Classical Music

ROCO Weaves Musical Threads Throughout Upcoming Season

ROCO performs with Mei-Ann Chen as conductor.
ROCO performs with Mei-Ann Chen as conductor. Photo by Ray Kuglar, Courtesy of Blueprint Film Co
ROCO recently announced its 2021-22 season, which marks year number 17 for the organization to offer the most fun an audience can have with chamber and classical music. Centering around the theme of “Musical Threads,” the programming offers a well-rounded lineup of exciting world premieres, collaborations and a continued exploration into Houston’s unique spaces.

Reinforcing music as a through line that connects us all, the ensemble’s upcoming season weaves tales of hope, highlighting timely and impactful topics through eight new commissions in partnership with orchestras across the world, focusing on common threads of environmental awareness, human rights and the scarcity of time.

“People always ask me how I put together the programs. Unlike being a puppet master, I’m more of a quilt maker. I take people’s [individual] squares and knit them into something unique. That’s where the idea of threads came in. Through the values of access, boldness and connectivity, ROCO finds ways to weave music through our whole community,” said Artistic Director Alecia Lawyer.

The organization is certainly no stranger to offering music in unique settings and memorable ways. ROCO partnered with Buffalo Bayou last year to provide a new experience along its banks. "ROCO on Buffalo Bayou" introduced 40 stops at landmarks and public art exhibits throughout the trails, each with its own QR code linking to works from ROCO’s 15-year catalog of concerts available for free listening, specially curated by the ROCO team.

In that same spirit, ROCO’s Unchambered series highlights the distinct talents of ROCO’s musicians through intimate, self-curated programs and includes audience interaction. It returns this year to the MATCH and will spotlight strings, brass, and percussion in programs from concertmaster Scott St. John with violinist Pasha Sabouri, the ROCO Brass Quintet, and ROCO Percussion Trio.

Likewise, ROCO’s Connection series takes classical music outside of the concert hall and into the community through creative collaborations that explore unique spaces around Houston. This season will welcome the return of beloved events including the traditional Musical Ofrenda at MECA@TBH (Talento Bilingue de Houston), Yuletide Brunch & Brass at the Czech Center Museum Houston, a chamber performance at Holocaust Museum Houston, and a Texan-Schubertiade performance at Rienzi. ROCO will also perform the world premiere of Huang Ruo’s Passacaglia for Strings entitled “A Dust in Time” at the Asia Society Texas Center.

And the beat goes on for ROCO as it continues offering music to the community. Lawyer mentioned the organization has upwards of 35 projects in development, including one at Texas Children’s Hospital. “We developed three codes of mood-based playlists. We broke them into bold, joyful and soothing. Each code has about 100 pieces that randomize. It’s huge, and it’s so exciting. We paid for the last 15 years to have the rights to listen to our music for free and stream for free. Now, we’re bringing it to the people,” Lawyer said. She further hinted that deals are in the works to continue similar partnerships with the Menninger Clinic, Texas Southern University and the Holocaust Museum Houston among many others.

What’s more, the ensemble will welcome Derek Bermel as the season’s composer-in-residence. During his tenure, he’ll write a triptych of pieces showcasing ROCO’s flexibility, including a work for large chamber orchestra and a collection of songs based on the writings of Chicana author Sandra Cisneros.

“We’ve known each other for decades, and ROCO has performed a piece of his about birds. That piece is on Buffalo Bayou along the lunar light trails. It’s a beautiful piece to listen to as you’re biking. Now that he is our composer-in-residence, our relationship comes full circle,” Lawyer added.

It goes without saying that ROCO’s In Concert series showcases the full orchestra in striking form as they play music that is both timeless yet timely for current events.

This year’s In Concert performances for the full ensemble of 40 musicians feature a number of new premieres, including “Ice Storm Symphony” by Maxime Goulet which is based on the historic Canadian ice storm of 1998, and co-commissioned with Orchestre Classique de Montreal, Laval Symphony Orchestra, Sherbrooke Symphony Orchestra, and Trois-Rivières Symphony Orchestra; Mark Adamo’s cello concerto “Last Year,” a piece co-commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra, New Century Chamber Orchestra, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, and ROCO, and inspired by natural disasters and climate change; and “Earth,” a collaboration between composer Aaron Jay Kernis and poet and agricultural researcher Kai Hoffman-Krull which features tenor Nicholas Phan, and reflects on the fundamental environmental crisis of our time.
click to enlarge
Conductor and Artistic Partner Mei-Ann Chen will be one of several women featured in ROCO's 2021-22 season.
Photo by Kristin Hoebermann
Also of note, for the first time in ROCO’s 17-year history each of the ensemble’s In Concert performances will feature a female conductor, including Artistic Partner Mei-Ann Chen. But Lawyer swears the reason these concerts will leave an indelible mark isn’t because of the gender of the person on the podium…it’s just because they’re very talented at what they do.

The full chronological season is as follows:

September 25, 2021
Bursting at the Seams | In Concert

October 9, 2021
Mixed Messages | In Concert

October 29, 2021
Musical Ofrenda at Miller Outdoor Theatre | Connections

October 30, 2021
Musical Ofrenda at MECA@TBH | Connections

November 13, 2021
A Stitch in Time | In Concert

November 19, 2021
A Dust in Time | Connections

December 11, 2021
Yuletide Brunch & Brass | Connections

January 13, 2022
Beer and Brass | Connections

January 22, 2022
A House of My Own | Connections

February 5, 2022
Ties That Bind | Unchambered

February 26, 2022
Canvasing the Earth | In Concert

March 12, 2022
Tapestry | Unchambered

March 26, 2022
Pulling at Strings | Connections

April 2, 2022
Spinning Tales | Unchambered

April 12, 2022
ROCO Wind Trio @ Cypress Creek FACE | Connections

April 23, 2022
Tying Up Loose Ends | In Concert

May 7, 2022
Interwoven | Connections

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 713-665-2700.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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