In early 2014 I was approached by The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra founder Alecia Lawyer to compose an original work for ROCO’s November concert series. Alecia had familiarized herself with several of my previous compositions and felt I would be well suited to write a piece in a similar vein. Fantasy is a place I’m very comfortable. We both took a couple of months to digest the possibilities. Alecia quickly beat me to the punch! She came up with an idea to have me write a piece that would complement Louis Carroll’s famous poem, “The Jabberwocky”.
“Fantastic,” I said. “I love doing dark ominous music!”
“NO!” Alecia said. “This piece is going on a concert with a Beethoven Piano concerto. Keep it light and up.” I chortled.
Where to start? After a few months (and a lot of head scratching) I began the process. I needed to find the work’s tonality and color. I started simply, with a few chords and harmonies that would keep the music light and whimsical as well as being true to the nature of the poem itself. After all, it comes from a place in Wonderland where everything…is….WACKO! The music started to take shape, but I was unclear where I was going with all of this. Was I going to underscore the narrative? Write about the many odd and inventive creatures from Carroll’s imagination?
It wasn’t long before I had the idea to take things from a different angle. Why couldn’t I go further within the poem and explore a bit of that world? With Alice as our guide, let us journey into the Tulgey Woods where Borogoves, Jub Jubs, and Mome Raths play, and the haunting burbles of a more menacing foe awaits.
– Composer, Anthony DiLorenzo, is an Emmy Award-winning composer and trumpeter… read more about Anthony
Join ROCO for the world premiere performance of Jabberwocky on Saturday, November 8, at The Church of St. John the Divine. Anthony will give a pre-concert composer talk at 4pm. The concert begins at 5pm.
And on Sunday, November 9, join ROCO for an encore performance of the concert at The Centrum in Spring, Texas. This will be a weekend of Serious Fun!
Alecia Lawyer founded the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, or ROCO as it’s affectionately known, 10 years ago. The orchestra is celebrating its 10th anniversary with its fullest season yet, one that includes a larger chamber music series, collaborations with other arts organizations, and four new world première commissions which the orchestra debuts in its mainstage concerts at the Church of St. John the Divine in River Oaks.
Alecia is not just the ROCO founder, she’s also its artistic director and principal oboist. She talks with Houston Public Media’s St.John Flynn about this weekend’s season-opening concerts.
ROCO performs Saturday, September 27th, 5PM, at St. John the Divine and Sunday, September 28th, 8PM, at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park.
By Bridget Kinneary, ROCO Intern
Bridget Kinneary is a rising senior at the Eastman School of Music. She is working on a double major in Viola Performance and Music Education. Bridget is also enrolled in Eastman’s Arts Leadership Program. She served as a ROCO Intern during the summer of 2014.
Being a student of music in this day and age is exhilarating because it is a time of rapid change and incredible opportunity for the arts. ROCO is an organization that has embraced that opportunity, taken risks, and pioneered new concert models that shake up all expectations of what classical music should be and how it should be presented. I feel so fortunate to have spent four weeks this summer working alongside the staff as an intern. I had so many experiences and gained so many skills that will impact my career- skills I could have never learned inside a practice room!
First, computer proficiency. While at ROCO, I worked extensively with Microsoft Excel, and I had the opportunity to work with a new online initiative- the Cultural Data Project. Dexterity and familiarity in both of these programs has given me an appreciation for the amount of work it takes to stay organized, and a bit of skill to make that organization happen in my life!
Next, community relations. Doing Grant Research for ROCO and helping the other fabulous intern, Rachel Smith, with her project of visiting local businesses and asking for silent auction donations, was an enormous learning experience. It takes a lot of sincerity and hard work to build a genuine relationship with the community, yet it is essential to the success of any arts organization. Finding myself in situations such as explaining to a clerk at a boutique the difference between a violin and a viola, forced me to assume the role of more than just a musician – it made me into an advocate for classical music and its importance.
Ah, and the unexpected tasks- every intern has ‘em! This year, I got to take inventory of ROCO’s operations equipment alongside the Operations Manager himself! The hours I spent organizing supplies, checking stand lights, and pulling gaff tape off of extension cords gave me a lasting appreciation for all of the “behind the scenes” aspects of putting on a concert. Plus, after all of that yanking, I don’t think my fingers will let me forget the proper way to pull up gaff tape! I will never sit in an orchestra again without thinking of the operations crew and all of their work.
Now, at the end of my internship, I feel like a much more informed student and musician. ROCO’s creative spirit and positive attitude about the versatility of music and its potential to shape the community and impact lives will stay with me for a long time!
