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

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Kristin Wolfe Jensen CD Released!

ROCO principal bassoonist, Kristin Wolfe Jensen, has a new CD:  "Virko Baley's Parables & Reflections."  

From Kristin:
"Having performed Virko Baley's works in Australia, England, New York, Las Vegas and Austin, I am thrilled that they are now captured on CD! The vivid characters he creates, and the great passions he injects are unrivaled in the existing bassoon repertoire, contributing a riveting body of works for bassoonists and listeners alike. The music is colorful and emotionally charged, taking the listener on a meaningful journey."

Learn more about it and purchase your copy at

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Audience Texts at Conductorless!

We love hearing from you during our concerts.  At the Take 5 break during our Feb 13th concert, you texted these messages to us:

“I love the balance of the group. My heart follows every note.”
“Amazing job! Happy Chinese New Year!!”

“LOVED Simone. Bravo! And conductorless format is very interesting, it’s much more intimate.”

“Wow to those magic fingers of Simone!!!! That was outstanding.”

“Fantastic. Good pairing of the Jacobs and Shuo – both interesting and refreshing.”

“Dinnerstein’s performance was spectacular”

“Great concert (once again!). The pieces are well chosen and well executed and Simone’s piano interpretation was superb!”

“Shuo was awesome! Dinnerstein dynamic! ROCO is a wonderful night out, thank you.”

“Awesome—I don’t hear Bach played that often and Simone was marvelous.”

“You have no idea how hard it is to just listen to Beethoven’s 5th without “conducting” myself. Simply marvelous.”


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rest in peace, Beth Newdome

We are mourning the loss of violinist, Beth Newdome, who lost her battle with cancer on February 13, 2010.  Beth played with ROCO during Season 4. 

We are repeating her obituary announcement from the Feb 16, Mansfield News Journal. 

MANSFIELD ~ A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint pictures on silence. ~ Leopold Stokowski

Beth Newdome was an artist. She learned the integral difference of playing music and playing an instrument. In her hands, her violin gave voice to joy and sorrow, tears and laughter, interpreting emotion in a way words fail. Her upbeat personality made her a friend to many, and coupled with her talent on the violin, a much sought-after violin soloist.

A world-class violinist, Beth fought with cancer for over five years, and passed away Saturday, February 13, 2010.

Born February 6, 1964 in Mansfield, Beth was the daughter of William Peter Newdome, Sr. and Elva (Welday) Newdome. At the age of three, Beth started music lessons, studying under her mother Elva. She subsequently took lessons from Howard Beebe, Marya Giesy, and Michael Davis. While a student at Malabar High School, she played all four years with the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra.

While a grade school student, she was named “Outstanding Actress” at Hal McCuen’s Summer Theater.

Beth was the first student at the time to earn 12 years of consecutive Superior ratings in OFMC Junior Festivals, earning the 75 point cup, all the while winning auditions to solo with a number of orchestras including the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra, Kent State, Toledo and Columbus.

Named “Outstanding Girl” as a senior at Malabar High School, she was graduated in 1982. She excelled at swimming, winning numerous awards for her participation on Possum Run and Westbrook swim teams, specializing in relays and breaststroke.

“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” (Berthold Auerbach) a high calling for any life, and Beth had the talent and determination to pursue her music professionally.

Beth was active with summer music camps throughout Ohio and in the Tangelwood Music Festival in Tanglewood, Mass.

She studied music at Eastman School of Music, in Rochester, New York, where she earned her Bachelor of Music Performance in 1986, studying under Charles Castleman. While at Eastman, she was a member of the Rochester Philharmonic.

She played under the tutelage of Max Rostal in Bern, Switzerland, Spoleto Opera Festival in Charleston, S.C., the Heidelberg (Germany) Music Festival, and Kent-Blossom Music Festival.

Just this past September, Beth traveled to Poland to participate with the World Orchestra for Peace.

She was a member of the Jacksonville (Fla) Symphony Orchestra, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Dallas (Tx) Symphony Orchestra, and Atlanta (GA) Symphony Orchestra.

