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FBSO in tune with Fort Bend County

It’s just after 2 p.m. on Sunday when Dr. Hector Agüero magically lifts his baton. A gentle hush fills the Stafford Centre as 52 musicians from all walks of life prepare to captivate a sold-out audience.

The Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, now in its 19th season, continues to expand its fan base, particularly after it began performing regularly at the Stafford Centre in 2007. Since Agüero’s arrival in 2008, ticket sales have risen another 56 percent.

Delivering five season performances and additional free concerts requires a significant time commitment from FBSO’s volunteer musicians. Weekly rehearsals plus two dress rehearsals precede each concert. Practicing at home is a given.

Especially impressive is that most musicians hold demanding full-time jobs in industries such as oil and gas, retail, education and healthcare. Others juggle hectic schedules as homemakers and students. Yet, they find time to practice and genuinely look forward to playing together.

“FBSO members are passionate, committed musicians who perform because we love music,” said principal flutist Donna Fletcher, a music specialist at Velasquez Elementary in Richmond.

“I think of it as my therapy and a way to relax from a busy schedule,” said Sharon Hresko, an 18-year member who serves as principal violist in addition to her management role at Shell Oil where she ensures delivery of IT services.

Like many others in the orchestra, Hresko has played her instrument since childhood and performed in high school, college and community performing arts groups. A significant number of FBSO musicians hold honors such as All-State band and orchestra members and concerto competition and musical festival winners. Some have participated in international touring groups.

Trombonist Lonny Yu played in the Texas A&M Trombone Choir and joined FBSO to continue her music after graduating in 2007. “It’s satisfying to have music in my life,” said the training/project manager for Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt and its parent company Wellspring, Inc.

So intense is the commitment of FBSO musicians that some travel from Galveston and Wharton and schedule business trips and vacations around rehearsals and performances.

Violinist Tofik Khanmamedov, Ph.D., owns a Sugar Land-based technology engineering company that licenses patented technologies to the oil, gas and petrochemical industries. He vividly remembers attending an evening rehearsal four hours after his plane landed from a European business trip.

“In the second half of rehearsal, I was so sleepy I was falling out of my chair,” he laughingly said. “I feel a responsibility to the orchestra because when someone is missing, the balance of sound is not there.”

The Russian-born chemical engineer believes music helps people overcome life’s difficulties. Drawing a parallel with the pressure released by an industrial relief valve, he says playing and listening to music releases the pressures of life and makes people feel good.

A host of helpers master countless roles to keep this 501(c)(3) organization running smoothly. Those working behind the scenes coordinate auditions, solicit financial gifts, staff the box office, promote concerts, answer phones and coordinate fundraisers among many other tasks.

The cadre of volunteers is choreographed by seven-year FBSO board president and cellist Amy Floyd Billasch with help from eight other board members, most of which perform with the orchestra.

“FBSO is completely supported by donations from the community, grants, fundraising events and ticket sales,” said Billasch, who is employed as national customer care manager for Lennar Corporation. “Our increased support makes me feel we’re doing things right.”

The Fort Bend Symphony has an annual budget of about $50,000. Only about 30 percent of income is generated by ticket sales because FBSO focuses on providing affordable access to the arts.

“It’s important to have arts organizations like FBSO in our community, as it makes the arts more accessible to people who would otherwise be unable to attend due to transportation, cost or other factors,” Billasch added.

Underwriting and sponsorship opportunities start at only $1,000 and include perks for donors.

Most tickets for FBSO’s concerts at the 1,100-seat Stafford Centre are just $10 and $15 each. Discounts are available for seniors 55 and over, students, military with I.D and groups of 10 or more. Children 12 and under are free with a reserved ticket.

In addition to affordability, FBSO patrons are attracted to the quality and mix of classical, contemporary and popular music. They also appreciate the Stafford Centre’s easy access that includes abundant free parking.

“My wife and I won FBSO tickets and were impressed by the quality and variety of music,” said Ben Carter, retired vice president of Woodforest Bank, who serves on FBSO’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee. “If you live in Fort Bend County and like concert music, you don’t have to drive into Houston. FBSO provides a quality orchestra right here.”

Even with its growing success, FBSO is always on the lookout for fresh talent and opportunities to play for the community. This year’s plans include the annual statewide concerto competition that enables young artists to perform with FBSO. The orchestra also plans to continue its appearances with celebrity musicians. Since 2008, FBSO has performed with such legends as rock band Kansas, Ray Price, B. J. Thomas and Christopher Cross.

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