Pop the Champagne, as Ars Lyrica Houston's Spring Gala Surpasses Fundraising Goal!


Roaring Twenties Gala
1720’s meets 1920’s
An evening honoring
Robin Angly & Miles Smith
Saturday, March 11, 2017
6:30pm - Cocktails
7:30pm - Concert
8:00pm – Dinner
9:30pm – Speakeasy
ESPERSON at 808 Travis Street
Houston, Texas
Gala Sponsors:
Robin Angly and Miles Smith, Kathryn and Brenda Godfrey, Cameron Management, 1001 McKinney, Morton’s, and Peli Deli

Media Sponsor:
Connie Kwan-Wong

HOUSTON, TX (March 14, 2017) – Ars Lyrica Houston's Roaring Twenties gala took place on Saturday, March 11, 2017 in the historic Esperson building in downtown Houston. The glamourous evening began with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres at the contemporary Rusk Lobby, which was filled with 20s era jazz and glittering guests. Docents from Preservation Houston gave guests personalized tours of the historic building, highlighting the unique and detailed accents that make the Esperson such a special landmark in Houston.

Setting the tone for the evening, guests enjoyed a moving musical performance in the neo-classic Italian Renaissance Niels Lobby, with a program that featured acclaimed countertenor John Holiday, Ars Lyrica Houston's Artistic Director Matthew Dirst at the harpsichord, plus violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock and viola da gambist Mary Springfels in a festive mix of music from the 1720s to the 1920s.  While Holiday's performance of hand selected arias from G. F. Handel's Xerses brought guests to their feet, the highlight of the evening was his performance of "Misty" by Errol Garner, which, offered as a tribute to Holiday's grandmother, brought tears to everyone's eyes. 

Guests then enjoyed an elegant dinner catered by Morton’s Steakhouse, which was served in the Art Deco Mellie Lobby decorated with tall candelabras, exotic peacock feathers, and luscious florals. After dinner, the night continued in the Full Prohibition Bar at the Speakeasy Club, which was held in the recently opened Peli Deli (of Peli Peli Restaurants). Guests, who knew the secret password to enter, were offered 20s-style signature drinks and enjoyed the wee hours in smaller groups. It was a sight to remember, as laughter and cheers filled the dark corners of the room.

Among these guests were honorary chairs of the gala, Robin Angly and Miles Smith, gala co-chairs Darrin Davis and Mario Gudmundsson, as well as Connie Kwan-Wong with CKW Luxe Magazine (proud media sponsor), and CEO of Shining Nightingale Healthcare, Farida Abjani. Other supportive guests included Kathryn McNiel, CEO of Theater District Houston; Perryn Leech, Managing Director at Houston Grand Opera, Gabriel and Sara Loperena, Drs. Rachel and Warren A. Ellsworth IV, Drs. Ishwaria and Vivek Subbiah.

Proceeds from this gala will support a 2018/19 Ars Lyrica production of Handel’s first operatic masterpiece, Agrippina. Since incorporation in 2003, Ars Lyrica has given the local premieres of many major works by Handel, including La Resurezzione, Susanna, Il Trionfo del Tempo, and Jephtha. Its production of Agrippina will be the organization's first full-length operatic endeavor and its most ambitious Handelian project to-date. The Roaring Twenties goal of $40,000 was in fact surpassed by $10,000 for a $50,000 total, thanks to a full house and generous patrons.

Ars Lyrica Houston sends a special thank-you to all its supporters, especially its major sponsors for this gala: Robin Angly and Miles Smith, Kathryn and Brendan Godfrey, CKW Luxe Magazine, Morton’s Steakhouse, Cameron Management, 1001 McKinney and Peli Deli at Esperson. Their help made this Roaring Twenties gala a roaring success!

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For high-resolution images of the event, please visit this DropBox File.
Patron names and special notes are notated in the comment field.
Photo Credit: Annie Mulligan for Ars Lyrica Houston

For further inquiries, please contact Jacqueline Altobelli at 713-622-7443 or

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Ars Lyrica Founder & Artistic Director Matthew Dirst is the first American musician to win major international prizes in both organ and harpsichord, including the American Guild of Organists National Young Artist Competition (1990) and the Warsaw International Harpsichord Competition (1993). Widely admired for his stylish playing and conducting, the Dallas Morning News recently praised his “clear and evocative conducting” of Handel’s Alexander’s Feast, which “yielded a performance as irresistibly lively as it was stylish.” Dirst’s recordings with Ars Lyrica have earned a Grammy nomination and widespread critical acclaim. His degrees include a PhD in musicology from Stanford University and the prix de virtuosité in both organ and harpsichord from the Conservatoire National de Reuil-Malmaison, France, where he spent two years as a Fulbright scholar. Equally active as a scholar and as an organist, Dirst is Professor of Music at the Moores School of Music, University of Houston, and Organist at St Philip Presbyterian Church in Houston. He is the author of Engaging Bach: The Keyboard Legacy from Marpurg to Mendelssohn (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and the editor of Bach and the Organ (University of Illinois Press, 2016).

