By Chris Daigle, Contributing Editor
Celebrating it’s 22nd season of excellence in chamber music education and performance, Virtuosi of Houston presented Legends Of The Future: Celebrating Leaders of S.T.E.A.M (Science, Technology, Arts, and Mathematics) at a gala concert, dinner, and auction on May 5, 2018 at the new Post Oak Hotel in Uptown Houston.
Virtuosi of Houston was founded in 1996 as a premier youth chamber orchestra for gifted instrumentalists to increase education and performance opportunities leading to a music profession for Houston’s middle to high school age musicians, and to bring an expanded repertoire of chamber and jazz works to Houston audiences.
The chamber group is smaller than a typical symphony orchestra, allowing these exceptional musicians to experience increased confidence, leadership, responsibility, and skill through individual attention from two world class conductors, Andrzej Grabiec, Professor of Violin; and Franz Anton Krager, Director of Orchestras; both from the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music.
Members of the orchestra are from very diverse backgrounds, and represent more than 34 ZIP codes from 12 school districts, as well as several homeschooled students. The two Virtuosi of Houston Maestri choose who is to be accepted when auditions are held. Any student that qualifies to be part of the Virtuosi of Houston orchestra is accepted regardless of their family’s ability to pay the tuition. Each year, up to 35% of the students receive full or partial financial assistance. The distinct desire to provide all potential students the opportunity to engage in activities that they might not otherwise be exposed to is what drives their community impact.
Virtuosi of Houston performs three full orchestra concerts per season: two concerts in Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center for Performing Arts, and the finale of the season, The Legends of the Future Gala Concert and dinner at a hotel ballroom. This is a full chamber orchestra performance, but most of the music is Pops.
THE VIRTUOSI DIFFERENCE
The musicians excel because of their high level of performance experience, expanded knowledge of repertoire, and increased sense of confidence, leadership skills, and responsibility. The importance of providing arts education to children encourages a desire for learning, creative thinking and individuality. Over the past three years, 100% of graduating students go on to college, and a majority of them continued their music education as performance or music education majors. Virtuosi of Houston graduates say they are better prepared to face the competition for admission to prestigious music schools and conservatories than if they had been in mainstream music programs.
SMALL ENSEMBLE PROGRAM
The Small Ensemble Program consists of small ensembles that are drawn from the orchestra and coached by professional musicians. Over 80 events were performed during the 2016 – 2017 season. Many of these performances were pro bono, performed in hospitals, senior citizen homes and Memorial City Mall.
ANNUAL CONCERTO COMPETITION
Every spring, Virtuosi of Houston hosts the Immanuel and Helen B. Olshan Concerto Competition at the Memorial City Mall studio. The competition is open to all Virtuosi of Houston members. Those who compete are judged in the String and Wind divisions by some of Houston’s most acclaimed musicians. Winners in each division are awarded scholarships to use toward their music training. First place winners are featured during the Concerto Concert.
Several distinguished honorees were awarded by the Virtuosi of Houston for their outstanding community service at the evening’s Gala:
Walter Cunningham, former astronaut and business leader: Cunningham was selected as an Astronaut in 1963, and later served as Prime Crew of Apollo 2 (cancelled), backup crew for Apollo 1 (also cancelled due to a deadly fire in the capsule in 1967). Cunningham flew as pilot on Apollo 7, the first manned test of the Apollo Program in 1968. Apollo 7 is still the longest, most ambitious first flight of any new flying machine. Cunningham’s last assignment at the Johnson Space Center was Chief of the Skylab Branch of the Flight Crew Directorate. After leaving NASA, his experience included the presidency of two engineering companies, with extensive overseas operations and Vice President of Operations for a large commercial property developer.
David Dewhurst has embodied the Texas notion of “servant leadership” throughout his life. After serving as an Air Force Officer, CIA Field Agent and State Department officer, Dewhurst created a successful energy company serving several states. He also served as Land Commissioner, Chairman of the Texas Homeland Security Task Force and as Texas Lieutenant Governor.
