ARS LYRICA PRESENTS ESTHER & JONAH

Media Contact: Shannon Langman for Ars Lyrica Houston | 713-622-7443 | slangman@arslyricahouston.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ARS LYRICA HOUSTON PRESENTS ESTHER & JONAH

HOUSTON, TX (January 8, 2018) – Ars Lyrica Houston presents the fourth concert of the 2017/2018 Artful Women season with Esther & Jonah in Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center on Friday, February 16 at 7:30pm. Produced in collaboration with Bach Society Houston as part of the 2018 Houston Early Music Festival, this program comprises two concise music dramas from opposite ends of the 18th century: G. F. Handel’s Esther (1718) and Samuel Felsted’s Jonah (1775). With gorgeous arias and stirring choruses, Handel’s first English-language oratorio celebrates an Old Testament heroine’s ultimate victory over the forces of evil. Such works provided valuable models for Samuel Felsted, a composer born to an English family in Jamaica in the early 1740s. His concise setting of the story of Jonah and the whale is the first American oratorio. Ars Lyrica continues to honor local female philanthropists, spotlighting Robin Angly whose dedication and philanthropic efforts for the arts are inspirational.  

Soloists: Jennifer Bates, soprano; Eduardo Alberto Tercero, tenor; Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, countertenor

Music has been a big part of honoree Robin Angly's life since childhood. She grew up in a household that exposed her to singers like Joan Sutherland, Ella Fitzgerald and a lot of Bach, she began with piano lessons at the age of five, then at fourteen, voice lessons at Aspen Music Festival. Robin has sung with the Houston Grand Opera, The Houston Symphony Chorus and has a philanthropic passion to support the arts, the opera, and the symphony. Robin and her husband, Miles Smith have served on the Ars Lyrica Houston board with a tenure that has instilled a passion for the organization's mission and they hold it close to their hearts. Both Robin and Miles are excited to be a part of the process of bringing the organization's first fully staged Baroque opera, Agrippina that feature two rising operatic countertenors, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, and John Holiday.

Maine native soprano Jennifer Bates enjoys a multifaceted career in the opera, concert and recital worlds. Recent engagements include the role Pepik in the NY Philharmonic production of The Cunning Little Vixen, multiple appearances with NY City Opera, Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg with the American Symphony Orchestra, and was the featured soloist at the Bach Vespers Cantata Series just steps from Lincoln Center for ten years. Highlights of previous seasons have included performances at Carnegie Hall, singing Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass with the New England Symphonic Ensemble, and many European engagements, including Elgar’s The Kingdom with Maestro Leonard Slatkin and the Philharmonia in the prestigious Three Choirs Festival, Haydn’s Creation with Robert Tear at the Dartington International Summer Festival, Fauré’s Requiem with Sir David Willcocks at Royal Albert Hall, and Verdi’s Requiem at Windsor Castle. She has also appeared with the Masterworks Chorale in Boston, the Orchestra of Lon- don and the London Pro Arte Orchestra. Her repertoire spans the gamut, ranging from Bach, Monteverdi and Couperin to the more avant-garde works of Schönberg, Eisler, and Berg. As a recitalist, she has performed in multiple venues in the US and abroad, including a tour of Great Britain performing Britten’s Holy Sonnets of John Donne, and a recital at the French Embassy in Washington D.C. Jennifer is a strong advocate of late 20th and 21st century music, singing numerous premieres of new works and revamping classics of the contemporary repertoire, including Lukas Foss’ Time Cycle, and Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. She appears regularly on NY City Opera’s VOX series and has sung on the ALEA III series in Boston. Ms. Bates was a multi-year Chamber Music Fellow at the Aspen Festival, and a Scholar at the Steans Institute for Singers at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago.

