Theater District Open House

WATCH: Ars Lyrica Houston Performs In The Studio And Previews “Artful Women”

A mini-profile of the local Grammy-nominated ensemble.


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For over two decades, the Theater District Open House has been Houston's way of kicking off the downtown performing arts season with an event that is part arts sampler, part street fair, and part family festival.

The annual Open House offers the public a chance to meet local arts groups and experience music, dance and theater through free performances, back-stage tours, and demonstrations, along with arts and crafts activities, special ticket offers, food trucks, and more – on the streets and inside the venues of Houston's theater district.

As part of our “Theater District Open House” series, we’re profiling some of the arts organizations participating in the 24th Annual TransCanada Theater District Open House this Sunday, August 27.

In this installment, we feature the early music ensemble, Ars Lyrica Houston, which was nominated for a 2011 Grammy Award.

Meet Artistic Director, Matthew Dirst, in the sound portrait, above, and watch a video of his performance with mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte.

Then read on as Matthew Dirst shares fun facts about Ars Lyrica's 2017-2018 season, below:


What is the theme of your new season?

"Artful Women" is the theme, and we're focusing on the many contributions made by women to the musical world of the 17th and 18th centuries: as muse, musician, composer, and patron.

How would you describe your season in three words?

Lively, unusual, and fun.

Could you a give a few examples of the women who inspired the season, and a fun fact or two about them?

Philomela, from Greek mythology, who turned herself into a nightingale to sing of her sorrows. Or Barbara Strozzi, an early 17th-century Italian singer and composer, who is rumored to have been a courtesan.

What do you admire about these women of early music?

Their fearlessness, creativity, and passion.

The women of today in Ars Lyrica also rock! Who are a few of the heroines, muses, musicians or patrons of Ars Lyrica?

The list is long, from our staff to many present and former board members. I'd hesitate to single out one or two here, but I can let you know that we'll be honoring various local women who have been our strongest supporters at each concert this season.

How are you opening the season?

On Sept. 22 with the concert, "Sweet Philomela," featuring soprano Sherezade Panthaki and glass harmonica virtuoso Dennis James. The centerpiece work is J.A. Hasse's "L'Armonica," a sensational 18th-century cantata written for two sisters, one of whom was a soprano, the other played the glass harmonica.

How are you closing the season?

With a tribute to the musical legacy of Marie Antoinette.

How does this season "top" last season? Are you challenging yourself or trying anything new?

I can't fairly judge whether one of our seasons is better than another, but I will say that we always try to keep things interesting!

Ars Lyrica Houston specializes in period-instrument performance. In a nutshell, what are the differences in sound between a period instrument and a contemporary instrument? What do you love about that sound?

The most important difference is the intimacy of period instruments. They're made for spaces the size of Zilkha Hall, which is why we perform there. The sound of gut strings and period winds is also sweeter, more earthy, and provides a better palate for realizing music of the Baroque age.

What does Ars Lyrica Houston have planned for the Theater District Open House?

We'll have a table and staff in the Zilkha Hall lobby of The Hobby Center, and one of our outreach programs will be onstage that afternoon.

Besides getting people to come to your concerts, what are your hopes for the 2017-18 season?

That we'll create even more local enthusiasm for some exceptional music and a group of amazing musicians.

The 24th Annual TransCanada Theater District Open House is Sunday, August 27 from 12 – 5pm at the Alley Theatre, the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Jones Hall, Revention Music Center and Wortham Theater Center.


Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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