Wednesday, October 6, 2010

ROCO to Premiere NANO Symphony

Molecules are motifs in nanosymphony 
New compositions to debut at Rice's Buckyball Discovery Gala

HOUSTON – (Oct. 5, 2010) – Rice University composer Anthony Brandt has compressed an entire evening at the symphony into a six-minute opus -- a "nanosymphony" -- as part of Rice University's Year of Nano celebration. The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra will premiere the piece Sunday at Rice's Buckyball Discovery Gala.

The gala begins the Week of Nano, the highlight of a yearlong celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the buckyball, the nickname for the carbon-60 molecule, at Rice.

Brandt, an associate professor of composition and theory at Rice's Shepherd School of Musicthought of atoms as notes and molecules as motifs when he wrote the nanosymphony. 

"When I was asked to do this, I almost immediately saw what I wanted," Brandt said. "I wanted to write a complete symphony orchestra concert with a tuning segment, an overture, a modern piece, a piano concerto, the intermission, a symphony on the second half and an encore — all in about the length of a commercial pop song.

"It's a complete evening's worth of music on the scale of a single piece."

Brandt's mini-masterpiece is one of two commissioned for the Buckyball Discovery Gala. The other, a musical tribute to Richard Smalley, who was a University Professor and the Gene and Norman Hackerman Chair of Chemistry at Rice until his death in 2005, was written by Houston composer Todd Frazier and will feature a narrative by former Rice President Malcolm Gillis.

The discovery of the buckyball led to a Nobel Prize for the team of Smalley, Robert Curl and Sir Harry Kroto, along with graduate students Sean O'Brien and Jim Heath. What they found on a summer day in 1985 laid the groundwork for the still-growing field of nanotechnology.

The musical works' genesis goes back to Smalley himself, said Wade Adams, director of Rice's Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology. "I had wanted something like this for a long time, since it was a conversation -- actually, an argument -- between Rick Smalley and my wife, Mert, that turned Rick on to the emotional power of music. I had conversations with people at the Shepherd School several years ago, and I was delighted when Tony and Todd stepped up to write these fabulous pieces."

Brandt took his cues from the nature of nanotechnology as he scaled down the elements of a night at the concert hall. "I needed some special strategies to make this work," he said. "Usually, a lot of the impact of music is its staying power -- the repetition of ideas, getting familiar with them. I can't give you the chance in this piece. I don't have the time."

Brandt's work is based on a central motif, which is modified throughout the composition. Altering a single note changes its character in the same way replacing a single atom changes the chemical composition of a molecule. "This will be challenging to hear on first listening, because it’s so embedded in the way the piece is put together. But it's a metaphor for how nanotechnology works," he said. "Essentially, there's only one theme, manifested in a different way in each movement."

The 12 elements in Brandt's musical table came together nicely -- but for one. "I wanted there to be a 'modern' piece as a movement of the composition, but it took me a long time to figure out how to do it. I went through a whole catalog of possibilities and finally got to the point where the modern piece was the only one I hadn't written," he said.

"Then it hit me. That section (which lasts only 15 seconds) would be made up of one 'molecule' from each movement. It's the most 'nano' of the whole piece.

"The movement occurs early, where you'd typically put a modern piece on a concert. As a result, most of it looks ahead to things that haven't happened yet. So its gaze is more toward the future than the past, which is also a wonderful metaphor for nanotechnology as a whole," Brandt said.

Frazier, a Juilliard alumnus and director of both Young Audiences of Houston and The Methodist Hospital's Center for Performing Arts Medicine, whose works include an oratorio about Thomas Jefferson, spent months researching Smalley's life and achievements before writing a note of his nine-minute contribution. "My challenge for this composition was the same as for Jefferson," he said. "I had to decide what to leave out. There were so many directions in which it could go and so many angles to illuminate."

Knowing that Brandt "really responded to the interpretation of the science embodied in music," Frazier highlighted Smalley's humanity. "The more people I talked to about nanotechnology and the buckyball, the more I realized the event of the discovery was exciting and special and could be shared across any discipline. Everyone could participate in that 'Aha!' moment, and that needed to be captured."

