Shepherd School orchestra makes Carnegie Hall debut

The sound of thunderous applause and a standing ovation concluded both the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra’s debut performance at Carnegie Hall Feb. 18 and the orchestra’s East Coast tour.

Conducted by Larry Rachleff, the Walter Kris Hubert Professor of Orchestral Conducting, the orchestra took the stage at 8 p.m. In addition to Berlioz’s “Le Corsaire Overture” and Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra,” the performance included the Carnegie Hall debut of Christopher Rouse’s dramatic “Violin Concerto,” featuring world-renowned soloist Cho-Liang Lin, professor of violin at Rice.

Lin called the piece, which Rouse wrote especially for him,”a very powerful and truly great work.”

“It’s a fiendishly difficult piece to play, and a great challenge for everyone involved,” Lin said.

The piece includes two movements. The first part is melancholy, rolling along nicely but with angst, anguish and to some degree anger, which Lin said is “a very typical style of Rouse.” The second movement is what Lin described as “perpetual motion, a hyperactive, nonstop, adrenaline-filled roller coaster that flies faster and faster until the music comes to an explosive end.”

Rice Board of Trustees Chairman Bobby Tudor ’82 called the performance “fabulous, all the way around.”

“It was really beautifully performed, with so much enthusiasm and skill,” he said. “And what a great thing for Rice to have our orchestra perform at this level. It really speaks volumes about the quality of what we’re producing.”

University Representative Y. Ping Sun, who celebrated her birthday Feb. 18, called the performance “the best birthday present I could have asked for.”

“This was fabulous,” she said. “You could hear a pin drop, because everyone was so excited to hear this high-quality performance from the Shepherd School orchestra. We’re all so proud of our students and faculty members. I’m on cloud nine!”

Tommy Morrison, an undergraduate bassoon student, called the orchestra’s Carnegie debut “an incredible feeling.”

“There was definitely something special going on tonight that we haven’t had before,” Morrison said. “I don’t think it could have gone much better.”

A fourth-year Shepherd School student, Morrison said the tour is a great way to end his time at Rice.

Nancy Morrison, Tommy’s mother visiting from New Jersey, called the experience “totally amazing.”

“The orchestra is exquisite,” she said. “It was a beautiful program. I couldn’t be happier, and I’m so glad Tommy got to do this during his senior year. I’m so grateful to Rice for allowing this to tour to happen.”

Caroline Shaw ’04, a Pulitzer prize-winning composer and Grammy award winner, said she was “so deeply proud” of the orchestra.

“I can remember playing the Bartok as a freshman, so to hear it come full circle is just amazing,” she said. “I kept smiling through the whole piece. I’m speechless.”

Coleman Itzkoff, an undergraduate cello student, called the tour “the best possible way to top off an amazing four years at Rice.”

“It’s just the best thing that could have happened,” he said. “I know I’ll remember this experience forever.”

Leone Buyse, the Joseph and Ida Kirkland Mullen Professor of Music and chair of woodwinds, called the concert “a really pivotal life moment.”

“I’ve played [at Carnegie] myself dozens of times with the Boston Symphony, and being able to watch all of our students respond to the hall’s extraordinary acoustics and the feeling of history and the excitement of the New York audience was unforgettable and unbelievably gratifying,” she said.

Rice President David Leebron called it “a spectacular evening.”

“The orchestra just really poured forth all the talent it has,” he said. “Larry Rachleff is just an amazing leader of the orchestra, and tonight’s performance is the culmination of years of building the Shepherd School into one of the premier institutions of music in the country. It’s fantastic.”

Robert Yekovich, dean of the Shepherd School and the Elma Schneider Professor of Music, called the orchestra’s Carnegie debut “exhilarating, beyond description.”

“[The performance] has been so long coming,” he said. “Just looking around and seeing the joy and fulfillment in the eyes of our students, faculty and alumni makes it such an extraordinary and unbelievably special experience.”

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About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.