ROCO - Visions Take Flight
Shaping the future of classical music by energizing, modernizing, and personalizing the concert experience.
Karim Al-Zand Visions from Another World
1. Ronde Fantastique 3:50
2. Funeral Cortège of the Silkworm 6:03
3. The Spinning Ballerina 4:22
4. Teen Murti for String Orchestra 9:54
Derek Bermel Murmurations
5. Gathering at Gretna Green 6:37
6. Gliding Over Algiers 9:07
7. Swarming Rome 5:36
1. Jabberwocky 19:10
Marcus Maroney Concerto for Chamber Orchestra
2. Epigraph 5:23
3. Variations 7:30
4. Ostinato 5:08
5. Anthem of Hope: Houston Strong 4:32
About the Music
For ROCO’s debut album, it was important for the selection of works to be a collaborative process. We surveyed our musicians and asked them to select their favorite pieces from ROCO’s repertoire over our first twelve seasons. Given our long history of commissioning, it was not surprising that five of our then fifty-eight world premiere commissions rose to the top. The recording sessions were originally scheduled for August 2017 in the Texas Hill Country, just outside of Houston. Unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey struck just days before, resulting in an eight month delay of the project. The sixth piece, Anthem of Hope: Houston Strong, commissioned in honor of the resiliency of the Houston community in the wake of the storm, was added to complete the story of the album.
Mei-Ann Chen, Conductor
Scott St. John, Concertmaster
Cecilia Belcher, Principal
Sandor Ostlund, Principal
Jim Thatcher, Principal
Nathan Williams, Principal
Brook Ferguson, Principal
Rebecca Powell Garfield
Richard Belcher, Principal
Courtenay Vandiver Pereira
Kristin Wolfe Jensen, Principal
Alecia Lawyer, Principal
Matt McClung, Principal
Thomas Hultén, Principal
Joseph Foley, Principal
Matt Dane, Principal
Program notes and information
compiled from interviews and writings of Andrea Moore
Karim Al-Zand (b. 1970)
Visions from Another World (2008)
I. Ronde Fantastique
II. Funeral Cortège of the Silkworm
III. The Spinning Ballerina
Visions is based upon engravings by J.J. Grandville (1803-47), one of the most popular and innovative French illustrators of the 19th Century who was often cited as a precursor to the Surrealist movement.
Robert Simon wrote “the book of illustrations charts an excursion to a parallel universe populated by mutant animals, vegetal/human hybrids and inanimate objects come to life. The dreamscape they inhabit is equally fantastic.”
In his own words:
Ronde Fantastique is a lively, swirling dance in 7/8 time. Its syncopated tune is heard first in the winds, then in the strings and brass, the music then descending to the watery depths. A final climactic wave is followed by ripples ebbing away.
Funeral Cortège of the Silkworm is a slow march over an unchanging rhythm. Winds are featured in pairs as the insect procession goes by: the Death’s Head Moths (off-stage oboes in fourths and fifths); fleas and ticks (flutes in tritones); ants (clarinets in thirds and sixths) and caterpillars (bassoons in sevenths and seconds). The funeral dirge wends its way through the orchestra and gradually fades off into the distance.
The Spinning Ballerina takes its cue from the whirling visual energy of Grandville’s illustration; its frenetic music is in perpetual motion, always on the brink of careening out of control.
Reena Esmail (b. 1983)
Teen Murti for String Orchestra (2013)
Early in her compositional years, Reena had the idea that good composition should be “seamless”. She got this notion partly from the show tunes she listened to as a child, with predictable direction and smooth transitions. As she got further along in her studies with composers such as Chris Theofanidis, she
felt an increasing sense of liberation from
historical compositional rules. Reena, who has been a serious student of
Hindustani music for several years, does not aim for fusion, though. Rather, she wants to let both musics exist in the same space, including not just musical content but other aspects of musical life, like concert culture and audience participation.
Most Indians will immediately recognize Teen Murti as the name of the New Delhi residence of the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, named for the sculpture that stands in front. Teen Murti means three statues, figures or representations in Hindi. Though not directly based on the sculptures, this work shares their title as it is centered around three large musical ‘figures’ that are adjoined by short interludes - similar to the idea behind Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It lays out three tableaux: each rooted in a specific raag and its Hindustani melodic tradition, and those melodies are interwoven using a more Western technique.
In her own words:
At the many concerts of Hindustani musicians I attended while in India, I noticed a curious thing that would happen before each performance. The artist would announce the raag to be sung or played that evening, and immediately many of the cognoscenti in the audience would begin humming the characteristic phrases or ‘pakads’ of that raag quietly to themselves, intoning with the drone what was already sounding on stage. It had a magical feeling - as if that raag was present in the air, and tiny wisps of it were already starting to precipitate into the audible world in anticipation of the performance. I wanted to open this piece in that way and continue to return to that idea in the interludes.
