Things To Do: Explore The Human Experience With ROCO’s Canvasing The Earth – Houston Press

This weekend, ROCO will take the idiom of “a picture is worth one thousand words” and transition it into the concert that marries images to music in ways that will leave attendees gobsmacked. Canvasing the Earth, taking place on Saturday, will include a world premiere piece titled “Neither Men Nor Money Justify My Worth” honoring survivors of human trafficking by Leanna Primiani and commissioned by the League of American Orchestras. This performance will also feature accompanying photos by photographer Lynn Saverese from The New Abolitionists campaign.

Completing the program will be the world premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff‘s fanfare Score, and Pictures at an Exhibition in a special presentation, with accompanying images from the collections of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Speaking of the inspiration for her piece, Primiani had some spirited thoughts about the subject matter.

“Human trafficking is a story that doesn’t get told, and it needs to get told. I thought it was something that happened at refugee camps in Greece or Sudan, but I never thought in a million years it would happen here,” the Los Angeles-based Primiani said. “It’s modern-day slavery in the United States of America, and I found out that it happens a lot, and it is alive and well. It’s becoming more prevalent, and it especially took off during COVID-19.”

January was National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, so the concert arrives at a time when the topic was quite recently top of mind. There are estimated to be more than 24.9 million people — adults and children — subjected to human trafficking around the world. Traffickers often take advantage of instability caused by natural disasters, conflict, or a pandemic to exploit others. During the COVID-19 pandemic, traffickers are continuing to perpetrate the crime, finding ways to innovate and capitalize on the chaos.

She continued, “I find their stories so fascinating. We’re talking about something as vile as this, and especially involving children. I think that’s what really strikes me as the ultimate injustice, because what’s a kid supposed to do?”

To compose the piece, Primiani used the accompanying images as inspiration.

“I knew my content was going to be shared with pictures, including sex trafficking survivors, so that was a kind of a mirror for me. I used elements of Pictures at an Exhibition to tell not a specific story but a general story. It’s kind of a tone poem,” she added.

Just bringing the piece to ROCO was something of a miracle of its own, thanks to the League of American Orchestras and the work of ROCO’s founder and artistic director Alecia Lawyer. Primiani was overjoyed to be picked, which is a process in and of itself.

“They have 200 to 300 composers who submitted, and then they narrow the choices down to maybe 10 or 20 people. And then the organizations who are participating decide which composer is a good fit for them. Alecia picked me,” Primiani indulged. “I’m never picked for anything. I’m not picked for dodgeball. My husband didn’t even pick me. I picked him. And so I was so excited when she picked me!”

Lucky for her husband, and lucky for Houston, we get to enjoy her talents.

The other works in this concert that are having their world premiere include “Earth” about the environmental crises of our time by Aaron Jay Kernis and featuring acclaimed concert artist, tenor Nicolas Phan, as well as “Score” by Jonathon Leshnoff. Reflecting upon the fundamental environmental crisis of our time, and created in collaboration with poet and agricultural researcher Kai Hoffman-Krull, the work tells the story of a farmer’s life through vignettes exploring the incremental changes of the seasons and how those who depend upon the land must adapt.

Canvasing the Earth takes place Saturday at 5 p.m. at The Church of St. John the Divine, 2450 River Oaks Boulevard, and will be livestreamed. For more information, call 713-665-2700 or visit Tickets are “pay what you wish” with a suggested price of $35. The event will also be livestreamed at, on Facebook and YouTube.