Boniuk Institute’s Arts of Tolerance program kicks off with music and dance

None other than the Grammy Award-winning Silk Road Ensemble, whose performers hail from more than 20 countries and draw on a rich tapestry of musical traditions, captivated the audience gathered for the April 12 inaugural event of the Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance’s Arts of Tolerance program.

Raul Orlando Edwards, a Houston opera singer and executive director of the Boniuk Institute's new Arts of Tolerance program, sings a Cuban lullaby.

Raul Orlando Edwards, a Houston opera singer and executive director of the Boniuk Institute’s new Arts of Tolerance program, sings a Cuban lullaby. Photos by Jeff Fitlow

The ensemble, which includes alumni of Rice’s Shepherd School of Music, performed the haunting and beautiful “Silent City.” Composed by Iranian master musician Kayhan Kalhor, the improvisatory piece is Kalhor’s response to a terrible massacre that occurred near the border of Iran and Iraq in 1988, when Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons killed several thousand Kurdish civilians in an attack. A virtuoso on the kamancheh, the Iranian bowed string instrument, Kalhor traveled to Houston to perform the piece, which, while serving as a universal testament to fallen cities and communities, also carries the idea that life always returns, sprouting anew out of an empty landscape, according to Nicholas Cords, Silk Road’s co-artistic director.

The Arts of Tolerance initiative is designed as a year-round educational and outreach program that uses high-quality artistic expressions to bring people of different beliefs together. It was created as a direct response to the current wave of intolerance sweeping the country and many other parts of the world, according to organizers. Paula Sanders, professor of history at Rice and director of the Boniuk Institute, leads the program along with acclaimed Houston opera singer, dancer and teacher Raul Orlando Edwards, who serves as the program’s executive director.

At the event held in the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies’ Hudspeth Auditorium, Edwards, a baritone, showed his skill as he sang two Cuban lullabies. Other Houston artists performing included Solero Flamenco, the city’s premier flamenco company; soprano singer Cassandra White; pianist Paul Boyd, who is also artistic and executive director of the Foundation for Modern Music; and the Gerling-Mut Duo, consisting of violinist Ingrid Gerling and pianist Andreea Mut.

Soprano singer Cassandra White sang two African-American spirituals.

“In every culture, in every place and every time, people have used the arts to find solace, to find hope, to find joy, to find peace and so many other emotions that really need a vehicle of expression,” said KRIV-TV anchor José Griñan, who served as the evening’s host. “From the nomadic gypsies traveling across the continents in search of acceptance to the coded language found in negro spirituals used by slaves planning their escape, to people fleeing political persecution and censorship to dances of joy for overcoming destruction, we gather here tonight to celebrate the myriad ways that communities come together in the spirit of human spirit and in the hope of healing and of kindness and compassion.”

As part of the event, Rice alumnus Terence O’Neill ‘17, director the city of Houston’s Office of New Americans and Immigrant Communities, presented the namesakes of the institute, Houston philanthropists Dr. Milton and Laurie Boniuk, with a proclamation from Mayor Sylvester Turner designating April 12 as Milton and Laurie Boniuk Day in the city. “Milton and Laurie Boniuk are well-known for their passionate advocacy of religious tolerance, with a demonstrated and remarkable commitment to achieving peaceful solutions among all faiths and beliefs,” the proclamation read. The Arts of Tolerance program is also part of the city’s Houston Diversity Month activities, and the Boniuk Institute serves as a supporting organization and on the planning committee for the month.

“Raul and I are very grateful to all of our partners, especially to our visionary benefactors, Milton and Laurie Boniuk, who were so deservedly honored tonight, and we hope that you will continue to come to our events, to participate, to send us your ideas and to help us make the world a place of greater tolerance, respect, peace and compassion,” Sanders said.

In addition to the music and dance performances, attendees were able to view an exhibit in the auditorium foyer featuring photos taken by participants in Be the Peace – Be the Hope, a nonprofit that provides social and emotional healing arts programs to at-risk youth in Houston and across the world, and artwork by students at Houston Independent School District’s Las Américas Newcomer School.

The Boniuk Institute’s partners for the 2018 Arts of Tolerance season included FLAMART (Featuring Latin American Music and ART), the Foundation for Modern Music, the University of Houston’s Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts and Strictly Street Salsa as well as Rice’s Moody Center for the Arts and Shepherd School.

For information about Arts of Tolerance upcoming events and programming, go to

For more information about the Boniuk Institute’s activities and events, visit

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.