Gordon Bethune earned worldwide acclaim at Continental Airlines for spearheading one of the most dramatic corporate turnarounds in United States history. When Buthune joined the troubled carrier as President and Chief Operating Officer in 1994, Continental was consistently ranked last in every performance metric, including on-time record, customer complaints and baggage handling. Bethune quickly assumed the role of CEO, and was elected Chairman of the Board in 1996. His effort to rescue the financially troubled carrier from a tailspin has made him a legend in commercial aviation.
Dr. Renu Khator is nationally known as an education thought leader and higher education policy expert, and is currently serving as Chancellor and President of the University of Houston System, where she oversees a four-university system that serves 71,000 students, has an annual budget that exceeds $7.1 billion and has over a $6 billion impact on the Greater Houston area’s economy each year.
Dr. John Mendelsohn was director of the Cancer Center at University of California San Diego before chairing the Department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. He then served as president of University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center from 1996 to 2011 during a period of expansion and national leadership in patient care, research and prevention of cancer.
Sidney Evans is very Houston proud. His background includes a nine-year career with the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. As Director of Membership and Visitor Services, Evans was responsible for the recruitment and retention of members, the Visitor Information Center and the Placement of ‘Houston Proud’ volunteers.
Monzer Hourani currently directs the successful operations of a real estate development company. The philosophy which Mr. Hourani has always followed in each of his development endeavors is to develop, design and construct very economical and modern healthcare buildings, while maintaining a superior quality product, and to complement the latest advances in technology and medicine.
Sybil Roos actively supports many of Houston’s philanthropic organizations, including Camp For All, City Art Works, Easter Seals Greater Houston, The Mission Of Yahweh, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and University Of Houston Moores School of Music.
Margaret Alkek Williams is Chairman of the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation. Together with her son, Charles Williams, President of the Foundation, she continues the legacy of giving established by her parents, Albert and Margaret Alkek.
Conducting the orchestras were two outstanding professionals: Andrzej Grabiec, Artistic Director and Conductor; and Franz Anton Krager, Artistic Director and Conductor.
Andrzej Grabiec has lived in the United States since 1979, and has held numerous prestigious positions as a performer, artistic director and as a pedagogue. He moved to Houston in 1995, where he is Professor Of Violin at the Moores School Of Music at the University of Houston and Artistic Co-Director and Co-founder of Virtuosi of Houston. Mr. Grabiec’s performances continue to take him to music centers in the United States and Europe, where he collaborates as a soloist or a chamber musician with many international artists.
Franz Anton Krager is Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Texas Music Festival, Founding Co-Artistic Director for the Virtuosi of Houston, Artist in Residence at the Kinkaid School and Evaluator/Clinician for the Orchestra America National Festival. Krager is also a Professor of Conducting, Director of Orchestras and Chair of the Conducting Department at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music.
The S.T.E.A.M. overture was arranged by Dr. Robert Nelson, Professor of Music Theory and Composition at the University of Houston Moores School of Music. His S.T.E.A.M. overture was commissioned by the Virtuosi of Houston to be featured as the opening for the evening’s performance. The overture is a setting of thematic material from five film scores, with each theme coming from a film related to one of the S.T.E.A.M. disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).
The first section, Science, contains music from Back To The Future, a movie featuring time travel as a central plot. Music from Robert Nelson’s score to The Apollo Fire is heard representing Technology. The third section, Engineering, is the theme from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, a film about the crew of a highly advanced submarine. The Arts are represented by music from the 1952 film Moulin Rouge. The overture closes with the theme from A Beautiful Mind, based on the life of mathematical genius John Nash.
A silent auction and a live auction were held between performances, which together raised approximately $450,000 to benefit Virtuosi of Houston.
For more information, visit https://virtuosiofhouston.org/.
Chris Daigle is a regular contributing editor to The Grapevine Source. To read his other articles, click HERE.