ROCO Begins Second Decade With “Side by Side” 11th Season Celebrates Partnerships

Alecia oboe HiResROCO (River Oaks Chamber Orchestra) launches its second decade with the 2015-2016 season, its 11th, titled “Side By Side.” Eleven new world premiere commissions bring ROCO’s world premiere total to 54 by the end of this season, characterized by programming that celebrates the artistic partnerships and creative collaborations that have brought ROCO through its first ten years, while exploring exciting new connections  — including moving two series into Houston’s newest performing arts center, The MATCH (Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston) — and intriguing musical juxtapositions.   And finally, Side By Side references all of the many communities that combine to make up Houston, and which ROCO remains committed to reaching out to through performances.  Although River Oaks is part of ROCO’s name, only four of ROCO’s 39 concerts last season took place there, with this season marking ROCO’s first forays as far North as The Woodlands.

“The concept of ‘Side By Side’ starts simply with two 1’s standing together to create the number 11 as ROCO embarks on its 11th season,” explains ROCO Founder, Artistic Director and Principal Oboist Alecia Lawyer.  “But ‘Side By Side’ also describes a season in which we’re thanking and spotlighting the  partners – new and established – who stand beside us, as we endeavor through music to unite the disparate corners of this wonderfully diverse, sprawling city of ours.  And finally, ‘Side By Side’ points to our 11th Season’s programming theme, wherein East meets West, historical meets modern, and longstanding artistic friendships are brought to the fore and celebrated.”

World premiere commissions for ROCO this season include Rick Robinson’s “Getcha Groove On” (commission sponsored by The Wortham Foundation),  James Matheson’s Concerto for Two Shakuhachi (commission sponsored by The Albert and Ethel Herzstein Foundation and The Wortham Foundation), Marcus Maroney’s Concerto for Orchestra (commission sponsored by The Wortham Foundation), and Dorothy Gates’ Trombone Concerto (commission sponsored by The Wortham Foundation).

Guest artists making their ROCO debuts this season include composers Rick Robinson, James Matheson, and Dorothy Gates; Shakuhachi (traditional Japanese flutes) soloists James Nyoraku Schlefer and Akihito Obama; concertmaster/soloist Scott St. John; and ROCO principal trombonist Thomas Hulten making his ROCO solo debut.

Returning ROCO guest artists include composers Reena Esmail, Marcus Maroney,  and Anthony DiLorenzo;  and conductors, Andrés Cárdenes, Edwin Outwater, and Victor Yampolsky.

For the full press release, please click here.

Don’t miss this opportunity to make a difference in 2014!

As the end of 2014 approaches, this is a perfect opportunity to make direct, tax-free transfers to ROCO directly from your IRA.  On December 19th, President Obama reinstated a law, H.R. 5771, the “Tax Increase Protection Act of 2014″, allowing you to make a beneficial gift to ROCO directly from your IRA until December 31, 2014.

How It Works

  • If you are 70-and-a-half or older, you can give up to $100,000 directly from your IRA to charitable organizations, like ROCO.
  • The transfer generates neither taxable income nor a tax deduction, so you stillbenefit even if you do not itemize your tax deductions.
  • If you have not taken your required minimum distribution for the year, yourgift can satisfy all or part of that requirement.

If you have already made this type of gift in 2014, you’re in luck, the bill is retro-activefor all of 2014. If you have been waiting to make your IRA transfer, you must act before December 31st to take advantage of this opportunity. If you have check writing privileges on your IRA account this may be the most effective way to make your gift given the short time frame.

Donate online now!

Or contact us to discuss making your tax-deductible IRA donation.

Thomas Hultén: Walk With Me

Thomas Hulten, Photo by Julie SoeferI got the idea for this program a few years ago when I realized that if I wanted a piano part for Ray Steadman-Allen’s piece “Immortal Theme – Suite for Trombone” I had to write it myself. The only available version was for trombone and brass band. I had first heard this piece as a teen-ager in Sweden, performed by the American trombonist Charlie Baker. At that time I played in a Salvation Army band in my hometown of Katrineholm, and Charlie, principal trombone with the New Jersey Symphony, came to Sweden with the Salvation Army New York Staff Band to perform in Stockholm. I was greatly impressed not only by Charlie’s playing, but also with the piece itself.


Fast-forward to 2012. The thought of performing “Immortal Theme” was still on my mind, but the music had never been published, and even though I had heard of a piano part, I had never seen it. Through my friend Stephen Bulla, staff arranger with the US Marine Band in Washington DC and fellow trombonist and Salvation Army member, I was able to get in contact with Ray Steadman-Allen, now in his mid-90s, in England. He assured me that there was no piano part ever written, and also gave me the permission to write one. I was able to get a photo-copy of the original hand-written score from Dorothy Gates of the New York Staff Band, and got to work, Now you can hear the finished product. It’s a three-movement work that incorporates several hymn tunes throughout the piece, and in my mind it is a wonderful piece of music. Very challenging to play, but also very rewarding to both perform and listen to.


Thomas HulténI wanted to create a program that had a sacred theme, but also lots of variation. It opens with “Ev’ry Valley”, the first solo aria (originally for a tenor singer) from “The Messiah” by G F Händel. Jim Curnow has written a beautiful arrangement of the gospel classic “He Touched Me” by Bill Gaither. Swedish-American composer Erik Leidzén wrote “A Never-Failing Friend” in the mid-30s, it is a theme-and-variations solo typical of that era. The first part of the program will close with Sonata Vox Gabrieli (The voice of Gabriel) by Croatian composer Stjepan Sulek.


Since I’m really a jazz musician deep down the second part of the program will be all jazz. My interest in music really took off when I discovered jazz and big band music as a kid, and I’m still a complete jazz nerd. I will be joined by some of my friends to form a quartet, and we’ll mix standards such as If I Had You, Basin Street Blues and Stardust with some of my own compositions.
Hope you enjoy the program!


Thomas Hultén is a Grammy-nominated performer and ROCO’s principal trombone. Read more about Thomas.


logo final de enigma (2)Join Thomas and ROCO for Walk With Me on Sunday, November 23, 5pm at Enigma Lounge, 2540 University Blvd., Houston TX 77005.


Making Jabberwocky

The Commission Anthony DiLorenzo-Composer

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!

Listen to Alecia Preview our Tenth Season Opener


Alecia_LawyerBy St.John Flynn, September 24th, 2014

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.

Outside the Practice Room: Reflections from a ROCO Intern

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!

Road Trip with François, Kristin and Alastair

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!

No, the conductor is not sick!

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!

Making Music in Cuba

tammy linnBy Tammy Linn, violin

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. tammy linnBut since this piece has been so well-received by other audiences, I took the chance.tammy linn


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.tammy linn

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.”

The Horn LIVE!

By Gavin Reed

Danielle Gavin Alecia

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!

Buy Tickets Here