Tenor, Eduardo Alberto Tercero, a native of Panama City, Republica de Panama, is described as a “dashing” performer by the Houston Chronicle and was also listed in Symphony Magazine’s Guide to Emerging Artists.  As a concert artist his credits include the World Premiere of Nicholas of Myra by Robert Nelson in the role of Marcus, Piacere in the Houston Premiere production of Handel’s Il Trionfo del Tempo e della Verita, Adamo in the Houston Premiere production of Il Primo Omicidio by Scarlatti, Messiah by G. F. Handel with the Des Moines and La Cross Symphony Orchetras, Houston Chamber Choir and Bethany (KS) and Augustana (IL) Colleges, Montiverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610 with Ars Lyrica Houston in conjunction with both the Houston Chamber Choir and Orpheus Chamber Singers of Dallas and his Houston Symphony debut as the Narrator in Copeland’s The Lincoln Portrait. Most recently he has appeared in the World Premiere production of O Columbia with the Houston Grand Opera, Music Box's production of Godspell in the role of John the Baptist/Judas, the Houston Premiere production of Adam Guettel's Myths and Hymns with A Bit of a Stretch productions and as lead ensemble member of the Premier production of Defy Gravity: A Stephen Schwartz Songbook with Standing Room Only productions. A longtime member of the Houston Chamber Choir under the direction of Robert Simpson, he will be making his season debut with Cantare Houston under the baton of Amy Solberg this coming season. He is a frequent soloist for Ars Lyrica Houston under the baton of Dr. Matthew Dirst and Mercury Baroque under the baton of Antoine Plante.  He can also be heard in the Newport Classics' recording of Cassanova’s Homecoming by one of America’s leading composers, Dominick Argento, and is the tenor soloist for the World Premiere recording of Giovanni Paolo Colonna's Psalmi ad Vesperas (1694) now available from MSR Classics. He can be seen next in the role of Franky in Forever Plaid.

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. www.aryehnussbaumcohen.com

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.arslyricahouston.org or call the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts Box Office at 713.315.2525. (Press 4 for Ars Lyrica Houston)

– MORE –

Ars Lyrica Houston Esther & Jonah, February 16, 2017 Artful Women: Muse, Heroine, Musician, and Patron

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For high-resolution images, please contact Shannon Langman at 713-622-7443 or slangman@arslyrcahouston.org.

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. 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).

Sweet Philomela Program Notes

Sweet Philomela

Friday, September 22

Good evening and welcome to Sweet Philomela, the first program of a season devoted to Artful Women and their various interactions with the musical world of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We’re delighted to welcome back soprano Sherezade Panthaki and to introduce glass harmonica virtuoso Dennis James to our home audience. Dennis gave a memorable performance of Hasse’s L’Armonica with Ars Lyrica at Cornell University in November 2014, and we’re very pleased to be able to reprise this extraordinary cantata with him in Houston.

Sweet Philomela serves up both myth and reality, from a beloved literary character to a pair of talented sisters who set the European musical world on its ear during the 1760s and 70s. Who was Philomela? The Roman poet Ovid relates, in Book VI of the Metamorphoses, the tale of an Athenian princess violated by her brother-in-law Tereus, who cut out her tongue and abandoned her. The gods later transformed Philomela into a nightingale to escape his further revenge. That bird’s sorrowful but beautiful song, which runs like a thread through tonight’s program, is a useful reminder of the transporting nature of art itself. For those still suffering the effects of Houston’s recent catastrophic flooding, we hope this music will be a balm for both the ear and the soul.

Our 2017/18 season of Artful Women continues November 12 with Italian Sirens, a program featuring music by three remarkable female musician-composers of the early seventeenth century. Subscriptions are still available and can be purchased either at intermission or through the Hobby Center box office. Check the Ars Lyrica website for the most recent information: www.arslyricahouston.org.

Thanks for joining us and enjoy the program!

Matthew Dirst, Artistic Director

Program

Excerpts from L’Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato, HWV 55, and the Twelve Concerti Grossi, Op. 6        George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)

    Largo (Op. 6/7/i)

    Air: “Come, thou Goddess, Fair and Free”

    Larghetto andante (Op. 6/2/iii)

    Accompagnato: “Come, Pensive Nun” 

    Arioso: “Come but Keep thy Wonted State”

    Allegro (Op. 6/7/ii)

    Accompagnato: “First, and Chief, on Golden Wing”

    Air: “Sweet Bird”

Adagio for Glass Harmonica, K. 356    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)

Quartet in G Major from Tafelmusik, TWV 43:G2    Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767)

    Largo–Allegro–Largo

    Vivace–Moderato–Vivace

    Grave–Vivace

Symphony in F Major, Wq. 183/3    Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788)

    Allegro di molto

    Larghetto

    Presto

L’Armonica    Johann Adolph Hasse (1699–1783)

    Introduction: Un poco Lento–Allegro di molto–Lento

    Aria: “Ah perché col canto mio”

    Recitative: “Ardir Germana”

    Aria: “Alla stagion di fiori”

Notes on the Program

Handel composed his ode L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato in 1740, as English-language works finally replaced Italian operas once and for all in English theaters (though a preference for Italian titles lingered). Not properly speaking an oratorio, this grandiose ode—more a poetic than musical category—is a dialogue between the extrovert and introvert in all of us. Its inspired libretto incorporates two John Milton poems, L’Allegro (Mirth) and Il Penseroso (Melancholy), plus Charles Jennen’s Il Moderato (Moderation), itself an homage to Milton. Though Milton’s poetry was then over 100 years old, its wide range of quintessential English imagery—from lovely pastoral scenes to stirring cathedral music—still held great sway over Handel’s audiences. Among this ode’s most fetching movements are several that evoke sounds from nature: the warbling of the nightingale, for example, features prominently in “Sweet Bird.” Our opening set, which mixes various solos from this work with Handel concerto movements, is a kind of miniaturization of the composer’s own practice: the first performance of L’Allegro in February 1740 included two of his Op. 6 concerti as intermission features.