By Jason Stephens, ROCO librarian
As ROCO’s orchestra librarian, I find and order all the music that ROCO plays in their full chamber orchestra concerts . . . And occasionally, I get some obscure requests that are a little harder to find. Last year, Alecia and Kristin Wolfe Jensen approached me about finding a bassoon concerto by French composer François Devienne for Kristin to perform during the 2013-2014 season. After originally ordering the solo part for a different concerto from Germany (apparently, Devienne wrote TWO bassoon concertos in C Major), I ran into a wall and couldn’t seem to find any reference to this piece being in publication.
In the orchestra library world, there are some giants and gurus that librarians turn to . . . And this piece definitely warranted extra help. I sent an email to the best of the best, Clinton Nieweg, retired Principal Librarian of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He found only one reference to this particular concerto in the world . . . At the University of Iowa’s Music Library. After speaking to the Head Librarian, I was emailed scans of the microfilm parts (which are scans of the originally published parts from the 1800’s.) Unfortunately, there was no score for a conductor to use, just the individual instrumental parts. It was then that the challenge began.
I entered all the music into a music notation software over the next several months, fixing trouble spots and errors along the way. I even flexed my inner nerd by finding a doctoral dissertation about Devienne that helped with some historical research along the way. With the invaluable help of both Kristin and conductor Alastair Willis, we have reconstructed this piece for ROCO to perform in April 2014. Along the way, I also took the orchestra parts and reduced them down to be covered by a pianist so Kristin could perform this piece in a few recitals around the country . . . why should orchestras have all the fun after all!
I am so thrilled that Kristin will perform and Alastair will conduct this music. It has been a labor of love for the last year for me and I know ROCO audiences will love it as well. Now with this challenge officially conquered, I can’t wait to see what ROCO has in store for next year!
By Aloysia Friedmann
We have indeed planned to play ROCO Celebrates Austria-Conductorless! without a conductor at the helm. The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra started the idea of a performing one “conductor-less” concert per year in 2007, our third season. “Why?” you might ask…
When a conductor leads an orchestra, the members of the orchestra are expected to rely on the maestro to not only lead the group with a baton, but also to make musical suggestions, balance suggestions, tempo suggestions and much, much more. As a result, each member of the orchestra gradually submerges their individual personality in favor of following their musical leader.
When our orchestra doesn’t have a conductor standing up and gesticulating in front of them, immediately our senses become much more alive. We truly become a chamber music group, or as Alecia once said, a string quartet times 10 (with winds!). We have to listen more, we have to watch each other more, we have to rely on the visual cues of each other more, and most importantly, we must rely on the concertmaster of the orchestra.
WHY does the concertmaster all of a sudden become so important? There still has to be someone who “leads” the orchestra; someone who can give a cue to start and stop; someone everyone can see and watch. The concertmaster is the natural person to do this.
You may have wondered about the concertmaster’s responsibility. You’re probably aware that the concertmaster is, among other things, the Principal First Violin. When a conductor is present, the concertmaster is also the liaison between the conductor and the orchestra. The concertmaster is the one who can make a suggestion to the conductor, representing the whole orchestra. When a conductor shakes the concertmaster’s hand after a performance, it is an acknowledgment of that responsibility.
Therefore, the ideal concertmaster is more than a strong player, and leadership qualities matter! A depth of chamber music experience, brilliant technique, knowledge of the full orchestral score, and ability to lead with the violin and make eye contact with other players: these are all prerequisites for a great concertmaster.
There are very few ful-ltime conductorless orchestras because so much of the repertoire does demand the full-time responsibilities of a conductor at the helm. Most orchestras, even faced with repertoire that might allow a conductorless setup, are fearful of the extra pressure. But ROCO thrives under these conditions. The players all aspire to great artistry individually, and working without a conductor gives us all our own voice.
We look forward to this opportunity to take greater control of our artistic destiny, to make suggestions to players
across the orchestra, and to try their suggestions in turn. Above all, we know that we have to listen with great care. This is a concert we look forward to every year.
Andrés Cárdenes is our concertmaster for the upcoming concert. He is the perfect person to be leading ROCO in our conductorless concert. For many years he was the concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony and also is a conductor himself, having guest conducted many orchestras around the country. He’s a great musician, chamber music artist, communicator and a gracious person, making him an ideal guest concertmaster for ROCO Celebrates Austria-Conductorless!
I performed “The Train Song” at a September salon concert for members of the Founding Consortium, along with expert help from ROCO bassist Erik Gronfor and train whistler Suzanne Lyons (aka the ROCO Cookie Lady). I had contemplated whether or not to program “The Train Song” for this particular soiree, fearful that it might be too low-brow for our ROCO patrons. But since this piece has been so well-received by other audiences, I took the chance.
