“Lynn Wyatt loves [Rothko] Chapel—and I don’t use the word ‘love’ lightly,” says David Leslie, the Chapel’s executive director since 2015. “She’s tireless.” Together, he and Wyatt and the campaign cabinet have mightily fundraised for the nearly $30 million Open Spaces campaign to “open the heart and mind” of visitors and improve the cultural landmark and its 2-acre grounds. By March, new buildings will host a bookstore, visitor center and energy center, and by summer, landscaping on the grounds will be enhanced, adding more space for reflection and gathering, and over 400 trees—and the Chapel will be reopened. Leslie came to the Chapel after 18 years of directing Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon in Portland, lured by its human rights activism, nearly 50-year history and the “opportunity to be part of its next chapter.” Like Wyatt, he fell in love with the Chapel. “People come here both for reflection and action,” says Leslie. Wyatt has championed the Chapel’s mission since it opened in 1971. She vividly recalls its grand opening. “I was seated so close to the whirling dervishes [Turkish dancers], their skirts touched me,” she says in her smoky drawl. “There are many chapels in the world, but only one Chapel of the world. That’s the Rothko Chapel.” Wyatt is front and center again for the Chapel’s most ambitious renovation to date, encouraging donors internationally. “The arts are the soul of any city,” she says.
Tracy Dieterich believes everyone should have the chance to experience the performing arts. “You appreciate it more when you don’t have it,” he says. Tracy, a current shareholder and senior VP of employee benefits at USI Insurance Services, grew up one of three children of a single, financially struggling mother. Sharing in his passion is his wife, Valerie, a Savills commercial real estate broker, who was raised in Chicago, attending classical concerts and playing violin, piano and oboe. Today, Tracy sits on the board of the Houston Symphony. Via the symphony’s education and community engagement initiatives, nearly 200,000 people attend free (or nearly free) concerts in schools, hospitals, churches and nursing homes. “The symphony performs for more people outside Jones Hall than inside,” says Tracy. “The only time some kids will be exposed is through those free tickets.” A third of the orchestra’s $35.2 million budget comes from ticket sales. Donors fund two-thirds, including next month’s wine dinner the Dieterichs are co-chairing with Carolyn Faulk and Pat Studdert. Tracy and Valerie met on a ski lift in Beaver Creek, Colo., in 2010. Once home in Houston—where they lived 5 miles apart—they fell in love quickly, and wed in Chicago in 2011. “I never knew my father, but the Big Brother I had since age 9 had a major influence on my life,” says Tracy, a Big Brothers Big Sisters-Lone Star board member. “He was the best man at our wedding.”
Much like a romance, when you’ve found the one, you just know. In Houston Symphony’s case, the search for a full-time concertmaster took three years. Then, a year ago in November, the orchestra called Yoonshin Song—concertmaster since 2012 at Detroit Symphony Orchestra—to sub at the last minute for a temporary concertmaster. “It was unexpected,” she says. “I wasn’t looking for a job, but I had such a great time.” After a 45-minute audition last January, she became the unanimous choice of Musical Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the selection committee, starting with the 2019-20 season. The symphony touts not only her artistry, but also her emotional depth and ability to connect. Firm or easygoing as needed, Song sees her role as “the bridge between the whole orchestra and the conductor.” Song began playing the violin at age 5 in South Korea. At 11, she performed as a soloist with her hometown’s Seoul Philharmonic. She remembers a poufy pink dress and being fearless and strong, with no filter. She came to the United States in 2004 to earn her master’s at New England Conservatory. At 25, she won the 2007 Stradivarius International Violin Competition and reached the finals of Houston’s Ima Hogg young-artists contest. “It feels like a long time ago,” says Song, now 37. “As I get older, I feel more myself in the music. And nerves disappear seconds after getting onstage. That’s the beauty of the momentary.”
Kristina Hornberger Somerville loves sharing in Houston’s fine and performing arts. “They heal the soul and make the heart soar,” says Somerville, who joined the Society for the Performing Arts board last May, not long after Meg Booth was appointed CEO. “SPA artists allow you to escape reality, celebrate humanity and dream big.” The San Antonio native comes by her love honestly. While she was in elementary school, her mother performed in a local theater group, and Somerville remembers nights spent doing homework in the audience. Growing up, the “math nerd” studied violin, piano and ballet, jazz and tap dancing, and she was on the dance team while majoring in industrial engineering at Texas A&M. She earned her MBA from Columbia University and worked on Wall Street in investment banking and equity research. Yet performing is not as far removed from her math skills as one might think. “Underlying music and dance is rhythm and counting. Painting, sculpture, architecture and fashion are all about numbers and proportions.” After seven years in New York, she moved to Houston, where she met Paul Somerville, a pipeline exec and now her husband of seven years. Her good fortune drives her to help others, especially children. “God has not granted me children of my own, and because of that I have time,” she says. That time is also spent as a Houston Grand Opera trustee and as a board member of Memorial Hermann Foundation and Houston Children’s Charities. She’s also active with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, of which her husband was board chairman. “Movement, whether it’s dancing or horse riding, keeps me sane,” she says.
