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Thursday, June 20, 2013

What's All the "Talk" About? Interview with Pavilion Talk Host Ira J. Black

Ira Black giving his pre-game warm up to a full house.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Pavilion Talk’s Ira Black this past week and what a great time it was. When I first came to The Pavilion and heard of Pavilion Talk, I thought there was no way this guy can make Mozart sound fun. Luckily, he proved me wrong. Ira’s "pre-game warm ups," as he likes to call them, are fun and engaging. His passion for the fine arts is so contagious that he makes you ten times more excited for whatever performance is lined up that evening. A completely down-to-earth guy, he has a great sense of humor that made talking to him exciting. Check out his interview below and make sure to stop by the next Pavilion Talk before most performing arts shows at The Pavilion!

1. Can you tell us a little about your background?
“I have two university degrees in English, one in theatre philosophy (doctoral level). Retired teacher of high school and college. Spent 25 years at Houston Community College and 10 years in classical music fine arts broadcast. I was operations manager for a radio station that doesn’t exist anymore, an actor and a writer. I’ve had a checkered career. In the middle of that are three wives and two sons. My greatest achievement, that I’ve had nothing to do with, is my grandchildren.”

2. How long have you been doing Pavilion Talk?
“I think I started doing it when The Pavilion started doing classical concerts. I have a long-term relationship with the Houston Symphony, because I do their pre-concert talks. I prefer to call them pre-game warm ups. I don’t like concert talks. It makes people sit up straight, straighten their ties and zip their flies.”

3. Can you tell me how Pavilion Talk came to be?
“What I think may have happened, and this is very convoluted. In radio I was doing a lot of interviews with people in the arts and basically encouraging the arts. What I did is what KUHA does and does so well. Now that ended in 1986, but I had a TV show on cable through the college and I believe David Gottleib (former Pavilion CEO) was my guest, because The Pavilion was just opening. I was thinking, ‘Great, let’s give them prom. This is a great new venue.’ I think that’s where my relationship started. He knew about my work in the city because back at that time I had certain notoriety, much like Jack the Ripper did, and then things got rolling here. He really wanted to establish this, as George Mitchell did, as a cultural center.”

4. What is it about theater that draws you to it?
“It is an emotional thing. I really like the whole gestalt of acting and staging. It brings out my own artistic interest. Theater opens up the world. It makes accessible parts of the world that are not accessible normally. It’s not about getting out of myself but about getting into myself in many respects. All the arts intrigue me, which is why I gravitated from theatre into music. This is why I lecture here in music, because I love the arts and I love music. An afternoon spent at the Museum of Fine Arts wandering around to me is heaven.”

5. What has been your most memorable moment while leading Pavilion Talk?
“Well, I can say I’ve made friends. Members of the audience who have become good friends of mine. I’ve developed that rapport with the people, because I don’t like to do distance, I like to bring people close. The most memorable moments are what I am going to be working on because I treat everything as if it’s brand new. You have to find new ways of looking at it and to me that makes it memorable. Narrating symphony concerts is memorable as well. The Halloween concert I did the narration when the symphony played “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horsemen, and I narrated that with the orchestra. That was kind of memorable to work on The Pavilion stage.”

6. What has been your favorite show at The Pavilion that you’ve attended?
“There’s been so many of them. When they did The Planets - An HD Odyssey and the silent movies with the orchestra playing.”

7. What would you say is the best part about working at The Pavilion?
“Working with a really neat staff. Really I have never worked with such a welcoming staff and a cooperative effort. The two people that made that happen big time are David Gottleib and Cindy DuBois. Without Cindy I don’t think this program would have continued the way it did. I feel like I’m coming home in a way and not to a venue. When The Woodlands calls I’m there. This is where I’d rather be.”

8. Most important question ever…Dr. Pepper or Root Beer?
“Root Beer.”

9. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?
“I’ll have to get back to you. At the end of my days I’ll let you know.”

10. When you were younger what did you want to be when you grew up?
“An actor. A painter. I wanted to go to West Point and to Oxford.”

11. What’s your favorite movie of all time?“We have a huge DVD collection and VHS collection. Very often I stand in front thinking what I want to watch. I have a lot of favorite movies for the right mood and right time. I love science fiction, adventure and comedy. I am going to give you a strange answer because it’s interesting because, Kurt Douglas was asked this same question about his movies and it’s the same one. He was asked which movie he likes watching himself in. It’s called ‘Lonely are the Brave.’ It’s a minor movie and the ending will just rip your heart out.”

12. Favorite Opera?
“’Magic Flute’ by Mozart; it’s a spiritual trip. When I have been down, it has brought me back. I’ve got three videos and several recordings of it.”

13. Who is your favorite musician, composer, artist, etc. living or dead and why?
“Well there is really not one favorite but of composers Mahler. Without a question. I was introduced to his music when I was 30 by a friend of mine who was devoted to his music and I’ve been hooked ever since. Everything of Mahler I love.”

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