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Is that a spatula in your chef’s apron or are you just happy to see me?: as owner of t’afia and Beaver’s restaurants, out chef Monica Pope is accustomed to leading a symphony of flavors, like she did earlier this year competing on Bravo TV’s Top Chef Masters. This month she joins five other Houston celebs vying to lead the Texas Music Festival orchestra.

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Local celebrities vie for the podium at Texas Music Festival

What could a local AM radio talk show host, a top chef, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, a television news reporter, a three-time Grammy-Award nominee singer, and a Houston Culinary Awards “Chef of the Year” possibly all have in common with each other?

A baton.

This month, all of the Houstonians compete against each other for the chance to conduct the 95-member Texas Music Festival orchestra as participants in the Festival’s inaugural “Be a Conductor” contest.

Now in its 21st season, the Texas Music Festival, conducted by Stefan Sanderling, is a summer music residency program at the University of Houston Moores School of Music. “It’s such a thrill to stand on the podium, face a concert stage filled with incredible musicians and conduct the symphony orchestra,” says TMF’s general director, Alan Austin. “We wanted to give local celebrities outside the classical music realm that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s ‘Conducting with the Stars,’ if you will.”

Local celebrities vying for the baton are Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle editorial cartoonist; Brent Clanton, host of CNN 650 AM Radio Morning Show; Scott Gertner, musician and owner of Scott Gertner’s SkyBar; Hugo Ortega, executive chef of Hugo’s Mexican Restaurant and Backstreet Café; Monica Pope, chef/owner of t’afia restaurant and recent Top Chef Masters participant; and Miya Shay, reporter for KTRK-TV, ABC 13.

The contest is being conducted (no pun intended) on the Texas Music Festival Facebook fan page. The contestant who generates the greatest number of votes on this site by the June 9 midnight deadline conducts the orchestra in “The Star Spangled Banner.” (One vote per person, please.) The program also includes Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Franck’s The Accursed Huntsman, Ravel’s Bolero, and other selections.

June 26, 7 p.m. University of Houston’s Moores Opera House, 3800 Cullen Blvd. • class.uh.edu/music/texasmusic
festival • 713/743-3313.

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