Frazier's piece also details the discovery's aftermath, highlighted by Smalley's testimony before Congress in 1999, where he used his own cancer, which ultimately took his life, as an example of what nanotechnology could someday cure.

The compositions were commissioned by gala co-chairs Anne and Albert Chao and Reinnette and Stan Marek and will get a second performance Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Zilkha Hall at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St. They will be performed by Musiqa, which Brandt co-founded and serves as its musical director. Gillis will again narrate Frazier's tribute. 

The gala will be held at the Hyatt Regency Downtown and precedes the four-day Buckyball Discovery Conference, which will draw top scientists from all over the world to Rice to discuss the past, present and future of nanotechnology.

Lockheed Martin is the primary sponsor of Year of Nano events. 

Tickets for the gala are available at

Register for the Buckyball Discovery Conference at

A high-resolution version of this image is available here:

Rice University 
Office of Public Affairs / News & Media Relations

CONTACT: Mike Williams
PHONE: 713-348-6728 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Announcing our 2010-2011 Season

River Oaks Chamber Orchestra is delighted to announce our 2010-2011 season, which will be “the most fun you can have with serious music”. The season features three concert weekends with the full 40-piece chamber orchestra, four “Music Tastings,” a solo concert series that features individual ROCO musicians, and several exciting collaborations.

2010-2011 Season Schedule

ROCO IN CONCERT - the full 40-piece chamber orchestra with guest artists in concert
  • Season Opener, featuring JoAnn Falletta conducting Mendelssohn’s Symphony #3, Ligeti’s Concerto Romanesc, and the world premiere of Scott McAllister’s Rhapsodie for String Bass and Chamber Orchestra performed by ROCO principal bass, Sandor Ostlund

    Saturday, Oct 16, 5pm at The Church of St. John the Divine, with ROCOrooters*
    Tickets are $25, $10 for students with valid student ID
    Sunday, Oct 17, 7 pm, at First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood

  • Conductorless Valentine’s Concert is filled with romance and surprises: Haydn’s Surprise Symphony #94, Dvorak Serenade, and some surprise pieces
    Saturday, Feb 12, 5pm, at The Church of St. John the Divine, with ROCOrooters*
    Tickets are $25, $10 for students with valid student ID
    Sunday, Feb 13, 5pm Valentine’s Concert and Dinner at The Houstonian Hotel

  • Season Finale featuring Robert Moody conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Symphony No. 1 by Dean Jose Antonio Bowen from SMU Meadows School of the Arts, and the Copland Clarinet Concerto, performed by principal clarinet, Nathan Williams

    Saturday, Apr 9, 5pm at The Church of St. John the Divine, with ROCOrooters*
    Tickets are $25, $10 for students with valid student ID
    Sunday, Apr 10, 6:30, at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
    Tickets are $25, $10 for students with valid student ID  
*ROCOrooters music education/childcare program runs during and after each concert at The Church of St. John the Divine. Register online at

ROCO “MUSIC TASTINGS”fun, interactive evenings of delicious music paired with fine food and drink
  • Tuesday, Sep 21 – Beer & Brass at St. Arnold Brewery, featuring a trombone trio led by Brian Logan, 6-8 pm, $20 per person. ROCO will launch a Call for Amateur Musicians to sign up for the ROCO Pro-Am Chamber Music Program at this event.

  • Tuesday, Nov 9 - Music and Wine Tasting featuring oboist, Alecia Lawyer at Kiran’s Restaurant and Bar, 6-8pm, $40 per person

  • Tuesday, January 18 – Layered Music, Wine, and Art Tasting featuring violist, Suzanne LeFevre at Nos Caves Vin, 6-8pm, $40 per person

  • Tuesday, April 26 – Music and Wine Tasting at The Tasting Room at Uptown Park, 6-8pm, $40 per person

ROCO COLLABORATIONS - chamber concerts and artistic collaborations 
  • Sunday, Oct 10 – ROCO welcomes back Alastair Willis, who will conduct the world premiere of original compositions by Anthony Brandt and Jefferson Todd Frazier at the Buckyball Gala celebrating Rice University Smalley Institute’s “The Year of NANO” 7:00-9:00 pm at the Hyatt Downtown.

