The Shepherd School of Music has ascended to the top echelon of music schools in the nation. Our orchestral program draws the best students and prepares them for the professional stage. Our opera program, with stellar faculty and instruction, is poised to rise to this top tier. To do so, we must create a venue that will attract the most talented students and excite our audiences in Houston and beyond.
A lead gift from an extraordinarily generous donor has set the stage for Rice to build the next great center for the arts in Houston: the Rice University Music and Performing Arts Center. Fulfilling a vision three decades in the making, the center will feature a newly constructed theater building that will connect to the Shepherd School’s current home, Alice Pratt Brown Hall, via a pedestrian plaza, redefining the west end of the Rice campus.
Now, Rice University must raise $20 million to build on the generosity of our lead donor and complete a center that will place Rice among Houston’s premier arts organizations. The new building will be an exemplary venue and a complement to Alice Pratt Brown Hall, and as a whole the center will provide audiences the opportunity to experience the best that the Shepherd School’s talented performers and esteemed guests have to offer.
With its European design, unique size and generous orchestra pit for musicians, the new music and performing arts building will be the first opera theater of its kind among U.S. universities and conservatories. The building will offer premium performance space for opera and chamber music, meet the growing need for rehearsal and practice space, and provide a hallmark venue to attract and host high-profile speakers.
- A new 84,000-square-foot facility designed by acclaimed architect Allan Greenberg.
- A three-tiered, 600-seat, European-style opera theater with orchestra pit for 70 musicians designed by theater planning and design consultants Fisher Dachs Associates.
- A state-of-the-art, “pin-drop” acoustic experience created by Threshold Acoustics.
Students in the opera program at The Shepherd School of Music enjoy top instruction and intensive training in vocal performance, dramatic arts and language study. Collaboration with peers in the famed orchestral program and master classes with renowned visiting artists like Renée Fleming add yet more to their preparation. Just as this training prepares our students for fruitful careers, the Rice University Music and Performing Arts Center will provide them with the venue to shine as performers, giving them every opportunity to raise their voices even higher.
Performance training that unlocks opera’s potential
Tommy Glass first fully realized opera’s dramatic potential while performing as a soldier in the trenches in the World War I opera Silent Night.
"Bombs and machine-gun fire were a part of the score," says Tommy, who recently received his master of music degree at The Shepherd School of Music. "I realized then that opera can create a very real experience with a huge emotional range. My favorite operas are still those that are intense and exciting."
At the Shepherd School, Tommy's training helped him accentuate drama and excitement with technique. "The voice faculty is second-to-none and the musical preparation that we receive here sets an incredibly high standard," he says.
While this training and a strong performance schedule propelled him to the next stage of his opera career in young artists training programs, he acknowledges the role that a new venue will have for the next generation of performers.
"The one aspect that is missing is a great performance space," he says. "Having a space where we can perform a full fledged opera with a real pit and a real house will be so much more like what students are going to be exposed to once they graduate."
Preparing for opera’s upper echelon
Jack Swanson knows that emerging opera performers must combine talent and hard work with training and experience to prepare for their careers.
Performance experience, in particular, is a key to this preparation, says the powerful tenor and Master of Music degree recipient, who recently signed as a vocal artist with Columbia Artists Management Inc.
"I have learned that it’s really important for a young singer to sing in a hall the size of those you will perform in as a professional," he says. "You have to trust that your vocal technique will translate to every performance venue. You need to perform in an opera house."
After learning the demands of opera at the highest level during an apprenticeship with the Santa Fe Opera, he fine-tuned his craft at the Shepherd School under the tutelage of Stephen King, professor of voice and chair of vocal studies, and Richard Bado, director of the opera studies program.
"Working with Professor King and Maestro Bado, I learned the critical importance of attention to detail in performing an operatic role," Jack says. "Their instruction has enabled me to elevate my diction, vocal technique and musicality, while paying careful attention to the style of the composer. These things are so important to learn in a master’s program."
Setting the stage for creative inspiration
Violinist and first-year master’s student Laura Liu is among a talented core of young musicians who chose The Shepherd School of Music for its elite instruction and unique performance opportunities. “The Shepherd School has the reputation as the best orchestral program in the country,” she says. “I met [Director of Orchestras] Larry Rachleff at a summer program. From the very first measure of our rehearsal, I knew that if I wanted to pursue a performance career, Rice was where I needed to be for graduate school.”
For an aspiring orchestral musician, there is no finer training ground than The Shepherd School of Music, home to a star cast of faculty that is preparing students for performance careers. Critical to this preparation are opportunities to perform in settings that mirror the professional world they will enter — be it as a member of an orchestra, a string quartet or an opera company — in just a few short years. The performing arts center’s new opera theater, with a 70-member orchestra pit, will give instrumental students like Laura a chance to refine their ensemble skills in a dynamic and realistic environment.
When the time comes for them to step into the professional spotlight, they’ll have what it takes to shine.
Dear friends and fellow supporters,
As passionate advocates of the Shepherd School and the performing arts at Rice, we are privileged to co-chair this effort in support of Dean Yekovich’s vision to build an opera program that joins the orchestral program atop their respective fields.
The Rice University Music and Performing Arts Center will mark a great leap forward in carrying out this vision. When our opera students perform for audiences of 600, accompanied by a full complement of orchestral musicians and prepared by training with expert instructors and masters, the vision will be complete. We are thrilled at this rare opportunity to create such an experience for our students, our campus and the Houston community.
In this spirit, we ask you to participate in this effort, which will set the stage for our students and faculty to shine even brighter in this new era for The Shepherd School of Music.
Anne S. Duncan
Steering Committee Co-Chair
Susanne "Susie" M. Glasscock '62
Steering Committee Co-Chair
The Shepherd School of Music and Rice University enjoy a passionate community dedicated to supporting the arts on our campus and in the city of Houston. We look forward to working with you as we endeavor to complete the next great step forward for the arts at Rice.
If you would like to learn more about supporting the Rice University Music and Performing Arts Center or have any questions, please contact Evan Morgan, director of development, at 713-348-4363 or firstname.lastname@example.org.