Hurricane Harvey

ROCO’s Life After Harvey Begins With New Music

A mini-profile and season preview of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, which remains Houston Strong and united in their humanity after the recent hurricane

Alecia Lawyer doesn’t have a typical day.

“Every single day is completely different … I [try] to be a great oboist, and make reeds, and be a good wife and mother, and also perform. I do a lot of speaking for organizations to talk about what ROCO is. I do a lot of coaching in universities and colleges and conservatories around the nation to talk about entrepreneurialism in the arts … so I would say that [my] typical day is extremely atypical … Most of my day is spent asking people for money because it is very much funded by the public in Houston. And I enjoy it. I enjoy connecting people – their passions – to their philanthropy.  That’s exciting to me.”

Something else that is atypical about her day?  She drives around in a “ROCO-mobile” – her Lincoln Navigator with custom ROCO plates.

Juilliard-trained musician and award-winning arts leader, Alecia Lawyer, is the Founder, Artistic Director and Principal Oboe of ROCO, which is about to embark on its 13th season.

Meet Alecia in the sound portrait above, as she shares fun facts about herself and ROCO.

Then read on as she describes ROCO’s 2017-2018 season, which features several World Premieres – including two that were commissioned in the aftermath of Harvey.

 

The city is, of course, still recovering after Harvey. Did the storm impact ROCO’s activities or your season in any way?

Yes, it has impacted everyone. However, since there are STILL people flooded and waiting for the last bit of water to recede before attempting any recovery or rebuild, we just want to keep the focus on them. Ironically, while Houston might now be the most diverse city in the U.S., right now we have only two kinds of people: wet and dry, which was an observation by a friend who is still in trauma. No judgment in either side, just side by side, kind of like how the Dr. Seuss Sneetches book ends.

 

Has Harvey affected you and ROCO as artists? Will it influence the spirit of your season?

Harvey has made us even more determined to be humans first and musicians second. While our theme this year is “Cultivate Curiosity!” this now can apply to the world looking into our city and being curious how Houstonians have brilliantly showed our courage, compassion and strength.

 

How has ROCO been involved with using music as a means to help the community heal in the days since Harvey?

We commissioned two composers to write pieces to celebrate Houston. The first premieres this week, September 22 and September 23: Anthony DiLorenzo’s Anthem of Hope: Houston Strong.  ROCO is making this piece available to all arts groups in Houston to perform through this 2017-18 season, creating a musical thread to tie us together. 

The second commission, “Big Heart” by Kevin Puts, is a vocal piece with words by Mark Campbell, which harkens back to Katrina and Houston embracing people of New Orleans (scheduled for November 11).

 

How did the Harvey commission by Anthony DiLorenzo come together so quickly? I assume he had to write it in matter of days! What effect do you hope that the piece will have on Houstonians?

We had previously worked with Anthony in 2014, as well as over the last few years, which led me to think of him for this piece that strives to represent the essence of our city. I called him Sunday, to request this new fanfare. He had about a week (right in the middle of his own film score recording).

Again, we are sharing the anthem with other arts organizations in Houston and encouraging them to put their own creative touches on it, through programming, choreography or the various instrumental combinations that can manifest. 

Our hope at ROCO is that the performance of the piece touches people and reaffirms the pride we all have in Houston. The idea is to create a thread of music tying us all together, illustrating the unity Houston has displayed in the past few weeks.

 

Is there a theme, or title, to your season?

“Cultivate Curiosity” describes our overall goal not just for our audience, but for our musicians, too. We invite people into a life-long learning experience and ask our musicians to always push the envelope in live performance. Let’s relight that pilot light, people!

 

How would you describe your season in three words?

Not floccinaucinihilipilification (curious?)

 

How are you opening the season?

On September 22 at Miller Outdoor Theater – the quintessential “All-Access Pass” to the performing arts in Houston! We will start with the new “Houston Strong” anthem by Anthony DiLorenzo and then move into pieces by Stravinsky, Hindemith and Weill. Our other World Premiere commission, which has been in the works for a good long time, is “Five Views of an Unfamiliar Tune for Solo Percussion and Chamber Orchestra” by Paul Lansky, featuring our own Matt McClung soloing. It involves many percussion instruments and, in true Matt style, quite a number of toys! And, of course in keeping with ROCO tradition, there may be a surprise (or maybe the surprise is there is no surprise)!

