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Ars Lyrica

Roaring Twenties Gala: 1720s Meets 1920s

By: Dr. Noreen Khan-Mayberry, CKW Luxe Healthy Living Editor

Photographer: Annie Mulligan

A very special event took place on Saturday, Mar. 11, 2017 at the historic Esperson Building, when Ars Lyrica held its Roaring Twenties gala to raise support for a 2018/19 production of Handel’s opera Agrippina. The evening honored music aficionados Robin Angly and Miles Smith, long-time supporters of the arts, including Ars Lyrica and its musical director, Matthew Dirst. Robin Angly and Miles Smith were also the honorary chairs of the event, and Darrin Davis and Mario Gudmundsson co-chaired.


Cocktails in the contemporary Rusk Lobby opened the evening and were followed by a musical performance in the neoclassical Italian Renaissance Niels Lobby. Acclaimed countertenor John Holiday; Ars Lyrica Artistic Director Matthew Dirst, playing harpsichord; violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock; and viola da gambist Mary Springfels awed the intimate assembly of 80 guests with a unique concert that featured an astounding collection of the finest musical selections from Handel to Jazz.


Afterward, an elegant dinner catered by Morton’s was served in the Art Deco Mellie Lobby. The festivities concluded with a speakeasy in the Rusk Lobby, whose entry was permitted only if you had the password, which paid tribute to the love of honorary chairs Robin Angly and Miles Smith. From the melodies of the 1720s to the sounds of the 1920s, the unforgettable evening provided those fortunate enough to attend with memories they’ll share for years to come.


Throughout the evening, docents from Preservation Houston mingled with guests and explained the history of this unique building. Houston’s only complete example of Italian Renaissance architecture in the downtown core, the Esperson Building is lavishly decorated with columns, urns, and terraces, with a grand tempietto as its crowning glory. The building was commissioned by Mellie Esperson for her husband, Niels, a Texas real estate and oil tycoon, in 1927. Construction was completed in 1941.


A total of $50,000 was raised toward staging Agrippina during the 2018/19 Ars Lyrica season.


Guests included:

Kathryn and Brendan Godfrey, Geraldine Gill, Warren and Rachel Ellsworth, Sixto Wagan, Gabriel and Sara Loperena, April Lykos, Kathryn McNeil, Donald and Rhonda Sweeney, Clifford and Jo Dee Wright, Molly Anderson, Richard Buckley, David Chambers, Cathy and Dougal Cameron, Jano and John Kelley, Perryn Leech, John Lemen, Stephanie Larsen, Phoebe Barnard, Liliana Ary, Diana Collins, and Vivek and Ishwaria Subbiah.



"What a wonderfully stirring, uplifting, and soul-reaching performance by amazing musicians, and an equally amazing vocalist, John Holiday who brought chills with his deeply moving and visually expressive performance.  The periods reflected merged harmoniously. We are proud to have been a part of this evening honoring Robin Angly and Miles Smith and supporting Ars Lyrica Houston." -  Dr. William and Teresa Reading


"The mood was celebratory and the Esperson Building in Houston was bustling with music from the 1720s all the way to the 1920s. Beautiful music - harpsicord, 1660s violin and viola da gamba, with a fabulous countertenor John Holliday! BRAVO to Ars Lyrica's Matthew Dirst for making it all happen in Houston!"  - Farida Abjani, CEO of Shining Nightingale Healthcare and Hospice care 


Gala Sponsors:

Robin Angly and Miles Smith, Kathryn and Brenda Godfrey, Cameron Management, 1001 McKinney, Morton’s, and Peli Deli.


Media Sponsor:

CKW LUXE- Connie Kwan-Wong

About Ars Lyrica: 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. The company also appears regularly at major festivals and conferences. 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.


Since its incorporation in 2003, Ars Lyrica has hosted the local premieres of a number of major works by Handel, including La Resurrezione, Susanna, Il Trionfo del Tempo, and Jephtha. Its production of Agrippina will be its first full-length operatic endeavor and most ambitious Handelian project to date.

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