Ars Lyrica Houston (= ALH) specializes in music from the Baroque era, the “golden age” of the 17th and 18th centuries, as performed on period instruments with careful attention to historical style and context. Founded in Houston in 1998 by harpsichordist and conductor Matthew Dirst and incorporated in 2003 as a 501(c)(3) organization, this Grammy-nominated ensemble provides audiences with world-class performances of a wide range of dramatic, sacred, and chamber works.
The early music ensemble-in-residence at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Ars Lyrica uses period instruments because they produce a sweeter, more intimate sound than their modern equivalents and are better suited to the performance of Baroque music especially. Unlike most period-instrument ensembles and professional choirs, ALH is not principally devoted to the Baroque orchestral or an exclusively choral repertory; instead, it presents a broad mix of music for voices and instruments, in keeping with the more flexible nature of performance during the Baroque age and in order to combine complementary works on individual programs and across entire seasons. Its recordings have won international acclaim, including a Grammy nomination for Best Opera 2011, and have brought significant attention to Houston’s thriving early music community. Its thematically-based programs and contemporary dramatizations of Baroque stage works “set the agenda for imaginative period-instrument programming in Houston,” according to the Houston Chronicle, and the ensemble tours frequently: ALH was featured at the 2014 Berkeley Early Music Festival & Exhibition, one of the most prestigious festivals of its kind anywhere in the world.
Under Matthew Dirst’s direction ALH brings major international artists to Houston on a regular basis and has introduced local and national audiences to a number of important Baroque masterworks. Ars Lyrica’s numerous Houston premières include Jacopo Peri’s Euridice (the first surviving opera), George Frideric Handel’s Il Trionfo del Tempo e della Verità (in its first American performance), John Blow’s Venus and Adonis (the first English opera) and Claudio Monteverdi’s monumental 1610 Vespers. ALH collaborates regularly with other local organizations on the annual Houston Early Music Festival and has been featured at national meetings and conventions of the American Musicological Society, the American Bach Society, the American Guild of Organists, the Society for 17th-Century Music, and the Westfield Center for Early Keyboard Studies.
In addition to its concert and recording activities, Ars Lyrica offers a variety of outreach programs, which enrich the concert experience and build new audiences for classical music. These include educational programs that reach over 6000 primary and secondary school students annually, performances at nontraditional venues, lectures, university collaborations, and hands-on training in period instruments and performance practices.