Musician Profiles: Christine Golden and Chris Houlihan

GRSMA has more "Chris" members than any other name, and we are happy to feature two of them (actually, Christine and Chris) in this issue. Christine Golden has been a full-time Section Violinist in the GRS since 1980, and Chris Houlihan joined the GRS as Principal Trombone in 2019. Both mention the upcoming GRS concerts of Mahler's Second Symphony as the one that they look forward to performing the most this season, and they hope to see you there in May of 2022!  https://www.grsymphony.org/mahlers-resurrection

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Christine Golden

GRSMA: What led you to a career in music? Do you play any other instruments?

 

CG: I was already taking piano and violin lessons when I heard a performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto at age 12. That did it for me! I was hooked and decided on the spot that I would pursue violin study more seriously. Yes, I also play the mandolin as a hobby. I tried it briefly in childhood and then restarted a few years ago. Now I play in a fairly new group, the Michigan Mandolin Orchestra. I surprised myself recently by agreeing to do the mandolin solo in the opera Don Giovanni, which was performed last month by Opera Grand Rapids.

 

GRSMA: Where did you grow up, and were you part of a musical family?

 

CG: I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. My mom was a nurse, and my dad was a lawyer. They didn't play instruments but enjoyed classical music and always had a symphony subscription. My grandma, however, was a pianist and offered piano lessons to all of her grandchildren. Also, my younger sister is a professional cellist, and we grew up playing duets together, listening to each other, and debating about who played the more difficult instrument. 

 

GRSMA: Do you recall when you decided to make music as your profession? Who are among your musical mentors and heroes?

 

CG: As I mentioned, I recall being about 12 when I heard the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and decided to make music my life's work. Itzhak Perlman was one of my violin heroes. I had many of his recordings, which I listened to over and over again. I've been a part of orchestras where he was the guest soloist many times, and I also have attended his recitals. I was very excited when he came to conduct and play with the Grand Rapids Symphony a couple of years ago. Among my musical mentors include my favorite violin teacher in Des Moines: Wilfred Biel (who, by the way, served as concertmaster of the GRS for a short period of time many years ago). Also, I was very grateful to study for two summers with Dorothy DeLay at the Aspen Music School.

 

GRSMA: Do you have any memorable moments from GRS concerts?

 

CG: There have been so many memorable moments over these forty-plus years!  Seriously, I wish I had kept a diary of concert experiences. Every time we have welcomed a new music director (four times during my tenure) has been exciting for us. I love it when great soloists appear with our orchestra. Violinist Augustin Hadelich has been a soloist with us many times and is my favorite right now. It is just as exciting for me when our own musicians appear as soloists. Also, I remember that doing Shostakovich and Mahler with Semyon Bychkov was always a particularly intense musical experience. The two GRS Carnegie Hall concerts felt like "mountaintop" experiences: to play in that hallowed hall with its incredible acoustic was great. It's almost a sacred space for a musician.

 

GRSMA: What adjustments did you experience when relocating to Grand Rapids for your job with the GRS?

 

CG: I didn't have to try to speak Portuguese anymore! I played in an orchestra in Belo Horizonte, Brazil before I came to the Grand Rapids Symphony. That was a great cultural experience, but landing a job in Grand Rapids felt like a homecoming. I was so glad to be in a place that was excited about its professional orchestra. There were ten new musician positions added that year. DeVos Hall was new. The orchestra had a new music director, Semyon Bychkov, whom I had played under the previous summer at the Spoleto Festival. I knew that I was coming to a good place for music-making.

 

GRSMA: If hosting out-of-town friends, what would be your favorite places in Grand Rapids to take them?

 

CG: Reeds Lake, Meijer Gardens, and St Cecilia Music Center are three of my favorite places in Grand Rapids.

 

GRSMA: Do you have a favorite composer or orchestral piece?

 

CG: I am willing to narrow it down to three favorite composers:  Mozart, Beethoven, and Mahler.

 

GRSMA: What are your hobbies or interests?

 

CG: My hobbies include biking and hiking with my husband Jonathan, reading for pleasure and enlightenment, and playing the mandolin.

 

GRSMA: What would you say is the most rewarding part of being in the Grand Rapids Symphony?

 

CG: The most rewarding part is getting to hear skilled artistry and live music-making on an almost daily basis. It's all around me as I sit in the middle of the orchestra.

