a wonderful getaway.
9. Why the Symphony and not the Opera or Theatre?
Ise: I don’t like motion with music. I prefer movies to Opera and Theatre because there is so much more detail to see in the movies. Motion distracts from the music for me.
Kalsi: Instrumental music is my favorite. I like the instruments to take center stage. There is so much to see when you watch a symphony at work, especially the conductor and the first chair violinist. There is so much emotion and facial expression.