Couple help youth orchestra thrive with fundraising and love of music

By ARLENE NISSON LASSIN
CHRONICLE CORRESPONDENT

March 30, 2009

Although Virtuosi of Houston, 303 Memorial City Way, has been around for 13 years as the premier chamber orchestra for young artists, it took a River Oaks couple’s involvement and fundraising to take it to the next level.

Dr. Meherwan Boyce and his wife, Zarine, were recruited to the board of directors in 2001 and since that time they have re-energized both the board and fundraising, increasing the annual budget and securing a space for the nonprofit organization.

Zarine Boyce played piano while growing up, and her father instilled the love of classical music.

When she was introduced to this orchestra of gifted students, she poured all her energies into making it the best it could be, working 40 hour weeks on a volunteer basis.

Her husband volunteers many hours as well to keep the organization thriving.

“This consumed me because I saw what a wonderful organization it was and what a great opportunity it was for young musicians,” Zarine Boyce said.

“If a child wants to pursue a serious career in music, this chamber orchestra offers the highest caliber of musical education and training, where they play concentrated music of the highest standards. In this type of orchestra, every note has to be perfect.

“This kind of training is rare for children to find and leads to opportunities to attend the finest conservatories of music.”

Founded in 1996 by artistic directors and conductors Franz Anton Krager and Andrzej Grabiec, both professors of music at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music, the orchestra has 40 to 55 students at any given time.

Children ages 11 to 18 can audition three times during the year.

If they are selected, they have many opportunities to perform in group and individual recitals.

Scholarships available

Children who can’t afford the $650 yearly tuition are given scholarships.

Meherwan Boyce, the managing partner of the Boyce Consultancy Group and with a long list of professional accomplishments, has been the chairman of the Virtuosi of Houston board for seven years.

“My goal was to grow the organization, because when I first got involved they had no funds and were operating in a small borrowed space,” Meherwan Boyce said.

“Now we have our own 5,000-square-foot studio and a budget of $300,000 a year, raised through private donations, grants and our annual fundraiser.

“We bought equipment, music chairs, we made sure the children had everything they needed.”

To that end, they raised enough money in their first few years to hire an executive director, a grant writer and an orchestra manager.

The space they use is a theater at Memorial City Mall that can hold 125 people and was donated by Metro National, owner of the Memorial City Mall.

“At this point in my life, three things matter the most to me – education, children, and music,” Meherwan Boyce said.

“Virtuosi combines all three, so since I have been fortunate I am happy to share my extra finances and my time with this special organization.”

Their yearly fundraiser, a gala, will be Saturday, April 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hotel InterContinental, 2222 West Loop South.

The theme is “Young Houstonians Salute Armed Forces,” and will feature Lee Greenwood singing his signature song, “God Bless the U.S.A.”

They hope to raise close to $100,000.

One young performer at Virtuosi is Jonathan Shadle, 17, of Rosenberg, who is about to graduate high school and attend Juilliard Conservatory in New York City.

Having played the trumpet since he was 10 years old, he plans to make a career out of performing.

“I am sure that the experience in Virtuosi and help from Maestros Krager and Grabiec played a part in my getting accepted at Juliard, and I was grateful to be able to practice and perform with them,” Shadle said.

“I enjoy being able to perform in the chamber and orchestral style, because I had only done trumpet for school band before that.”

For now, both Zarine and Meherwan Boyce would like to spread the word in Houston about Virtuosi and to encourage attendance at performances.

“These kids are really special,” Meherwan said.

“They practice eight to ten hours a day, and I think if the people of Houston would come and hear them play, they would be captivated by their music. These are the best of children, and I think people need to see more of that.”

Upcoming Event

We are excited to announce a partnership between Neiman Marcus and Virtuosi of Houston. The mission of this partnership is to bring enriching art experiences to youth...because ART changes lives!? Click here for more information.