Performing Arts Houston Announces New/Now Commissioning Project Winners

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

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(Houston) – Advancing a project spotlighting and supporting working Houston artists, Performing Arts Houston announces the winners of the second annual New/Now: The Houston Artist Commissioning Project. The four winners, reflecting the diversity of arts in our city, represent a wide range of artistic genres, creative voices, and cultural backgrounds: composer and educator Anthony Brandt, Mexican-born composer and cinematographer J.E. Hernández, Angolan-born musician and songwriter Vivalda Ndula, and Tazeen Zahida, a playwright who draws from her experiences living in the Middle East and America. Performing Arts Houston will present New/Now world premieres on February 24 and 25, at the Wortham Center’s Cullen Theater. Tickets are on sale now for $25, at

Each artist has been awarded a commission to create a new 25-minute performance. Winning groups receive a $6,000 cash award, marketing and publicity support, and a full presentation of their new work in Houston’s Theater District. Because creating greater connection through the arts within our communities is a major initiative of the project, the artists will participate in curated engagement programs for the public and Houston area students.

“These winners reflect the richness of Houston’s cultural fabric and the plurality of our communities,” said Performing Arts Houston CEO Meg Booth. “Each artist has a distinctive voice and powerful stories to tell. Their work represents different genres and styles, fields of interest, and personal experiences. We’re proud to present a new works series that offers such a range of artistic expression and exploration and celebrates artists from our vibrant community.

2022 New/Now Winners (in alphabetical order)

Anthony Brandt is a composer, researcher, author, educator, and Artistic Director of Musiqa, an award-winning new music ensemble. His musical catalogue includes three chamber operas, as well as orchestral, chamber, vocal, theater, dance, and television scores. Recordings of his music are available on the Albany, Crystal, and Navona labels. An advocate for closer ties between the arts and science, he co-authored The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World with neuroscientist David Eagleman and is currently a co-investigator in musical experiments involving seniors with mild cognitive impairment, stroke recovery, surgeon burnout, and dance. He teaches music composition and theory at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.

Brandt’s commissioned work, Diabelli 200, marks the 200th anniversary of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, and in collaboration with neuro-engineer Dr. Pepe Contreras-Vidal, will explore the neural synchrony between the performers and changes in brain activity throughout the performance. Brandt will use Diabelli’s waltz and Beethoven’s approach to the variations as inspiration for excerpts of his own variations, scored for flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, and cello.

Composer and cinematographer J.E. Hernández is a Mexican-born, Houston-based composer focusing on elevating personal and cultural narrative through his work. Hernández’s music has been performed at prestigious venues and by distinguished ensembles and organizations such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Houston Grand Opera, American Opera Project, Apollo Chamber Players, Foundation for Modern Music, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, American Composers Forum, the Brazil National Orchestra, and in a wide variety of films, both in the United States and abroad. He holds a degree from the University of Houston.

Hernández’s commissioned work, Desert Shelter is an interdisciplinary exploration and highlighting of the experience of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border via the Sonoran Desert pass, told through music and dance. The arduous journey of migrants is physicalized through J.E.’s composition, scored for a string sextet, and a collaboration with The Ponce Project and NobleMotion Dance.

Born and raised in Luanda, Angola, Vivalda Ndula became one of the voices of the new generation of Angolan musicians that has made a significant cultural and international impact on today’s Angolan music. Ndula is an activist, singer-songwriter, percussionist, and dancer. She is a multi-award winning, nominated/finalist of StarAfrica Sound, (ISC) International Songwriting Competition, and Angola Music Awards (AMA). Through her music, Vivalda raises social awareness against child labor, modern slavery, and human trafficking with her award-nominated songs Mazui (voices) and Monandengue (children).

Ndula’s new work, Mbandu ni Mbandu, meaning “side by side,” is a music project composed of four pieces sung in Angola’s native language Kimbundu. Mbandu ni Mbandu examines ongoing social issues such as access to health care, racial injustice, and gun violence, and conceptualizes a world where people can live together despite their differences.

Born in Karachi, Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia, Tazeen Zahida writes plays in English and Urdu. Her plays are inspired by current affairs, social issues, family dynamics, and her experiences of living in the Middle East and America. She spearheads Houston’s only South Asian theatre company, Tee Zee Productions. Through her work, Tazeen intends to bring to life hard-to-tell and harder-to-sell stories. She is a literary translator and critic. She believes that poetry is the ultimate form of expression.

Zahida’s new theatrical work, And The Clay Pot Speaketh, retells a South Asian folktale, the love story of Sohni and Mahiwal, from Punjab. The tragic romance will be told through musical pantomime with narration, supported by South Asian poetry and folk music.

Launched in 2020 by Performing Arts Houston, New/Now: The Houston Artist Commissioning Project’s goal is to promote and sustain Houston’s working artists and artist communities by encouraging and supporting new works. Houston is the most culturally diverse city in the nation. We promote more connected and thriving communities by celebrating artist voices here at home.

In the pilot year, the project progressed through two initial phases: virtual commissions during the pandemic followed by large scale commissions presented within the Theater District during Performing Arts Houston’s 21/22 season. A significant cross section of performing arts disciplines were represented as were members of historically divested groups. This ground-breaking endeavor would not have been possible without the generous support of the Performing Arts Houston Board of Directors and funders including Mid America Arts Alliance, the National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts and The Cullen Foundation along with the SPA Foundation through the Mattox Fund for New Works.

Inaugural New/Now performances took place in fall 2021, culminating in six world premieres on-stage at Jones Hall. The impact of these performances will be felt for a long time to come. Reflecting on the significance of seeing the variety of Houston artists on one of the city’s most iconic stages, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner remarked, “In Houston, we are highly diverse, but every day we are seeking to be inclusive, and we are doing it right here.”

Inaugural 2021 New/Now Winners and World Premiere Commissions:
Loop38 and Houston Contemporary Dance Company
New work: Body and Spirit/Corpórea y Espíritu

Patrick “PJ” Davis
New work: Black, Blue, All Lives; Oh My!

Say Girl Say with Two Star Symphony and Input/Output
New work: Becoming

Riyaaz Qawwali
New work: Saint Kabir’s Poems in Qawwali

Harrison Guy
New work: Colored Carnegie

Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton
New work: The World’s Intermission

About Performing Arts Houston
For over 55 years, Performing Arts Houston has connected audiences with exceptional artists through diverse performances and learning experiences throughout Houston communities and schools. We welcome all to ignite and cultivate passion for the performing arts and explore the vast landscape of artistic expression to discover new understanding about ourselves, create community, inspire dialogue, and enrich our world. More at

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New/Now: The Houston Artist Commissioning Project
February 24-25, 2022
Friday 7:30 pm, Saturday 7:30 pm
Cullen Theater, Wortham Center
Tickets are $25

Anthony Brandt
Diabelli 200

J.E. Hernández
Desert Shelter

Vivalda Ndula
Mbandu ni Mbandu

Tazeen Zahida
And the Clay Pot Speaketh

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Media Contact:
Caroline Senter