  • Tuesday, Oct 26 – River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, Inprint, Musiqa, and Lawndale Art Center present a Musical and Literary Ofrenda evening of celebration and remembrance, 6:00-7:30 pm at Lawndale Art Center. Admission is free admission and families are welcome.

  • Monday, Dec 13 – Yuletide Concert and Coffee, featuring the ROCO Brass Quintet, 10:00am–noon, at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens. Tickets are $45.
  • Thursday, Jan 6 - Amahl and the Night Visitors with The Church of St. John the Divine. Two performances: 6:00 and 8:00 pm. Tickets are $20 general admission, $10 for students.

  • Sunday, Jan 16 – ROCO and InterActive Theater Company present the children’s classic, Peter and the Wolf, 2:00 in English, 3:30 pm in Spanish, at the Houston Zoo. Sponsored by MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. Free and family-friendly. 
ROCO SOLOindividual ROCO musicians in solo concerts

Dowling Music presents ROCO in The Recital Room: a series of Sunday afternoon concerts by ROCO soloists. All performances are 2:15-4pm, at The Recital Room at Dowling Music, 2615 Southwest Freeway #220. Admission is free, and families are welcome.
  • Sunday, September 26 – Richard Belcher, cello
  • Sunday, November 14 – Jennifer Keeney, flute
  • Sunday, January 23 – Matthew McClung, percussion
  • Sunday, February 27 – Danielle Kuhlmann, horn
  • Sunday, March 27 – Amy Thaiville, violin
  • Sunday, April 24 – Kristin Wolfe Jensen, bassoon 
Additional information, schedule updates, and tickets are available at

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Calling all amateur musicians!

ROCO is launching a Pro-Am Chamber Music Program. This program is for all of you who used to play an instrument: Dust it off and sign up for regular rehearsals and professional coaching by ROCO musicians. Pro-am musicians will be organized in chamber music groups: trios, quintets, etc. No auditions are required – just sign up.

Tuition is $125 for the season, which will be collected once you are assigned to a group. The program will run throughout the 2010-2011 season, with group rehearsals and coaching sessions approximately monthly. All this will lead up to a Pro-Am concert/jam session in the spring of 2011.

Sign up in person at Beer & Brass, Tuesday, September 21st, at St. Arnold Brewery.

or  Sign up now!

Friday, May 14, 2010

JoAnn Falletta Returns for 2010-2011

We're delighted to announce that JoAnn Falletta will return as guest conductor for our 2010-2011 Season Opener, October 16-17. The New York Times calls Ms. Falletta, "one of the finest conductors of her generation."

The Season Opener program will include ROCO's own principal bassist, Sandor Ostlund, who will premiere an original composition created especially for him by composer, Scott McAllister

Subscriptions to the Saturday Concert Series at St. John the Divine are available now at

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Voices of the Bayou: An Interview with Janice Van Dyke Walden about the Buffalo Bayou Project

Transcript of Conductor, Robert Moody's interview with Janice Van Dyke Walden at the ROCO Season Finale at Bayou Bend, April 18, 2010

Tell us, what is the Buffalo Bayou Project?
For me, the Buffalo Bayou Project started as just the documentary, in the traditional sense of one film. But over the last two years, it has grown to become a full educational program, including the documentary and a series of shorter videos.

What motivated you to do this commission?
A year and a half ago we thought by this time we’d have the film wrapped up, so this started as just one of the production commitments. But, as we got into learning about Buffalo Bayou, we found we had a lot more to learn, so the Suite has carried its own as a creative force. All along we’ve wanted the film to have a score with distinction, a musical representation of the bayou. And, we certainly got that.

