ROCO Rocks Classical Music, World Premieres In 15th Season Kickoff

The composer is the matchmaker between the music and the stage.
The composer is the matchmaker between the music and the stage. Photo by Blueprint Film Co.
The month of September heralds the start of a new arts season, speckled with fresh interpretations of older shows as well as never before seen or heard new works. ROCO, formerly known as River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, is one of those arts groups doing its part to bring new ideas to the forefront, which it will present September 27 and 28 with Time for Hope at Miller Outdoor Theatre and St. John the Divine.

"We have the most fun you can have with serious music," said ROCO Founder Alecia Lawyer, describing the kickoff concert of the group's 15th season.

The first concert will show a modern side of music. Built around a world premiere by Lisa Bielawa titled "Centuries in the Hours," the conductor-less piece will be sung by mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin. The text for the piece is a collection of personal writings by American women of the 18th–20th centuries whose life circumstances rendered them historically invisible.

There's another twist to the performance - Rubin is blind.

"Our soprano happens to be blind, and that’s important because that’s another layer of what we do. We have programs in braille, and that’s a way we approach music performance," Lawyer said. "All music can be appreciated by all people. [Laurie Rubin is] bringing her special gift to delve into that. It’s going to connect in a way."

The second half of the performance keeps the world premieres coming with three more: Desmond Ikegwuonu's "Na So E Be," Osnat Netzer's "Varium cæli" and Mark Buller's "Whirligig." Lawyer described ROCO's upcoming concert as just a taste of the diversity and creativity of works in store for the season.

"All these commissions are based on personal relationships. Releasing someone into creativity is a goal of all time," she said. "Classical music is its own genre. Inside classical music, there’s a vast difference between all types. It has such breadth and depth of soundscape, and that’s what is fascinating to me."

She mentioned performing music created by living composers taps into a different relationship than playing the works of a deceased composer. Take playing Joseph Haydn, for example, versus playing one of concerts' commissioned pieces.

"Music itself is a language. Two hundred years ago, it was still a language, but when we’re playing those pieces, it feels like Haydn is between the audience and the language," she said. "Having a living composer helps understand the co-creation of what happens with that composer. It explores even deeper with what they wanted. We don’t have the opportunity to ask Haydn what he wanted, but we do have that now."

Another must-see of this weekend's show is the debut of ROCO’s first-ever Artistic Partner, Mei-Ann Chen, who will conduct works by Houston composer Alejandro Basulto, Haydn and Judith Shatin. Shatin's piece, a work about climate change and global warming titled “Ice Becomes Water,” will be accompanied by photos by local artist Libbie Masterson.

For those with children, sitting through the 40-piece professional orchestra's two hour concert might seem like a tall order, but ROCO is offering a solution during the Saturday performance to keep the kiddos satisfied while mom and dad can enjoy a date night and fine music. ROCOrooters, an educational program offering up to six hours of childcare under the supervision of certified and bonded childcare professionals, will provide a music lesson about one piece from the concert’s program, a trip into the concert hall to hear the piece performed live, an educational recap and optional movies and pizza afterward until 10:30 p.m. Children aged 2 months to 10 years are welcome, with drop-offs starting at 4:30 p.m. and latest pick-up at 10:30 p.m.

Lawyer said this is a great option that helps introduce youngsters to art at a young age and hopefully creates a lifelong interest in music.

"You get a way for children to explore it at nine or 10 years old and keep that pilot light lit," she said. "It’s like a really good virus. It hopefully spreads in the best possible way."

ROCO's "Time For Hope" plays 8 p.m. Friday September 27 at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive; 5 p.m. Saturday September 28 at St. John the Divine, 2450 River Oaks Blvd. For concert information, call 713-665-2700 or visit  For information about ROCOrooters, visit Friday's performance is free. Saturday ranges $15 - $35. ROCOrooters costs $35 per child with discounts for additional children.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd