"The beat goes on," is an idea many of Houston's performing arts groups can get behind. Despite COVID-19's crushing blow to, well, everything, the arts continue to be a beacon of hope. Whether gathering in person, or enjoying performances online or previously recorded performances, it allows for a moment of escape and joy. Continuing in its mission of fostering relationships with audiences through the language of music, ROCO has announced its 2020-2021 season, titled "Color and Light."
Taking audiences on an illuminating, global journey celebrating nature and culture, the season will include ten new works commissioned by ROCO, including eight co-commissions in partnership with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Orlando Philharmonic, The Knights, and more. Alyssa Morris serves as composer-in-residence for the season, writing a triptych of pieces showcasing the ensemble‘s flexible model - including a work for wind sextet, solo instrument, and a piece for chamber orchestra inspired by the colorful children’s book “Musicians of the Sun,” based upon an Aztec tale.
Regarding the overall theme, the organization's founder and artistic director Alecia Lawyer said it’s very timely, but it wasn’t originally planned to suggest such a message of hope in the time of COVID-19.
"It was six months ago when we started talking about the theme and season. I heard a quote about music illuminating time, and it’s about the beauty of what you hear reflected in what you see. We started in the last couple of years having bright accessories or shoes. We have one foot in [the classical] world and one foot in [the contemporary world]," she said. From there, the theme naturally unfolded.
The season is comprised of three mini series: In Concert, Connections and Unchambered.
This year’s In Concert performances for the full 40-piece ensemble feature new premieres which include a concerto for bandoneon composed and performed by Richard Scofano, a piece for strings by Anna Clyne co-commissioned with the Australian, Scottish, and Lausanne Chamber Orchestras in honor of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, the premiere of Alyssa Morris’ chamber orchestra work - highlighting ROCO’s principal winds, a new work by Jonathan Leshnoff co-commissioned with the IRIS Orchestra, and a new co-commission by Reena Esmail based on the poem “The History of Red,” which will feature soprano Kathryn Mueller.
Noticeably present in the season is the use of living composers, which is something Lawyer feels enhances the music because it allows for "a dialogue and an influence with people who are in the sounds of our time."
"In this time of distancing, living composers will be valued a lot more. You can't Zoom with Beethoven, but you can Zoom with the living composers," she said. "We have so many pieces that are relatively new. It’s a quilting together of all the eras and dynamics music represents."
ROCO’s Connections series explores the unique spaces of Houston and will once again provide new ways to experience classical music outside of the concert hall, with the return of familiar events such as a Yuletide Concert, Peter & the Raptor, and Beer & Brass. ROCO will also perform a Musical Ofrenda at MECA Houston, and return to Holocaust Museum Houston to tell the story of composer Milad Yousufi’s cultural journey as a refugee from Afghanistan through a new five-movement chamber suite with narrator.
"Weaving music through the unique spaces of Houston is what we do. Classical music can reach into every crevice of our society and bring that light. We find those really great places in Houston and share the music of living composers, while also reaching back in time. It’s global, and it’s never ending."
Additionally, the Unchambered series, where ROCO musicians curate their own concerts, will move to a new location at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
The full season is as follows:
- September 26, 2020 Starburst | In Concert
- October 14, 2020 Laurie Meister (harp), Spring Hill (oboe), Rebecca Powell Garfield (flute) | Unchambered
- October 2020 Musical Ofrenda @ MECA | Connections
- November 14, 2020 Oceans | In Concert
- December 5, 2020 Pasha Sabouri (violin) | Unchambered
- December 12, 2020 Yuletide Concert @ Czech Center Museum | Connections
- January 9, 2021 Peter and The Raptor @ HMNS | Connections
- January 14, 2021 Beer & Brass @ St. Arnold | Connections
- February 4, 2021 Celebration of Margaret Bonds @ Rienzi | Connections
- February 13, 2021 Winds Sextet | Unchambered
- February 27, 2021 Shadows | In Concert
- March 6, 2021 ROCO Brass Quintet | Unchambered
- March 11, 2021 Holocaust Museum Houston | Connections
- April 24, 2021 Flamenco | In Concert
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It's only natural to wonder how ROCO will still perform if COVID-19 extends into the fall. Lawyer said, "We’ve been exploring that idea, even if we’re in a social distancing time. We’ve already explored how the musicians can play far enough apart, and maybe we'll livestream through an empty hall. We'll find a way to share what we do."
In a time when the pandemic has stoked fears about flying, perhaps the idea of musicians making a road trip is a fitting way to kick off the group's 16th season.
Lawyer said, "The musicians are located all over the United States, but they’ve talked about road tripping it for the September opening. The musicians want to be here. If we do have to wear masks, they won’t be black. They’ll be color."
For more information about the season, visit ROCO.org or call 713-665-2700. Season tickets range $90 to $350, with discounts for seniors and students.