What do you see happening today that make our connection with the bayou all the more important?
Well today, we spend our days in air conditioning under fluorescent lights in front of computer screens, or behind a steering wheel commuting a couple of hours a day. Our children are no less confined, scared of the “bogey-man”, learning in class rooms with no windows and in the case of public schools, generally learning just to take the test. There is no room for exploration. And, so it is no wonder that we have become disconnected from nature, which nurtures us, and actually has tremendous healing powers.

So, here is Buffalo Bayou, right in our own back yard, coursing through our city. What a natural asset we have, and one we can learn from.  I see a growing desire in many Houstonians to live more responsibly according to the laws of nature. That’s encouraging.

How can people be involved?
There are two ways people can be involved. One, we can become more bayou-centric in how we live. That means, in every lifestyle choice we make – how we build our house, how we plant and take care of our lawn, what car we drive and how we use water - we should consider, how will this impact the bayou? Because we all live in a watershed and our daily choices impact it.

Secondly, there is only so much you can put in a film. And the film will develop a narrative that excludes many other interesting stories. Houstonians have so much to say about this great bayou that affects our lives, and each person has their own story, their own memory; their own perspective. So, as part of the Buffalo Bayou Project we’re developing “Voices of the Bayou”, a kind of audio almanac where people can record their own memories or stories about Buffalo Bayou. If you are interested in contributing a story, email us at, and we’ll be in touch with you.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Brad Sayles on The Buffalo Bayou Suite

In the early spring of 2009, I was approached by Alecia Lawyer with an exciting proposition involving a commission for a film score. Always excited for a project with ROCO, I agreed to meet with Endangered Species Media Project. The original idea for this piece was to be a musical score to accompany a documentary film produced to create awareness of the Buffalo Bayou; an awareness of three aspects in particular: the natural beauty and innocence of nature, the damage to this beauty by industrialization, and the continuing efforts to revitalize and restore the bayou to its original beauty. These three movements together form a body of music that tells this story. 

Tenderly, as a prayer was the first movement I composed. The beginning opens with the “voice” of the river in the English Horn: a voice that continues through all the movements. As the piece progresses, I offer several “vista” moments to set the stage for what we are about to experience. Once on the bayou, we hear nature all around us; from obvious things such as birds, wind, and splashes to the unheard feelings and visual sensations like the sights of a great Cypress tree with root systems that twist around banks and rocks, or natural dams with the most beautiful orange colored soil that looks like a sunset. The bayou has many different views depending on where you are. There are peaceful, open areas while other locations are mysterious and quite dark. Some parts of the bayou have strong currents while others are calm and still. These moments are the inspiration for this movement. 

Largo, mysterioso is a depiction of the impact industrialization has made on the innocent, natural beauty of the bayou. This movement begins with the first sign of change as a familiar sound slowly becomes somber and ominous. Brooding brass chords and altered melodies herald the dawn of a new era. Chaos and confusion erupt out of the natural current of the water. Pollution, steel, and concrete have taken the place of root systems and natural dams. The bayou’s familiar voice has changed. 

Reflective and calm is meant as a simple coda to this suite. It is something that can neither sound definite nor fulfilling. Redemption takes time and hard work. The melody that has become so familiar comes back with a new orchestration as the dawn of a new era begins. Life starts to returns and flourish in some parts of the bayou, but there is more to do. The piece ends with the hope of a new future.

Each movement is unique in sound and theme as well as in structure. Movement I is in rounded binary form (A-B-A’) with an introduction and coda added to either side.  Movement 2 is through composed having no solid structure. Movement 3 is a hybrid of the two composed almost as a mini rondo (A-B-A-C-A) but with much variation between each instance of the A.

The Buffalo Bayou Suite is scored for winds in pairs with doubling on Piccolo, English Horn, and Bass Clarinet, two horns, two trumpets, one trombone, timpani, and strings.

-Brad Sayles 2010
Photos © Janice Van Dyke Walden