Just two decades later, Benjamin Franklin enchanted London audiences with his latest invention: the glass harmonica. This instrument mechanized the familiar practice of rubbing rims of glasses filled with varying amounts of water, thereby producing a strange, unearthly resonance. Franklin’s wondrous machine operates by means of glass bowls of varying sizes nested horizontally on a spindle, rotated steadily by a foot treadle (like a spinning wheel), and played by applying wet fingers to their rims. When new, the instrument was celebrated for its ability “to accompany the voice…and never [be] out of tune,” and it continued to captivate audiences well into the nineteenth century, by which time it was often associated with occult practices, mesmerism, and madness. Mozart’s famous C-major Adagio, the best-known solo work for glass harmonica, highlights its distinctively veiled yet transparent timbre, which has often been compared to the voices of angels. 

Georg Philipp Telemann, arguably the most wide-ranging composer of the late Baroque, also knew how to create music that people craved. His Tafelmusik or Musique de Table, part of a long tradition of diverse chamber collections “for the table,” was one of the most successful publications of its day. Its initial announcement in 1732 garnered some 250 subscriptions from all over Europe, a truly astonishing number (Bach’s Art of Fugue, by contrast, had barely 30 subscribers). Telemann packed its three volumes with all manner of pieces in his signature “mixed” style: effectively a combination of Italian virtuosity, German learnedness, and French savoir-faire. Each “Production,” as he called them, includes an ouverture with dances, a quartet, a concerto, a trio, and either a sonata or some other kind of solo work. This evening’s G-major Quartet, from Production 1, is scored for flute, oboe, violin, and basso continuo.

As Telemann’s successor in Hamburg (as Director of Music at that city’s five principal churches), C. P. E. Bach used his fame and prominence to cultivate an increasingly international music-buying public. His four “Symphonies for Twelve Obbligato Instruments,” Wq. 183, came about thanks to a 1775 commission from a Hamburg patron whose name, alas, is lost to history. The title of these works reflects a new trend in writing symphonic music in the 1770s: unlike Emanuel Bach’s previous two sets of string symphonies, these new works are scored for two horns, two flutes, two oboes, bassoon, two violins, viola, cello, violone, and harpsichord continuo (for a total of thirteen instruments: Emanuel neglected to count himself at the keyboard). Each comprises three movements: an imposing Allegro, a tender and introspective slow movement, and a light-hearted finale. In addition to his signature melodic swoops, harmonic deflections, and sudden stops, C. P. E. Bach provides transitions in these symphonies from one movement to another, turning each into a self-contained dramatic scena

The glass harmonica (or “Armonica,” as its inventor called it) enjoyed its greatest heyday during the 1760s-80s, especially under the hands of the first English virtuosa Marianne Davies, who had been taught by Franklin himself. In 1768 Davies and her sister, the singer Cecilia, left for an extended concert tour of Europe armed with letters of introduction from Johann Christian (the “London”) Bach to his brothers Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedman. In Vienna they lodged in the house of the legendary court composer Johann Adolph Hasse and became favorites of Empress Maria Theresia. No surprise, then, that their magical music-making inspired a cantata by Hasse for the 1769 wedding celebrations of Duchess Maria Amalia to the Spanish prince Ferdinand of Bourbon, Duke of Parma. 

L’Armonica, set to a libretto by the esteemed poet Pietro Metastasio, celebrates the power of music to bless the royal nuptials while drawing attention, in a curiously self-referential way, to the union of voice and glass harmonica in the Davies sisters’ performances. Ben Franklin owned a copy of the libretto, and must surely have been gratified that his invention had found such favor at the Hapsburg court. Metastasio’s enchanting text invokes in its first lines Philomela, whose “sweet chain for souls” inspires both the vocal line and its magical accompaniment, made by “skilled hands [on] resonant, ever-changing crystals.” What a rapturous wedding this must have been, with Cecilia matching perfectly her voice to the uncanny sonorities of her sister Marianne’s glass music.

© Matthew Dirst & Annette Richards