In repertoire encompassing George Frideric Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto to Jonathan Dove’s Flight and beyond, countertenor John Holiday's expressive and richly beautiful voice has made him an increasingly sought after artist, possessing a “vocal instrument that threatens to equal the name artists in his range.” (Herald Times)  Recently, Mr. Holiday received third prize at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Competition held in Los Angeles, California. In the 2016-2017 season, John Holiday will reprise Huang Ruo’s Paradise Interrupted at the Lincoln Center Music Festival and Singapore Arts Festival. On the concert stage, he sings the Messiah with the Nashville Symphony, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms with the Phoenix Symphony, and Tolomeo in Giulio Cesare with Boston Baroque. In the summer of 2017, he returns to the Glimmerglass Festival to make his debut in the title role of Xerxes. As an advocate of new works, Mr. Holiday will make his debut with Opera Philadelphia singing the role of John Blue in a world-premiere of Daniel Roumain's We Shall Not Be Moved, a production directed by the award-winning Bill T. Jones.

Elizabeth Blumenstock is a long-time concertmaster, leader, and soloist with the San Francisco Bay Area's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and American Bach Soloists, and is concertmaster of the International Handel Festival in Göttingen, Germany.  In Southern California, Ms. Blumenstock is Artistic Director of the Corona del Mar Baroque Music Festival.  Her love of chamber music has involved her in several accomplished and interesting smaller ensembles including Musica Pacifica, Galax Quartet, Ensemble Mirable, Live Oak Baroque, and Voices of Music, and she has appeared at festivals around the world.  An enthusiastic teacher, Ms. Blumenstock teaches for the Juilliard Historical Performance program, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the American Bach Soloists Festival and Academy, the International Baroque Institute at Longy, and the Valley of the Moon Music Festival.  Her discography includes some 100 CDs for such labels as harmonia mundi usa, Dorian/Sono Luminus, Koch, Naxos, Reference Recordings, and Virgin Veritas.  Ms. Blumenstock plays a 1660 Andrea Guarneri violin built in Cremona, Italy, on generous loan to her from the Philharmonia Baroque Period Instrument Trust.

Mary Springfels has spent her adult life performing medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music. She has worked with pioneering groups and individuals, including the New York Pro Musica, Sequentia, the Folger Consort, Marion Verbruggen, and Monica Huggett. For 25 years Mary was Musician-in-Residence at the Newberry Library in Chicago and director of the highly-acclaimed Newberry Consort. In 2007, she was given the Howard Mayer Brown award for an outstanding career by Early Music America. In that year, Mary moved to New Mexico. She performs locally as a guest with the Albuquerque Baroque Players, the Santa Fe Pro Musica, and Serenata; she teaches and performs worldwide, from London to Australia.


Founded in 1998 by harpsichordist and conductor Matthew Dirst, Ars Lyrica Houston presents a diverse array of music from the 17th and 18th centuries on period instruments. Its local subscription series, according to the Houston Chronicle, “sets the agenda” for early music in Houston and it also appears regularly at major festivals and conferences, including the 2014 Berkeley Early Music Festival & Exhibition. Ars Lyrica’s distinctive programming favors Baroque dramatic and chamber works, and its pioneering efforts have won international acclaim: the ensemble’s world première recording of Johann Adolf Hasse’s Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra, hailed by Early Music America as “a thrilling performance that glows in its quieter moments and sparkles with vitality,” was nominated for a Grammy Award® for Best Opera 2011.


Niels Esperson Building
This first building was built by Mellie as a memorial to “Mr. Esperson,” as she called him. It became the tallest building in Texas for two years after its completion and dedication in 1927, and it was ranked as the third largest in all of America.

Niels wished to build an architecturally distinctive 32-story building on Travis. He had a vision that Houston would become a city of over a million people one day, and he wanted to play a part in its development. However, with his premature passing, Mellie fulfilled his vision with the construction of the Niels Esperson Building. 

Mellie Esperson Building
Mellie broke ground on an adjacent plot of land next to Niels’ building in 1938. “But,” she cautioned the contractor, “it must not be as tall as Mr. Esperson’s building, nor as magnificent. I wouldn’t want it to detract from his glory in any way. Let it be to the right of his building—as I always was to him.”

Completed in 1941, the adjacent 19-story Mellie Esperson Building offered the greatest amount of office space in one structure at that time.  It was also outfitted with central air conditioning, which was a first.

Esperson—bounded by Travis, Walker, Milam, and Rusk—continues to bring in individuals and companies seeking to lease space in this historic two-building property, contiguously joined on the first 16 floors. Its architecture charms tourists from all over the world.

As Cameron Management works to make improvements to the property, they also endeavor to add additional amenities like the new escalator, which connects the new first floor Rusk Lobby to the Tunnel System with a redeveloped food court. 

The Cameron Team is excited about their progress as they work to continue the Esperson vision of providing “practical, operating developments,” with a touch of class.