An Orchestra Where Female Composers Are the Rule, Not the Exception

River Oaks Chamber Orchestra presents two programs focused on works by women.

By Holly Beretto November 15, 2018

The River Oaks Chamber Orchestra.

Image: Joel Luks

Alecia Lawyer sees the current River Oaks Chamber Orchestra season as something of a teaching moment.

“Earlier this year, I read something about how two of the largest symphonies in the country—Philadelphia and Chicago—had seasons with no female composers on them," says Lawyer, ROCO’s founder and artistic director. "When I realized that we did, I thought it might be an opportunity for a larger conversation.”

Hence two ROCO events that shed light on the talents of women working in the arts. The first, "Concert and Conversation," features selections by female composers presented alongside a panel that dissects the role of women in arts leadership. The second, "Queen of Hearts," is a more complete program of pieces by female composers.

Taking part in the discussion will be Lauren Anderson, of the Houston Ballet, Christine West from Houston First, Fleurette Fernando with the UH Masters in Arts Leadership program, Pia Agrawal of the UH Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, conductor Mei-Ann Chen, and composer Heather Schmidt. Chen is conducting the Saturday evening concert, where one of Schmidt’s works will be presented.

“I think it ought to be a lively discussion,” says Lawyer.

The full concert features four works: Anna Clyne’s Within Her Arms, Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No. 3, Ruth Gipps’ Seascape, and the world premiere of Heather Schmidt’s Solitaire.

“Anna Clyne is such a Renaissance woman,” says Lawyer, “and we commissioned Solitaire from Heather. I’ve followed her work for 20 years, and I just love seeing how she’s morphed as an artist. Solitaire is lush and interesting; it’s really a fascinating ride.”

One of the things Lawyer wants audiences to experience is the idea that great art is great art.

“We want to normalize the idea that there are these wonderful works by women out there and they deserve our attention,” she says. “So, it’s not just a composition by a woman, but that it’s a great composition that needs to be included in the classical canon.” 

That’s always been a part of ROCO’s mission, and nearly all of the organization’s concerts feature works by women. In addition to showing what women are doing and have done in the genre, Lawyer feels it’s also a way to reflect Houston.

“We’re one of the most diverse cities in the country,” she says, “and we should have programming that reflects that.”

Nov. 16 and 17. Tickets from $25. Multiple locations. More info and tickets at

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