Beth was the principal violinist of the Georgian Chamber Players, and was the violinist of the Inman Trio with David Bjella and Brent Runnels. She lent her talents to the Iris Chamber Orchestra.

Beth took a one-year sabbatical from the Atlanta Symphony to teach violin at Stetson University in Deland, FL, and then returned to the Atlanta Symphony as Associate Concert Master. In August of 2002 she accepted a teaching position with Florida State University in Tallahassee as an Associate Professor of Violin. Each June she appeared with the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival, and every August served on the violin artist faculty of the Aspen Music Festival. She was a frequent performer at Carnegie Hall.

She was a member of United Church in Tallahassee. Beth had been well rounded in her activities as an artist and in the sports of snow skiing, golfing, and tennis.

She is survived by her mother Elva Newdome of Mansfield; her sister Lynn Rose Newdome of Northampton, Mass.; her brother and sister-in-law William Peter Newdome, Jr. and Amy Newdome of Mansfield; an “adopted” sister and her husband Kristine & Alan Christiansen of Des Plains, Ill.; a niece Angela Ferrante; twin niece and nephew Ava Newdome and David Newdome; numerous aunts and cousins; and cherished friend Kenn Wagner. 

Her father preceded her in death, as have numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.

The Newdome family will receive friends Saturday, February 20, 2010 from 10 a.m. to noon in the parlor of First Presbyterian Church, 399 South Trimble Road, Mansfield, where her memorial service will follow at 12 noon. The Rev. Dennis R. Allison will officiate. The Marion Avenue Snyder Funeral Home is privileged to serve the Newdome family.

Rather than flowers, the Newdomes suggest memorial contributions to Mansfield Symphony Orchestra, or Mansfield Symphony Youth Orchestra, or Mansfield Symphony Youth Strings, or First Presbyterian Church, and may be made at the church, through the funeral home.

Condolences to the Newdome family may be made online at:

There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is. –William P. Merrill. Play on Beth, play on.

What are you gonna do when the sun goes down? Get right back on that merry-go-round!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Conductorless?

Wikipedia defines conductorless as “a unique style of collaborative leadership in which the musicians interpret the music, not the conductor.” Performing conductorless requires collaboration, mutual respect, and “radical trust” It empowers the individual musicians in a way that translates into an exciting experience for the audience.

Removing the “wall” between orchestra and audience exposes an intimate conversation among the musicians and invites the audience into conversation with the chamber orchestra. Few orchestras of ROCO’s size attempt to perform conductorless, especially on a piece as challenging as Beethoven’s well-loved Fifth Symphony.

Sharing leadership among ROCO’s 40 musicians showcases the high level of artistry and strong spirit of “musical joie de vivre” that is ROCO’s signature. The result a fantastic audience experience that author/journalist, John DeMers calls, “the most fun you can have with serious music.”

Tickets to the Feb 13-14 Conductorless! Concert are available at  The Saturday evening performance is at The Church of St. John the Divine at 5pm, along with free valet parking and the ROCOrooters and Club ROCO childcare/music education programs.

The Sunday performance will be a Valentine's Concert + Dinner at The Houstonian Hotel, beginning at 5pm.  What a romantic way to spend Valentine's Day.  Childcare is available.

Friday, January 22, 2010

We love to hear from you!

THANK YOU, Daryl Crown, for your letter about our October concert at Chapelwood United Methodist Church:

"I continue to be amazed at the variety and talent of the performers that come to Chapelwood through the Evans Art Series. To put my comments in context, I am not a follower of the musical arts, and, to be truthful, I rarely listen to music. I do, however, enjoy the opportunity to experience new things, and witness the enormous talent that God has given to people and how they handle it.

Where else would I have the opportunity to hear an artist of such caliber as the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra's Brian Lewis? When else would I experience the incredible composure Brian demonstrated in that rare moment when a string broke during his performance, and, withouth even losing his smile, he switched violins with another violinist, made tuning adjustments when he could, and completed the number with an "oops, sorry about that folks, thanks for hanging in there with me" expression on his face?

I came away from the evening with a real sense that I had participated in an experience that would not be repeated for me. That gave me a new appreciation for talents different from those I am familiar with, as well as how graciously some people handle them."