 

GRSMA: Is there a specific concert that you look forward to the most this season with the GRS?

 

CG: Yes, I am looking forward to playing Mahler's Second Symphony in May. I always look forward to Mahler, and this one takes me back to student days at Tanglewood Music Festival and listening to Leonard Bernstein rehearse the Boston Symphony in that piece. It had a tremendous impact on me.

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Chris Houlihan

GRSMA: What led you to a career in music? Do you play any other instruments?

 

CH: My high school trombone studio had a lot of very dedicated players in it. We met several times a week, went on trips around the country together, and became close friends. Because I was brought up in this environment, a career in music felt like the next natural step for me. I never had to think about it, it was always what I was going to do with my life. And I love what I do, so I'm glad it turned out that way! I, like many musicians, picked up some piano in college, but only learned enough to muddle my way through some Bach sonatas.

 

GRSMA: Where did you grow up, and were you part of a musical family?

 

CH: I grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which is about fifteen minutes outside of Washington DC. My mom studied piano at Michigan State before switching to civil engineering, and the piano continues to be a source of joy for her. Some of my earliest memories are of her practicing piano fingerings on my head as a young child, which I apparently thought was hilarious.

 

GRSMA: Do you recall when you decided to make music as your profession? Who are among your musical mentors and heroes?

 

CH: I decided I wanted to be a professional musician my freshman year of high school after being exposed to some of the world’s great trombonists. The first of which was Joseph Alessi, Principal Trombone of the New York Philharmonic, who has shaped my playing along with every other trombonist of my generation. I was lucky enough to study with him in college, and he is a constant source of inspiration for me. My biggest influence and mentor, however, is Ken Wolff, my high school teacher. He has supported me unconditionally since I started taking lessons with him, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.

 

GRSMA: Do you have any memorable moments from GRS concerts?

 

CH: The most memorable Grand Rapids Symphony concert for me was my first. I will never forget hearing the first few seconds of the Brahms First Symphony in 2019. I had never played with a professional orchestra, and there was a depth of sound and attention to detail that I'd never experienced before. It was also unnerving to realize that I would have to live up to that standard!

 

GRSMA: What adjustments did you experience when relocating to Grand Rapids for your job with the GRS?

 

CH: Michigan is a great state and I love living here, but there are definitely some things I wasn't prepared for. I had never experienced someone pointing to the palm of their hand when I asked where they were from, so I had to quickly adapt. I've also lost the ability to turn left at a stoplight, which I had down pat before I moved here.

 

GRSMA: If hosting out-of-town friends, what would be your favorite places in Grand Rapids to take them?

 

CH: I enjoy the outdoors, so one of my favorite things about Grand Rapids is its proximity to Lake Michigan. I love taking visitors on day trips to the lake, on hikes, and out to eat at some of the great restaurants around town!

 

GRSMA: Do you have a favorite composer or orchestral piece?

 

CH: Gustav Mahler is my favorite composer to play and listen to. His writing for brass musicians is legendary, and we always look forward to playing one of his pieces. My favorite orchestral piece (big surprise) is Mahler's Second Symphony. In it, Mahler explores life and death, light and dark, and contrasts incredibly powerful tutti sections with some of his most delicate writing. I encourage anyone who hasn’t heard it to give it a listen -- you won’t regret it!

 

GRSMA: What are your hobbies or interests?

 

CH: I really enjoy playing sports and spending time outside. I've played baseball my whole life, and I appreciate a game of pickup whenever I get the chance. I'm a big skier but, although Michigan has beautiful hills, I must look elsewhere come winter for the bigger slopes.

 

GRSMA: What would you say is the most rewarding part of being in the Grand Rapids Symphony?

 

CH: The most rewarding part of being in the Grand Rapids Symphony for me is being surrounded by dedicated, passionate, and supportive artists on a daily basis. The brass section in particular has been incredibly supportive. They inspire me to push myself to grow as a musician, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn from and know each and every one of them.

 

GRSMA: Is there a specific concert that you look forward to the most this season with the GRS?

 

CH: COVID pushed back a performance of a piece I am so excited to get to play this season: Mahler’s Second Symphony. I've been looking forward to playing it since last year. However, being named the Resurrection Symphony, it seems all the more fitting to play it now, as we start opening back up and bringing live music back to Grand Rapids!