Classical Music

ROCO Concert Marries Music And Photography

J. Henry Fair's photography will complement ROCO's upcoming concert Tying Up Loose Ends.
J. Henry Fair's photography will complement ROCO's upcoming concert Tying Up Loose Ends. Photo by J. Henry Fair
Environmental justice and orchestral music don't normally get paired together, but leave it to ROCO to marry the two. The group has featured pieces throughout the season that have addressed human trafficking and climate change. This weekend, will be no different in tackling current topics.

ROCO wraps up its 17th season's In Concert series with Tying Up Loose Ends at The Church of St. John the Divine. Conducted by Rei Hotoda in her ROCO debut, the program centers around the world premiere of "Plumes" for large chamber orchestra by composer-in-residence Derek Bermel based on J. Henry Fair’s photography collection “Industrial Scars.” The concert will also include Viet Cuong’s percussion concerto Re(new)al, Darius Milhaud’s jazz-inspired 1923 work "Creation of the World," and a new work by Cynthia Lee Wong, as part of ROCO’s FIFteen Project. The concert takes place at 5 p.m. on Saturday and will also be livestreamed at ROCO.org, Facebook, YouTube, and A440.live.

While discussing "Industrial Scars" and the accompanying photo display, ROCO's founder Alecia Lawyer said, "You see the photos, and you think this is stunning until you see what it is. The difficult topics [surrounding pollution] are not really there to beat you over the head. It's really there to bring awareness to art that makes us contemplate our world. The beauty that is in the photos is also in the music."

During the concert, ROCO will display a series of photos that capture the beauty and destruction of our planet caused by industrial and human impacts. Similar to a Monet painting, the images at first glance from far away are gorgeous, but upon closer inspection, you see the destruction taking place on our planet.

"I found these pictures to be so alluring because the more beautiful they seem, the more terrible situations you see. So it's more about the extremes...you're looking at a duality," said Bermel, the composer of "Plumes." "I found these these photographs really captivating because of their apocalyptic nature, but it was also the contrasts. Through aerial photography, J. Henry Fair was able to capture these very elegant shapes and beautiful colors."

The images depict toxic waste from from oil spills, mountaintop mining, waste storage and other human-made environmental harms.
click to enlarge J. Henry Fair's photography will show the beauty - and destruction - taking place on our planet. - PHOTO BY J. HENRY FAIR
J. Henry Fair's photography will show the beauty - and destruction - taking place on our planet.
Photo by J. Henry Fair
"To me, the power of art really rests in the viewer, listener and audience. These kinds of photos, which depict such beauty and ugliness simultaneously, allow us to have a very complex experience with the art," Bermel continued.

This concert follows ROCO's previous concert, Canvasing the Earth, which also used photos to enrich the audience experience to tell the stories of human trafficking.

For the music, Bermel's piece is split into two parts with a common motif that connects them together.

"I had a melody in mind that was very simple. It was just a few notes. It was five notes that have a kind of rhythm to them. The fifth note is syncopated. So even though it's just a descending scale, it has this marker on it at the end. That becomes central as the melody gets expanded, moves through space and becomes developed. That kind of calling card becomes central to the entire piece," he said. "In the first movement, it's very rhythmic, and then the second movement takes that same motif and draws it way out. The shape is much more elongated, stretched and luxurious."

The threads that weave together art and human experience have been ROCO's overarching theme for this season, and this concert is a culmination of the types of ways art reflects life while also challenging audiences to contemplate the corporeal existence and the actions we see displayed in the world.

"I want it to feel like an experience instead of just a witnessing of a concert. My biggest passion, besides the connection, is that it's an experience that uses all of your senses in the best possible way, and you feel like you matter that you're there. I want the audience to feel that they complete us," Lawyer said.

For Lawyer, the idea of connection is what drives her each season - both connection between people and connection within the arts.

"I really want the audience to feel that they are just as necessary to be there as the musicians playing the music. I want the audience to feel the lights are on them too, and they get to partake in as many possible ways as they can," she said.

ROCO presents Tying Up Loose Ends at 5 p.m. Saturday at The Church of St. John The Divine, 2450 River Oaks Boulevard. For tickets or information, call 713-665-2700 or visit ROCO.org. Tickets are "pay what you wish," which ranges from free to a suggested price of $35. This concert is also made possible in part by the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation.
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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