Ars Lyrica Houston’s Spring Gala Surpasses Fundraising Goal for Handel’s Agrippina

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Ars Lyrica Houston                                                                                             PRESS RELEASE
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Tel: 713-622-7443                                                                                            Ars Lyrica Houston    
Tickets: 713-315-2525                                                                    Marketing & Admin Coordinator                                                             Matthew Dirst                                                                                                                                      Artistic Director
Kinga Ferguson
Executive Director

Ars Lyrica Houston Gala Fills Houston Landmark with Music and Glamour with A Roman Feast
Ars Lyrica Houston’s Spring Gala Surpasses Fundraising Goal for Handel’s Agrippina

 Houston, March 4, 2018 – Ars Lyrica Houston’s A Roman Feast Gala, Honoring Rhonda and Donald Sweeney chaired by Drs. Rachel and Warren Ellsworth IV, and Sara and Gabriel Loperena took place March 3, 2018 in the historic Esperson building in downtown Houston, an event to raise funds for the organization’s first fully-staged Baroque opera, Handel’s Agrippina to be produced November 2018. The evening began with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the contemporary Rusk Lobby, filled with fragrant lavender, ferns and Romanesque décor with live harp music. An intimate concert of Handel arias followed, performed by acclaimed countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Artistic Director Matthew Dirst on harpsichord, and violinist Alan Austin in the Esperson Neils Lobby. Guests then enjoyed a grand feast on theme and ended with an Italian disco after party in the transformed Neils Lobby complete with dancing, drinks, light bites, and craft beer sponsored by Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.

The gala was sponsored by Cameron Management at the Esperson, 1001 McKinney, CKW LUXE Magazine, Spindletop Design, Workhorse Print Makers, The Antiquarium Maps and Prints Fine Custom Framing, Gabriel and Sara Loperena.

Those in attendance included gala honorees Rhonda and Donald Sweeney, gala chairs Sara and Gabriel Loperena, and Drs. Rachel and Warren Ellsworth IV, gala after party chairs Michelle Stair and Carlos Sierra, Darrin Davis and Mario Gudmundsson, Stephanie Von Stein and Dr. Mark Schusterman, Tatiana Galitzine and Guillermo Sierra, Perryn Leech, Sixto Wagan, Andrew Davis and Corey Tu, Lauren and Brandon Abel, Emily Schreiber, Jano and John Kelley, Liam and Meredith Bonner, Carrie and Sverre Brandsberg-Dahl, Bradley Moore, Anna Kaplan, Trey and Katherine Brady of MBR Financial, Dougal and Cathy Cameron, Jennifer Blanco, John Earles, Ed and Marianne Grusnis, and Judy Nyquist.


About the Artists

 Countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen has quickly been identified as one of opera and early music’s most promising rising stars. In 2017, he was named a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and First Prize Winner of the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Competition. In the 2017-18 season, he joins the Houston Grand Opera Studio, as the first countertenor in the studio’s history, for productions of Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Strauss’ Elektra. He also joins American Bach Soloists for performances of Handel’s Messiah in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. He made his European debut at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, singing the primo uomo role of Timante in Gluck's Demofonte with baroque ensemble Il Complesso Barocco. Additional credits include performances with the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, the Leipzig Barockorchester, the Venice Music Project, and the Newberry Consort.

 A founding member of Ars Lyrica Houston, violinist Alan Austin performs regularly as a chamber musician, soloist, and orchestral player.  He has served as concertmaster of Ars Lyrica Houston, Bach Society Houston (for over 20 years), and Texas Bach Collegium, and has performed with the Texas Baroque Ensemble, Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Denver, Dallas Bach Society, Mercury Baroque, Early Music Southwest, La follia, and Texas Early Music Project. He is adjunct instructor of Baroque violin at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music. He has recorded for the Dorian, Zephyr, Gothic, Sono Luminos, and MSR Classics labels, and plays on a Bernardo Calcanius violin made in Genoa, c. 1740.

 In addition to performing, Alan is the General and Artistic Director of the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival, a series of summer training programs featuring one of the premier summer Orchestral Institutes in the US, which brings young professional musicians, on the cusp of professional careers, to Houston each June.

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. His book Engaging Bach: The Keyboard Legacy from Marpurg to Mendelssohn was published by Cambridge University Press in 2012. He is also the editor of Bach and the Organ, which appears in the Bach Perspectives series from the University of Illinois Press in early 2016.


About the Esperson

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.

About Ars Lyrica Houston

 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.


For high-resolution images, media contact: Shannon Langman 713-622-7443 or | 713-622-7443


Gala Sponsors

Gabriel & Sara Loperena  |  Cameron Management  |  Morton's Steakhouse  |  CKW Luxe Magazine  | Spindletop Design and Workhorse Printmakers | The Antiquarium Antique Maps and Prints Fine Custom Framing | 1001 McKinney

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