T hey come to Wyoming from Ireland, England, France, Italy, Brazil, Japan, Canada, Germany, Russia and other areas of the world.
They come to Laramie after appearing in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Montreal, Amsterdam, Dublin, London, Paris, Moscow, Tokyo and other major cosmopolitan centers.
They enthrall audiences at the University of Wyoming after starring at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and the Interlochen Center for the Arts.
And then they may travel to play in Rock Springs, Casper, Jackson, Cheyenne, Gillette and other Wyoming communities.
They are among the finest performers in the world, names such as pianist Barry Douglas, violinist Pinchas Zukerman and jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Their skills and artistry embrace a wide variety of music, dance and theater, ranging from a cappella to zydeco, baroque to jazz, classical to rock, ballet to hip-hop and Shakespeare to H. G. Wells.
All brought to audiences in the Cowboy State by UW Cultural Programs and its director, UW English Professor Cedric Reverand.
“I don’t do this based on just what I like; I try to arrange for first-rate, interesting performers that people will come and see,” Reverand says. “It’s about education and exposing students and the community to the performing arts.”
The result, says Joan Braun, executive director for CU Presents at the University of Colorado, is a cultural gift for Wyoming and the entire Rocky Mountain region.
“Ric is extremely knowledgeable, well known in the industry and a treasured colleague,” Braun says. “Ric does an enormous service to Wyoming. He is so enthusiastic; it spills over to the artists.”
“We're able to offer audiences an opportunity to see some of these same performers, whom you might see in Carnegie
Hall, at half the price, or less, than New York audiences pay.
” - Cedric Reverand
B. Oliver Walter, dean of the UW College of Arts and Sciences, puts it best: “Quite simply, Cultural Programs would not exist without Ric.”
Director of the program since its inception in 1987, Reverand is a renowned scholar of 17th and 18th century English literature who has taught at UW since 1971 and is a recipient of UW’s George Duke Humphrey Distinguished Professor Award, the Pepsi Award for Excellence and the Ellbogen Award for Meritorious Classroom Teaching. He also has been appointed an honorary fellow and life member of Clare Hall at Cambridge University.
Reverand says his interest in UW Cultural Programs stems in part from his background as a musician. He has played piano since age 5 and is also an accomplished harpsichord player.
Through ticket sales, donations, sponsorships and continued support from the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office and the UW President’s Office, Cultural Programs has flourished under Reverand’s leadership.
Michael Griffith, conductor of the UW Symphony Orchestra, lauds Reverand for running a program “that is a successful and important part of life at the university.”
In the 25 years since then-UW President Terry Roark pledged financial support to launch the program, Reverand says nearly 100,000 people have attended performances, with students making up about a third of the audience.
To encourage student and family attendance, UW works to keep ticket prices, which range this season from $8 to $23 depending on the performer, as affordable as possible.
Pointing to a recent advertisement in the arts section of the New York Times, Reverand identifies several performers who have recently been featured or will be featured by UW Cultural Programs.
“We’re able to offer audiences an opportunity to see some of these same performers, whom you might see in Carnegie Hall, at half the price, or less, than New York audiences pay,” Reverand says.
But, he says, Wyoming audiences took time to build an appreciation for the variety and quality of the artists. “During our third year, we brought the Emerson String Quartet in for the first time. There were a 150 people in the audience. A friend turned to me and asked, ‘Why is there nobody here? These guys are really good,’ and my wife answered, ‘What do you expect? They’re a string quartet,’” Reverand says. “After building up the audience by bringing in string quartets every season, we brought the Emersons back, and back again. The third time they performed at UW, they were competing against a country-western concert in the Arena-Auditorium. I expressed surprise when I saw 500 people in the audience. My wife said, ‘What do you expect? They’re a string quartet.’”
While the Emerson String Quartet has been one of the most popular groups, the artist with the most appearances at UW is Douglas, the Irish pianist.
Now no stranger to Wyoming, Douglas has performed eight times at UW, either as a soloist or with his Camerata Ireland chamber orchestra.
Reverand says he first contacted Douglas before he performed in Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1986. He became the first westerner since Van Cliburn to win the gold medal.
“After that, I thought I’d never get him here,” Reverand says. Douglas not only came to Wyoming three years later, but at the price negotiated before he won the Moscow competition.
Since then, Douglas has toured the state three times, performing in Pinedale, Cheyenne, Riverton, Cody and other towns across Wyoming.
Not simply a Wyoming treasure, Reverand is valued among his colleagues. In 1999, Reverand received the Betty Connors Award for outstanding service to the performing arts. The award is granted by the Western Arts Alliance (WAA), one of the largest organizations of performing arts professionals in the United States.
Braun, from the University of Colorado, has worked with Reverand the past 15 years as a member of the Rocky Mountain Arts Consortium, a group of Colorado schools and UW. The consortium meets monthly to discuss booking artists, scheduling tours and other common issues. Braun says the organization helps bring top artists and groups to the area by sharing costs and creating an attractive tour package for communities that would be impractical for a single school to arrange.
She describes Reverand’s efforts to establish a 2005 regional tour by vocalist and conductor Bobby McFerrin as a “pinnacle” in the consortium’s work. But the initial fee quoted by the agent for a single performance triggered a reaction from Reverand.
“Ric laughed and said we can’t possibly pay that fee,” Braun recalls.
Then, Reverand found five dates in row at five different schools and proposed a total package fee for all appearances at about 20 percent higher than the quoted fee. “The agent was speechless, but he told the agent to take the proposal to McFerrin,” Braun says. “Bobby accepted.” Despite its broad reach, Reverand’s work has the greatest impact in Wyoming.
“We work closely with UW Cultural Programs to identify opportunities to bring these world-famous artists out of Laramie to other communities,” says Janelle Fletcher-Kilmer, coordinator of UW Fine Arts Outreach, which works with the WA A to create tours throughout the state.
The initial booking cost paid by UW Cultural Programs to bring performers to Wyoming helps to make community tours affordable, she adds. Also, UW Fine Arts schedules performances by UW faculty and students with the WAA.
Jaymi Gilmour, theater manager for the Cam-Plex in Gillette and a WAA member, says the initial groundwork laid by UW Cultural Programs and coordination through UW Fine Arts Outreach benefits local audiences.
“UW Fine Arts Outreach provides an opportunity to bring quality UW artists to our communities at no cost, as well as professional touring artists at a reduced cost,” Gilmour says.
“The state of Wyoming,” she adds, “is lucky to have a university that sees the benefit of the arts.”