Shepherd School’s search for a new orchestra director gains momentum with an extensive roster of guest conductors

Clockwise from top left: Andrew Grams, Giancarlo Guerrero, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Hans Graf, William Eddins, Joshua Gersen, Robert Spano, Patrick Summers, Lidiya Yankovskaya, and Cristian Măcelaru / Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music has announced 10 lauded conductors of the classical music world – including those with ties to leading Texas ensembles – to guest conduct the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra through the 2023-24 season.

The sheer number, range, and reputation of these conductors, scheduled over a concentrated 15-month period, is a record for the Shepherd School, “marking the first time in the school’s history that such a variety of internationally renowned conductors will work with its orchestras,” according to a press release.

The extensive roster is part of the school’s search for a new orchestra director to succeed the late Larry Rachleff, longtime professor and Music Director of the Shepherd School Symphony and Chamber Orchestras, who passed away last August.

“The search for a new orchestra director presents a unique opportunity for the school and its students to experiment with finding new voices to help lead the renowned program and creatively design ways for it to continue to grow,” said Matthew Loden, Dean of the Shepherd School, in a statement.

Guest conductors are:

Feb. 4, 2023: Andrew Grams, former music director of Elgin Symphony Orchestra

Mar. 4, 2023: Rice Shepherd School alum Cristian Măcelaru ’06 ’08, music director of the Orchestre National de France and artistic director of the George Enescu Festival and Competition

Apr. 21, 2023: Patrick Summers, artistic and music director of Houston Grand Opera

Joshua Gersen, former assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, will prepare the orchestra for all spring 2023 performances.

Sept. 29 and 30, 2023: Robert Spano, music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and Aspen Music Festival and School and former music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Oct. 27, 2023: Hans Graf, music director of the Singapore Symphony and former music director of the Houston Symphony

Dec. 1, 2023: William Eddins, music director emeritus of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Feb. 2, 2024: Lidiya Yankovskaya, music director of the Chicago Opera Theater and founder of the Refugee Orchestra Project

Mar. 2, 2024: Miguel Harth-Bedoya, music director laureate of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and director of orchestral studies at Baylor University

Apr. 19, 2024: Giancarlo Guerrero, music director for the Nashville Symphony and NFM Wrocław Philharmonic in Poland

Noteworthy guest conductors at the Shepherd School not only offer high-level music-making for the community through concerts that are free to the public, but also provide valuable experience and connections for students as they train for professional careers, according to Loden.

“We hope Houstonians will come see their favorite conductors on the podium at the Shepherd School’s Stude Concert Hall,” he said, adding: “Giving our music students more opportunities to engage with these types of high-caliber international conductors from top-ranked professional ensembles will help them to keep winning big orchestra jobs.”

Rachleff’s death in August left many in the community mourning the loss of a “musical genius” and friend, and the Shepherd School is currently operating without an interim orchestra director

Larry Rachleff / Photo courtesy of Rice University

“One of the lasting legacies from Larry Rachleff’s tenure is a Shepherd School community of students and faculty that are continuing to set the highest artistic and educational ideals,” Loden told Houston Arts Journal.

“While we are eager to find new leadership for this important program, in the interim, our faculty will work closely with guest artists to ensure we provide remarkable and meaningful performance opportunities for our orchestral students,” he said.

Loden says the school hopes to have a new orchestra director in place for the start of the 2024-25 academic year.

That appointment would increase the school’s new leadership, which includes a new Director of Opera Studies, Joshua Winograde, who will begin that role in July 2023.

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