New Kid on the Block 11

Opening to rave reviews and drawing thousands, Musco Center Director Richard Bryant proudly leads the parade.

“I’m resuming my love affair with Orange County,” says a smiling Richard Bryant, executive director of the Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University.  “I’ve lived all over the country, and I feel like I’ve come home.”

Bryant is referring to his stay in Orange County from 1987 to 1996, when he served as director of communications and marketing for the newly-opened Orange County Performing Arts Center, now Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

In 1996, Bryant helped open the New Jersey Performing Arts Center as its first vice president of marketing and public relations, and, later, after founding Front of House Services in 1998, the company served a variety of clients, including American Ballet Theatre, John F. Kennedy Center and National Symphony Orchestra, Stanford University’s Bing Concert Hall, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and Yale University’s Peabody Museum, among others.

“My career and my experience has intersected with the powerful vision of the Muscos and Chapman University,” Bryant says.

Working as Musco Center’s interim executive director when he was hired November 1, 2015, Bryant was named permanent director in May, 2016.

From the beginning of his tenure, he worked with the Muscos, Musco Center’s founding dean William Hall, university leadership, and Chancellor Daniele Struppa to achieve the center’s highly successful grand opening on March 19, the Community Open House on April 2, and the Preview Season, with more than 15,000 people attending those offerings.

The gala opening performance on March 19 showcased a spectacular evening of music, featuring opera legends Placido Domingo, Deborah Voigt and Milena Kitic, an array of distinguished artists, including Chapman alumni, and a chorus of 150 voices (many of them students and faculty from Chapman’s College of Performing Arts) with the LA Opera Orchestra conducted by Grammy winner John DeMain. The sold-out gala performance in the 1,044-seat Julianne Argyros Orchestra Hall included a black-tie gala in an adjacent tent that took guests breath away with its elegant décor.

The center’s day-long community open house and arts festival on April 2 was a well-attended success, with 29 companies, including students, local groups and renowned guests, performing inside the hall and on outdoor stages on the Bette and Wylie Aitken Arts Plaza. The one ticketed event inside the hall was the sold-out performance of the Pacific Symphony with conductor Carl St. Clair performing Grieg’s Piano Concerto with acclaimed concert pianist Grace Fong, director of piano studies at Chapman, and concluding with Beethoven’s majestic Fifth Symphony.

Musco Center’s six-week Preview Season followed, with Chapman’s College of Performing Arts Theatre presenting Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” and Opera Chapman performing Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica. Other standout performers included 2013 Van Cliburn Piano Competition Gold Medalist Vadym Kholodenko, two-time Grammy nominee baritone Rod Gilfrey, the innovative Backhausdance dance company, and Emmy Award-winning Animal Planet host Jeff Corwin in the Arts & Lecture Series, to name a few.

Everyone at Chapman is very proud of the critical reviews of the hall, one in particular. The very-hard-to-please Los Angeles Times’ classical music critic Mark Swed had this to say:

“The City of Orange now houses an ideal opera house, potentially the best in the West, and maybe even something more.”

It didn’t hurt that the hall’s chief acoustician was Yasuhisa Toyota, who created the highly-touted acoustics for Disney Concert Hall.

“The hall has exceeded our expectations across all the different disciplines,” Bryant says. “It’s an all-natural sound, which works equally well for the spoken word, as well as opera, and the symphony shell provides extraordinary acoustics for an orchestra.”

“The hall has exceeded our expectations across all the different disciplines.” 
- Richard Bryant

Bryant discloses that the hall has four purposes. First and foremost is to provide a performance space for Chapman’s College of Performing Arts students.

“It’s their house for large-scale performances, where they can have hands-on experiences with the best tools anywhere,” he says.

Second is creating a sustainable long-term relationship with performing arts companies in Southern California, who want to perform in the hall and become integrated in the university’s teaching environment.

“We already have strategic alliances with Los Angeles Opera, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and Backhausdance,” Bryant says.

Third is bringing in visiting artists and companies of the highest calibre, which includes master classes and workshops for the students.  And, fourth is creating programs for the surrounding communities, through what is called the Musco Center’s World CAFE (Cultural Arts Festivals and Events.)

“One of the things that attracted me to Chapman was its deep-seated desire to further engage its nearby communities,” Bryant says. “The most powerful tool to do that are arts, culture and food. They are the things that bring people together.”

The success of Musco Center’s World CAFE, “The Heartbeat of Mexico,” on May 29 drew 3,500 people with its free music, cultural activities and food throughout the day and a ticketed evening concert, featuring two of the world’s top mariachi bands.

“I think it’s thrilling that the university wants to be more entangled with the powerful confluence of different cultures,” Bryant says.

Next up is Musco Center for the Arts’ Inaugural Season, which commences in October (see performance listing). You will see the Distinguished Piano Series, Great Voices Series, the Arts and Culture Series and great performers and groups who stand alone in their own music category.

“The reception to the opening of Musco Center has been wonderful,” Bryant says. “Chapman is a great place with extraordinary people. It’s an honor to play a role such as this in connecting this world-class venue to the community.”