Derek Bermel (b. 1967)
I. Gathering near Gretna Green
II. Soaring over Algiers
III. Swarming Rome
ROCO Co-commission with New Century Chamber Orchestra,
Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and A Far Cry
In his own words:
When I listen to and watch a string orchestra play, I’m reminded of a murmuration, or flock of birds swirling in the sky. Visually and aurally, the performers seek unity on many levels - attention to tuning, tone, clarity of rhythm, consistency and pressure of bowing. They glide and dive in formation, soaring together or splitting into layers of counterpoint before regrouping into a single unit. During my year living in Rome, I was often treated to the graceful spectacle of a starling murmuration. Their stunning, geometrical displays of aviation prior to settling down for the night are a humbling sight to behold. In fact, starlings’ mass motion suggest ‘emergence,’ a concept in game theory that explains how simple interactions can engender complex systems.
In Murmurations, I attempted to map onto a musical structure some of the behavior I observed in the starlings’ flight. Their collective push and pull, swoop, and parallel movement manifests in the opening movement titled for the Scottish village where starlings frequently assemble. The music hovers and swoops, culminating in a cadenza - the lone concertmaster briefly separates from the flock for a rare individual moment, and is again swallowed up into the mass motion. In the middle movement, the melodic line glides alone, then in double, and finally triple layers of counterpoint over arpeggios in the lower strings. I was inspired to write the third movement upon learning that starlings signal and sense subtle directional intent to and from their neighbors seven birds distant. Here the notes travel in loose clusters, darting and fluttering far enough from each other to maneuver through the air, yet close enough to respond to sudden shifts in the murmuration’s rhythm and cadence
Anthony DiLorenzo (b.1967)
Funded in part by The Wortham Foundation
In his own words:
I really don’t want the audience to have to take out a manual to listen to my music. As a kid, I lived in the cinema. I loved it! I was crazy about the music, always wanting to close my eyes and take a journey.
Storytelling pieces like ballets and tone poems have always been interesting to me - any kind of music that either tells or goes with a story. Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem, Jabberwocky, was the perfect place to start. I think this piece has a kind of French quality to it, a little bit like a French ballet — like Daphnis and Chloe, or Petrouchka.
I took some liberties with the poem, starting with Alice in the present day going into the Looking Glass: a fantasy within a fantasy. I gave musical space to some of the magical characters in the poem and made the boy in the poem a character in the piece. Wonderland isn’t just an upside-down place full of chessboards and monarchs, there are presumably these other creatures like mome raths and slithy toves. I used a few percussion instruments and techniques to simulate the odd creatures of Wonderland, one of which is a cigar box with metal brushes used to create the sound of the wings of flying nymphs. The contrabassoon represents the Jub-jub bird in a huff and a clumsy gallop. The story concludes with the reading of the whimsical poem with the haunting and thought-provoking music underneath.
Marcus Maroney (b. 1976)
Concerto for Chamber Orchestra (2016)
Funded in part by The Wortham Foundation
In his own words:
A lot of my works are semi-programmatic. If there are no overt references to a story, there are still some external influences such as environment or poetry. This piece was written with Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra in mind; however, the only real reference is with the pairing of the instruments. For my own compositional style,
I tend toward Jean Sibelius, using his sense of a necessary pulse, ostinatos (bass lines), and the metamorphosis of themes and repetitions.
These three movements sort of follow similar moods to those of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony: the second movement is a set of quasi-variations, and the third is based on a driving, soaring melody. I love the richness of his orchestration, and that may come through. I love the power Sibelius can get out of a smaller orchestra without having to pull out all of the bells and whistles. He tempers the unfamiliar and he works within the familiar, and I just find that remarkable.
Anthem of Hope: Houston Strong (2017)
Helping Houston heal from Hurricane Harvey, ROCO commissioned this piece as a response to the strength, caring, and courage the Houston community displayed, both during initial rescue efforts and throughout the recovery process. With the intention of creating a musical thread to tie the city together, ROCO provided the sheet music and recording of the work for use by the entire performing arts community. It has been performed by over twenty-five groups from Houston Grand Opera and dance companies, to wind quintets and high school bands.
“We wanted to find a way to reach across Houston’s vibrant arts community and collectively embrace our wonderful city. Our hope is for this piece to illustrate how Houston is strengthened by our diversity and ability to build relationships to support one another.” -- The ROCO team
ROCO is a dynamic and innovative professional music ensemble, based in Houston, that flexes from 1 to 40 players from all over the US and Canada, with guest artists from around the world. Expanding the repertoire, ROCO has premiered over 65 commissions from living, American composers. Performing intimate concerts in dozens of venues, ROCO’s musicians don’t just give concerts – they challenge preconceptions, create extraordinary experiences, and foster new relationships with audiences through the language of music.
ROCO embraces technology with free, worldwide concert livestreams and real-time artist commentary via a smartphone app, as well as on-demand recordings of past concerts via the Listening Room. A vital part of the community, ROCO concert DVDs are sent to nursing homes and hospitals to bring music to
those immobile communities, and their ROCOrooters music education/childcare program attracts multigenerational audiences.
Recorded April 2018
at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church
Blanton Alspaugh, Recording Producer
Andy Bradley, Recording Engineer
Mark Donahue, Mixing and Mastering Engineer
edited, mixed and mastered at
Philip Blackburn, Director
Chris Campbell, Operations Director
Tim Igel, Publicist
*Innova is supported by an endowment
from the McKnight Foundation
Teresa B. Southwell, Graphic Designer
Blueprint Film Co., Photo Credits
Unison Media, ROCO Publicist
Cover photo by lightwise