Wait. What? ROCO aims for surprise in the way it presents classical music



Mei-Ann Chen

Photo: Courtesy Photo TMF / Courtesy Photo TMF

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the upcoming seventeenth season of ROCO is to see a chestnut like Mussorgsky’s “Pictures from an Exhibition” on the program. But here’s why: Founder and artistic director Alecia Lawyer combed through the Houston Museum of Art’s catalog to find images that matched the movements of the run-down orchestral eve.

“Even if we make war horses, there is always something related to Houston or [that is] unique, ”she says. “It is important.”

Consider the other two pieces in this program, scheduled for February 26 at Saint-Jean-le-Divin church. Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Earth” and Leanna Primiani’s “Freedom Place” tackle issues of climate change and human trafficking head-on, respectively. Both are also world premieres, being part of eight in the new season which kicks off with Saturday’s “Bursting at the Seams” concert; and over 120 since the formation of the former River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in 2005.

Playing it safe is not in ROCO’s playbook; making connections is its fuel. The lawyer said, “We embrace innovation not only for innovation, but to continue to connect more deeply. “

ROCO: Bright at the seams

When: 5:25 p.m. Sep.

Or: The Church of St. John the Divine, 2540 River Oaks Blvd.

Details: suggested price of $ 35; 713-665-2700; roco.org

The orchestra was one of the first to adopt live streaming of its concerts, which it has been doing since 2013. Last season, it teamed up with the Buffalo Bayou Partnership to publish QR codes equipped with lists of personalized reading at nearly 40 locations along Buffalo Bayou, from Shepherd Drive to Fifth Ward. .

This year, in addition to instituting an all-you-can-eat payment model for concerts, ROCO plans to expand service across the city with new partners such as the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center and Texas Southern University. Or this: Rather than being anchored in a single performance space, the orchestra will perform at nine locations across the city, including the Asia Society Texas Center, the Holocaust Museum Houston and the all-new Post HTX.

“We have the advantage in Houston of exploring the world in our city,” Lawyer says. “It’s exciting. It’s a place that can manifest some of the best art and music, period.

ROCO’s programming has always been heavy on living composers, especially women and people of color. The benefits go beyond the diversity of voices, Lawyer says: Their works speak invariably in our time – as in Kernis and Primiani’s pieces this season, among others – making the composer, she notes, “the matchmaker. between the audience and the stage “.

“This composer can really make himself known and make his language speak from musicians to the public,” she explains.

Additionally, every ROCO concert this year will be conducted by a female conductor, starting with artistic partner Mei-Ann Chen at the opening of the “Bursting at the Seams” season. The under-representation of women in the ranks of conductors is a long-standing problem that has recently started to approach critical mass, but Lawyer says her mission is simply, as she puts it, to “normalize diversity” .

“I want to get to a point where it’s not even noticed,” she said. “Because I didn’t do it on purpose. It wasn’t, ‘This year we’re going to have all the women.’ No. I had a list of people I was trying to do, and I think even next season it will probably end up being [all] women too.

ROCO also gives its musicians a lot of latitude, inviting them to give their opinion on the repertoire and to help organize selected concerts during the year. The lawyer encourages her musicians to let their guard down and take risks while they perform, opportunities they might not have in more closed ensembles.

“It’s important for musicians to have this freedom when they’re at this high artistic level, because when you work so hard to be perfect, you’re always going to fail,” she says. “It’s to be in the zone; it’s like putting basketball in the hoop every time because you’re in the zone.

Likewise, ROCO lets the house light up during performances, another way to bridge the gap between performers and the audience Lawyer wants to send on “an adventure every time.”

“I think they’re starting to [catch on], “she said.” They come to concerts expecting a chef’s choice meal: ‘Hey, taste it; if you don’t like it, you’ve got another class coming up in a minute. really opens them up to accept and enjoy the experience of listening to new music.

Chris Gray is a writer based in Galveston.


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