On Sept. 24, ROCO will celebrate a full-circle moment, kicking off its 17th season with a hybrid Revelry gala at the city’s newest downtown venue.
Although the evening will mark the first public event at POST Houston, it’s not the first order of business that the professional chamber orchestra has conducted in the historic space. In fact, when artistic director and principal oboist Alecia Lawyer founded the ensemble in 2005, she frequented what was then the Barbara Jordan Post Office, where she learned the ins and outs of bulk mailing.
Her organization, formerly known as the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, has made incredible strides over the years, and more recently, the building has too. Lovett Commercial has nearly completed the transformation of the 16-acre property into a mixed-use cultural destination boasting a rooftop park with an urban farm and stunning skyline views. Both have experienced much growth, but the memories remain, and amid the nostalgia, ROCO will salute its continued success in building authentic connections between musicians and audiences.
The ensemble’s ninth annual gala, sponsored by SheSpace, will begin with a preview performance in the dynamic “Z” Atrium, a three-story space with a translucent roof made of ETFE, a lightweight plastic developed for the aerospace industry. Set against its signature zig-zag staircase design, the musicians will present excerpts from the upcoming season-opening concert, “Bursting at the Seams,” after which they will join guests – including gala chairs Shawn Stephens and Jim Jordan, honoree Mike Stude and ROCO’s 2021 “Wildcatting in the Arts” awardee Rick Lowe – on the rooftop for cocktails and a seated dinner provided by the Hometown Chef Catering Co.
“This will be just a big celebration, a regathering so that people feel connected again,” said Lawyer, while checking on the site’s progress in early September alongside ROCO’s director of development Paige Myrick. The duo, clad in hard hats and neon yellow vests, spoke over the clunky sounds of construction while mapping out the most efficient course of action for the event. “ROCO pushes the envelope but always in a way to keep us connected. That’s our goal.”
Relying on technology, exploration and innovation, the ensemble weaves itself through Houston with a belief in access at its core. The group has offered free, worldwide concert livestreams since 2013, and earlier this month, it announced a state-wide expansion of “ROCO on the Go.” With the immersive, interactive listening project, which launched one year ago in collaboration with Buffalo Bayou Partnership, the organization has further embedded itself into the fabric of the city.
Reflecting upon its interconnectedness within the community, Lawyer recalls a favorite childhood activity, in which thick strands of yarn are carefully woven into homemade cardboard looms. She later learned how to crochet from her great-grandmother, and as she stepped into adulthood, the concept of threading pieces together to form a unified whole became a defining characteristic of her professional career.
“I always think of myself as a quilt master. I’m a quilter,” she said. “People do their own squares -composers, musicians who get to curate their own concerts, the conductors who come in – and I just stitch everyone’s creativity together.”
The evening following the gala, the full 40-piece orchestra will appear at one of its regular venues, the Church of St. John the Divine, to present “Bursting at the Seams.” Led by ROCO’s artistic partner Mei-Ann Chen, the program will feature two world premieres centered around climate change – the first movement of Maxime Goulet’s “Ice Storm Symphony,” as well as Marcus Maroney’s “OK, Goodbye,” which are inspired by Canada’s historic 1998 ice storm and the melting of Iceland’s Okjökull glacier, respectively – among other works.
Then, in early October, ROCO will return to POST Houston to open its Connections series with “Mixed Messages,” a multidisciplinary performance in collaboration with Houston Contemporary Dance Company and Houston’s Poet Laureate Outspoken Bean. Taking place in the “X” Atrium, the concert will showcase the ROCO String Quartet and baritone Eduardo Tercero in selections from Elvis Costello’s “The Juliet Letters,” tying the theme to the history of the space in true ROCO fashion by honoring the art of the letter in celebration of World Post Day.
Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a Houston-based writer.