Press Release

Music, art and a continued conversation about ending mass incarceration at the Rothko Chapel

September 22, 2017

Music, art and a continued conversation about ending mass incarceration at the Rothko Chapel

Ensemble Pi performance slated for Thursday, Oct. 12, as part of the Chapel’s 2017 Óscar Romero Awards

HOUSTON – Sept. 22, 2017 – The Rothko Chapel continues to bring art, social justice and spirituality together as the non-profit organization prepares “Art and Incarceration: Poetry, Theatre and Music in and about Captivity,” an evening exploring the cultural and personal ramifications of mass incarceration through various forms of performance art.

The event begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct 12 at the nonprofit, located at 3900 Yupon in Houston.

The interdisciplinary performance by New York City-based socially conscious artist collective Ensemble Pi will include music, narration, acting and a discussion. The program will feature contemporary chamber works written in response to themes of incarceration and its legacy, the politics surrounding it and its long-term impact on inmates and society.

The Rothko Chapel’s director of public programs and community engagement Ashley Clemmer explained that the event is both a continuation of the organization’s focus on criminal justice reform that was initiated with the Chapel's  2017 Spring Symposium “An Act of Justice—Undoing the Legacy of Mass Incarceration” and the launch of the Óscar Romero Awards program series culminating with the award ceremony on November 12.  

The Chapel gives out the awards biennially to human rights leaders who share the spirit of late Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980 for championing the rights of the poor and fighting unjust government tactics in El Salvador at the time, including torture and assassination. This year, the Óscar Romero Award honorees are two individuals working internationally and locally for criminal justice reform -- Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, executive director of Association pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (Association for the Protection of Prisoners and Human Rights – APRODH) in Burundi and Houston-based recovery coach and peer-to-peer counselor Kathryn Griffin Griñán.  

“Building up to the award ceremony, we’ve planned programming that raises awareness on the topic of mass incarceration and creates context around each awardee’s work,” Clemmer said. “This program weaves in the transformative power of art central to the Chapel’s mission by presenting a program focused on mass incarceration through spoken work and music.”

The opening performance by Ensemble Pi  will be “Attica” by Frederic Rzewski, composed in 1971 in the wake of the prison rebellion in upstate New York. The work is based on a letter by Sam Melville, a leader in of the riots who was shot and killed during the bloody conclusion.

Following “Attica” will be “Rikers Island,” by New York composer Eleonor Cory. The piece was commissioned by Ensemble Pi in 2015. The work draws mostly from “These are Hard Times for a Dreamer,” the newly published book of prose and poems written by women inmates at Rikers Island jail complex in New York. The book results from a two-year writers’ workshop by the NY Writers Coalition in Rikers Island jail complex.

Concluding the concert will be Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” composed and first performed in a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany in 1941. Scored for clarinet, violin, cello and piano – the only instruments available at the camp – the initial audience was camp prisoners and guards. The keys for the prison camp’s piano remained lowered when depressed, leading Messiaen to compose a piece that allowed the pianist to push the keys back up between chords. The result is the slowest tempo ever requested in chamber music literature.  

The evening will also include an excerpt from Joe Assadourian’s acclaimed tragi-comic play, “The Bullpen,” based on the playwright’s own experience in a holding cell after being arrested. 

Founded in 2002, Ensemble Pi is a socially conscious music group featuring composers whose work seeks to open a dialogue between ideas and music on current issues. For the last 13 years, they have presented an annual Peace Project concert, commissioning new works and collaborating with visual artists, writers, actors and journalists such as William Kentridge, Naomi Wolf, Frederic Rzewski and Philip Miller.

“Art and Incarceration” is one of the programs planned in preparation for the upcoming Óscar Romero Awards, which will be presented at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 12. The other programs are

Silencing Opposition: Human Rights Violations in Burundi featuring a Conversation with Former Ambassador Robert Krueger and Tony Tate, The Fund for Global Human Rights on November 2 and Double jeopardy: Women and the Criminal Justice System Conversation and Book Signing with Julie Bindel on November 6.  Both programs will be held at the Rothko Chapel beginning at 7 p.m.

For more information about Ensemble Pi, visit

For more information about the Rothko Chapel Óscar Romero Award visit and for the Chapel's full calendar of upcoming programs, workshops and events, visit or call 713-524-9839.

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