Preview: River Oaks Chamber Orchestra travels across Europe with ‘Ticket to Ride’

Brett Mitchell will lead the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra at St. John the Divine in Houston on Saturday, February 23.

Brett Mitchell will lead the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra at St. John the Divine in Houston on Saturday, February 23.

HOUSTON — The Houston Chronicle has published an extensive preview of Brett Mitchell’s upcoming debut with the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra.

“I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could,” says Brett Mitchell, quoting a favorite bumper sticker of his. “That’s kind of like me. Any excuse to come back to Texas is great.”

Originally from Seattle, the music director of the Colorado Symphony received his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Texas at Austin and later worked as the assistant conductor of the Houston Symphony from 2007 to 2011.

On Saturday, Mitchell will return to Houston to make his debut with another local ensemble, leading the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in “Ticket to Ride” at the Church of St. John the Divine.

The concert will take its audience on a train trip across Europe in a program featuring Ethel Smyth’s “The Wreckers,” Wojciech Kilar’s “Orawa,” Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1, Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 (also called the “Haffner” Symphony) and a new commission by composer Jim Stephenson titled “ROCOmotive…”

In a way, the programming was devised through a back-and-forth “dance” between Mitchell and artistic director Alecia Lawyer, whose father collects miniature trains — a fitting theme that ties into ROCO’s overall season, “Games People Play.”

One of Lawyer’s suggestions was the overture of Smyth’s three-act opera, which was re-scored by composer Mark Buller to fit the smaller orchestra. Highlighting works by women has long been a part of the ensemble’s mission, and it’s an initiative that Mitchell fully supports, saying, “It’s about damn time that we start having more female composers on our series.” …

Although Smyth’s opera debuted over a century ago, it presents a challenge for Mitchell, much like Stephenson’s new commission. Fortunately, he enjoys the challenge and finds inspiration in working on world premieres. In fact, it’s why he became a conductor in the first place, he says, rather than following the paths of a pianist or a composer.

“I came to realize that I didn’t really feel like I personally had anything compelling that I needed to say through my own music,” he says. “What I really love doing is finding other composers that I feel like do have something to say and giving those works a voice, breathing life into them for the first time.” …

“Instead of being a creative artist, I consider what we do in orchestras being a re-creative artist,” he continues. “Priority number one for me always, the person that I am working the hardest for, it’s not the orchestra. It’s not the audience. It’s not even me. It’s the composer. Without the composer, none of us have jobs. I take my obligation to that incredibly seriously, and it’s so incredibly rewarding when you get to bring something to life like this.”

To read the complete preview, please click here.