 

You present three types of concert series.  How does each one represent a different aspect of ROCO’s personality?

Our three series showcase the different ways in which the audience can engage with our musicians. The In Concert performances feature our full 40-piece chamber orchestra. The Unchambered series features one or more individual musicians in the intimate spaces at the MATCH, which allows our audience to get to know each musician better – and for direct, personal interactions between the two through music and dialogue. ROCO Connections are site-specific collaborations with other arts groups and community partners, such as Peter and the Wolf at the Zoo, Beer and Brass at St. Arnold Brewery, and a new one that we have wanted to do for years: A Musical Trick or Treat at the Heritage Society, where one musician is in each home and the audience travels house to house to hear the music.

 

You have 9 World Premieres scheduled for this season (actually, 11, including the two “Harvey” commissions)!  What inspired some of them?  Why is commissioning new music important to you?

Commissioning music is also about forming relationships through musical conversation. ROCO’s entire joie de vie is making it personal. Commissions don’t happen in a vacuum. Living musicians choose living composers who are in dialogue and partnership during the creative process. When it is a principal musician’s turn to solo, we offer them a choice of a commission or a piece in the standard repertoire. Almost always, ROCO musicians choose to premiere a piece and select a composer based upon their own experiences and relationships.  

Other commissions are born out of other personal histories, such as the punk rock-inspired World Premiere in February. Legendary Love is the title of the piece honoring Christian Kidd, lead singer of the punk rock group, The Hates. He developed throat cancer this year, and the musical community is surrounding him with support. I have known him for years, watching him ride his moped around with his huge, bright red mohawk! Composer Dan Visconti does a brilliant job of combining different musical styles, while also having the ability to keep it in the classical genre. 

November brings us Michael Gandolfi’s “JFK 100,” marking John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday and the courage of people in tumultuous times who continue to reach for the stars. 

 

You mix food and music on some of your concerts this season!  What do chocolates and beer have to do with the season?

Maxime Goulet is a Canadian composer I found through a very random path of searching. He writes gaming music, as well as other very creative and interactive pieces. When I heard Symphonic Chocolates, my first thought was “this canNOT be a good piece, but what a cool idea.” Well, it IS a fabulous piece, and how fun that the audience gets to taste a piece of chocolate for each movement!  Lorento Golofeev will be performing the string quartet version on his Unchambered concert, Musical Parfait, at the MATCH while Araya Chocolates is our sweets provider.

We have been performing our Beer and Brass concert since 2008 when St. Arnold Brewery was still at its old location up Hempstead. Drinking songs definitely lend themselves to brass instruments with standard brass jokes surrounding the golden beverage.

 

How do you come up with these creative, unexpected program concepts?!

By surrounding myself with people smarter than me and who tap deeply into their own talent. By allowing all of us in ROCO to feel vulnerable and take risks without the fear of failure because life is all one great big experiment. “Do or do not.  There is no try.” By continually seeking the humor, joy and irony in our world.

 

What would people be surprised to learn about ROCO?

Our son, Jacob, came up with our name … or so he claims!  I honestly don’t remember. I will say that I had often spoken of the idea of creating the group, and he was around to hear the concepts, even at age 5, so I can’t really argue! And he and Zachary, our other son, were the very first ROCOrooters!

 

Besides getting people to come to your concerts, what are your hopes for the 2017-18 season?

That ROCO starts to stand for all of the words we believe of ourselves:

Riveting Performances
Original Works
Creative inspirations
Open to all

Refreshing
Outstanding
Clever
Original

and on and on 

That people try all three of our series. There is not one concert that is the same as the next.  

That audience members in ROCO know they have walked into a safe place where they are given permission to 1) not know anything about classical music when they come through the door or 2) know a ton about the field, but still find music or things they never knew or considered and 3) interact with, and experience, a conversation in music with ROCO’s incredible people.

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Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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