I have never claimed to be a versatile musician. Classical music was my calling, and I was perfectly content to keep it that way. However, my first ministry trip to Cuba in 2009 motivated me to broaden my horizons.
I travel to my sister church in Havana at least one time each year. One morning during my first visit, our group was waiting to depart for a day filled with activities. Eventually our trip leader, Jack, boarded the bus and announced that we would not be attending a performance by the National Ballet that evening as the ballet was on tour. Instead, Tammy and John Winkler would perform a concert and we would invite all of our church friends in the neighborhood to attend. Then, Jack turned toward me and said, “Tammy, is that okay?” What I wanted to say was “Jack, you have a lot to learn about high strung classical violinists!” However, I opted for the more gracious reply and said that I would be happy to.
Later that day, as this impromptu concert was underway, Jack opened his mouth again. “Tammy, why don’t you play some Bluegrass for our Cuban friends?” My brain was racing with thoughts such as “What could you possibly be thinking? How could you make such a request? WHO DO YOU THINK I AM?!” This time I opted for the stunned, deer in the headlights look. I could not think of a single tune that I could even attempt to pass off as Bluegrass. Shortly thereafter, I resolved that I would have at least a passable rendition of “The Orange Blossom Special” ready by the time I returned to Cuba the following year.
A dream come true for me has been making music with my Cuban counterparts. We perform concerts together every time I travel to Cuba. Apart from music that has been bootlegged into the country, Cuba has been quite isolated from American music since the time of the 1959 revolution. It has been one of my great joys to bring and share American music with Cuban audiences. Equally wonderful is my being exposed to Cuba’s rich musical heritage and bringing their music back to the US. These musical exchanges aid in building bridges above the animosities of our two governments.
So in 2010, I made my fiddling debut in Havana. It is still slightly frightening to think that I may be setting the standard for Bluegrass in Cuba, but I am fortunate that my audiences lack a point of reference. As it turns out, the Cubans have an insatiable appetite for “The Orange Blossom Special,” now more affectionately known as “El Tren.”
River Oaks and Havana are a world apart, but now they are linked by this classical violinist (and occasional fiddler) and a mutual appreciation of “The Train Song.”
By Gavin Reed
If you never knew that the horn can sing, come find out during the ROCO Chamber Series performance of The Song and the Wind on Sunday, November 17, 4:00 pm, at Gremillion &Co. Fine Art Annex. Joining me will be violinist Andres Gonzalez and pianist Timothy Hester performing several works showing the wonder of chamber music and the great range of the horn.
We’ll begin with several works for the horn and piano, including Alla Caccia by Abbott and Romanza by Koetsier. The Abbott piece is fun to hear and play — a great opener — while the Koestier piece is in the pastoral style. Always present when I play Romanza is the sound of my teacher, Gail Williams. Hearing her play with all the subtlety of a great soprano inspired me to be better. It is her sound that I hear in my head.
The first half also includes two Schumann transcriptions and a setting of a Shakespeare Sonnet by singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. Although the pop music industry claims Wainwright, his songs defy classification. He uses very sophisticated compositional techniques, and I am very excited to perform this piece.
Completing the program is one of the greatest pieces of music featuring the horn, the Brahms Horn Trio. A deeply personal piece born from the grief of losing his mother, the Brahms Horn Trio is a masterwork that is nearly impossible not to love. It will complete the afternoon and, hopefully, convince you that the horn is an instrument of great expression!
By Alecia Lawyer
I never thought, as an oboist, I would be shopping at a gun store for fancy earplugs. Nor did I know that I would have to practice my “guns” for a concert. Yes, ROCO’s principal percussionist Matt McClung knows I am a wanna-be drummer, but this goes beyond even his job description.
I was oboist for Keith Brion’s New Sousa Band for a number of years. We would go on tour regularly and play to the most enthusiastic crowds of people taking great joy in Keith’s incredible portrayal of John Philip Sousa. When building ROCO, I found inspiration in Keith’s programming and in the fact that he flew in people from all over the U.S. to gather this band together. (He also has an infectious laugh!)
Now, back to the guns…starter pistols are surprisingly hard to shoot in rhythm, especially when one is a bit stiffer than the other. In U.S. Field Artillery March, there are seven shots at the end of the chorus. Keith had asked me to do it because he thought, with my red hair, I looked like Annie Get Your Gun. He did not know, however, that the first time I shot them in performance, I was going to aim at the audience……Not a good idea! And just so you know, those earplugs are definitely necessary!
Come see us November 9th at 5pm and find out if we decided to try the guns at St. John’s.
River Oaks Chamber Orchestra • 1973 West Gray, Suite 3 • Houston, Texas 77019 • 713.665.2700