Moody Center’s Summer Music Series offers art and music without leaving the house

If you’re looking for summertime artistic and musical experiences without leaving the house, look no further than the Rice University Moody Center for the Arts’ Summer Music Series.

The Moody Center for the Arts commissioned five Shepherd School of Music doctorate-level students to create new compositions in response to pieces in the Rice Public Art collection.  Performed by Shepherd School musicians in front of each respective artwork, the videos debut on the Moody’s YouTube channel weekly while the campus is largely off-limits to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Celebrating Rice Public Art and collaborating with the incredibly accomplished Shepherd School musicians supports the Moody’s interdisciplinary mission,” said Alison Weaver, the Suzanne Deal Booth Executive Director of the Moody Center for the Arts. “Pivoting to virtual programming during this unprecedented time allows the Moody and the Shepherd School to showcase the creative talent at Rice, particularly at a time when audiences are seeking meaningful encounters with the arts.”

Composers chose for themselves which Rice Public Art works — a mix of indoor and outdoor sites — would inspire their musical creations. They coordinated with Anthony Brandt, professor of composition and theory at Rice. With performances limited due to the pandemic, the project provided students with a welcome professional opportunity.

Daniel Zlatkin composed the first piece released in the series, “Of Wood,” inspired by Ursula von Rydingsvard’s “Malutka II.” The artwork, installed on campus in spring 2019, is von Rydingsvard’s first small-scale bronze sculpture, and its title comes from the feminine form of “little one” in Polish.

“Responding to an existing piece of art with music is a difficult balancing act,” Zlatkin said. “Some issues which come up are: How can I make something which successfully complements the work at hand? How can I make something which stands on its own but does not contradict the other artwork? I think it’s important not to overthink, as far as these sorts of questions go.”

In his preparation for “Of Wood,” he researched a variety of different works by Ursula von Rydingsvard and listened to several interviews available online. He also asked the artist questions via email.

“I visited ‘Malutka II’ numerous times at different points of the day, and meditated on its characteristics,” he said. “But after I soaked up all I could, I let my instincts take over in the actual writing process. I didn’t worry about how I was conforming or not conforming to my given subject. I sought to write the most expressive and natural music I could, as ‘Malutka II’s’ characteristics echoed in the back of my mind.”

Cellist Russell Houston performed Zlatkin’s piece in front of the sculpture. The video of the performance is online here.

Due to COVID-19, Houston spent a lot of time indoors before his performance of “Of Wood” was filmed in June. He called the experience of seeing the art installation in person and having communion with it “really special,” and said it helped him understand the intention behind Zlatkin’s composition.

“It was a lot of fun to be a part of this project,” he said.

Brandt is grateful for the opportunity for his students.

“I thank Alison and the Moody Center for coming up with such a wonderful way to celebrate the creative spirit on display across campus and so alive in our students,” he said.

More information on the Moody Summer Music Series is available online at

About Amy McCaig

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