Meg Booth has loved the arts since childhood. According to her mother, she says, when she was watching the Boston Pops Orchestra on TV, she “always bowed with the conductor at the end.” She eventually worked at IMG Artists, a huge Manhattan talent management agency, where Houston’s Society for the Performing Arts was a client. “I was impressed by their focus on quality,” Booth says of her first encounters with SPA. But life took her elsewhere—to Baryshnikov Productions in New York and D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where she helmed the dance program for 15 years. When a headhunter called about SPA’s CEO opening, her husband, Brandon, told her she’d be “a fool not to consider it.” Once she met with the staff and board of directors, she agreed. “Our ideas aligned,” Booth says. “My philosophy is that the arts celebrate the heights humanity is capable of. It was exciting to bring my new energy and be met with such energy.” Her first full season, 2019-20, is diverse and unexpected, including a star chef (Salt Fat Acid Heat star Samin Nosrat), a stage show based on kids’ TV animation (Wild Kratts) and a concert collaboration, Come Through, between indie band Bon Iver and TU Dance. Also this season, SPA has commissioned a rare world premiere, on black love and unity, by MacArthur genius grant winner and Abraham in Motion choreographer Kyle Abraham. Though the Boston Pops doesn’t air often, Booth says, thanks to her two daughters under 10, “we have performances in our living room almost every other night.”
Two events rocked Eddie Allen’s world: his father’s death when he was just 29 years old and falling in love with Chinhui Juhn while in graduate school. “My father died at a relatively young age, before he had the opportunity to contribute as much as he could’ve,” says Allen, Asia Society Texas Center’s board chair. “I try to make the most of my time.” His devotion to the center, where he’s been on the board for more than 20 years, stems from “the personal and the professional.” He met his Asian American wife, Juhn, in the late ’80s at the University of Chicago, where both were pursuing PhDs. After visiting her homeland, they married and moved here 28 years ago to teach at the University of Houston. Juhn remains at UH, while Allen manages investment portfolios as senior partner and co-founder at Eagle Global Advisors. The parents of two grown daughters put their money, and efforts, where their heart is—bridging their cultures. “It’s a very different world and perspective,” Allen says of his wife’s immigrant history versus his family’s deep Southern roots. “The Asia Society reminds people of the benefits a multicultural society can bring to Houston,” he adds, extolling its broad buffet of public policy, educational outreach and performing and visual arts. The couple donated $1.5 million to endow a new curator, and they funded a purchase of sculpture by Korean artist Lee Ufan. After Allen introduced his mother to the Asia Society, she spearheaded fundraising for the building campaign, which raised $45 million. “Once she’s interested, she’s all in,” he says. The same can be said of him.
Prince Varughese Thomas has led a double life since age 3, when his family emigrated from Kuwait to Texas. They then hopscotched between Dallas and their Kerala, India, homeland, so Thomas and his sister would know their heritage and relatives. “Back and forth we’d go, giving away all our possessions each time,” he says. All he kept was a Hot Wheels car, Kodak Instamatic camera and his thoroughly American accent. “I always thought I was an American kid,” he says, even though they maintained their traditions and language at home. Camera at his side, he attended the University of Texas at Arlington, flitting between majors. In his senior year, he took a photography class. “I was hooked,” he says. His master’s from the University of Houston is in photography, though his work melds video, photography, drawing and mixed media. As for his themes of cultural identity, war and grief: “Everything is influenced by the duality I experience as an immigrant,” he says. Settled in Houston, Thomas teaches art at Beaumont’s Lamar University. Dear to him is Asia Society Texas Center, where he showed last summer. “Asia Society allows voices to be heard that sometimes get overlooked,” says Thomas. As for what’s next, United Airlines and the City of Houston recently acquired his work for Bush Intercontinental Airport’s Terminal C North as part of an initiative to showcase local artists. “That’s the beauty of Houston,” he says. “There are all these wonderful treasures.”
Photography by: Candace Moore