You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Houston chamber group explores music and health

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 8/25/2020 By Lawrence Elizabeth Knox, Correspondent
a group of people sitting at a zoo: la speranza chamber music group featuring (from left) Fran Koiner, Yvonee Smith and Joanna Becker © Kelly Hearn

la speranza chamber music group featuring (from left) Fran Koiner, Yvonee Smith and Joanna Becker

Recent social restrictions have drawn attention to the power of music and its benefits on health, but the link between the two was relevant long before the pandemic-induced chaos.

Violist Yvonne Smith set out to illuminate this relationship between her art form and wellness in 2016, when she founded la speranza, a Houston-based chamber music group that seeks to promote physical and emotional healing through historically informed presentations of repertoire from the Baroque to early Romantic eras.

On Aug. 29, as the need for its mission has reached new heights, the period-instrument ensemble - comprised of Smith, violinist Joanna Becker, cellist Fran Koiner and several guest artists - will launch “Hope for the Future,” a virtual season of monthly events exploring various characteristics of a contented life. Each hour-long concert will include previously recorded material, intimate quarantine solos and socially distanced performances curated around a particular word that is associated with a sense of inner peace and designated in the program title.

The first episode, for instance, will put a spotlight on the vital concept of hope - a suitable theme for the series premiere, as it is also the English translation of the ensemble’s Italian name. Featuring a collection of arias and works by Johann Sebastian Bach, the evening will examine different facets of this state of optimistic expectation through the artistic lens of the German composer.

“The music that Bach has written, it’s all encompassing,” said Smith, who had her first opportunity to rehearse some of his best-known compositions using a Baroque bow while studying under professor James Dunham at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. “I believe that there’s something for everyone in all the pieces that we play, but especially with Bach, he encompasses the human experience so well - the reverence, the joy, the sorrow. Everything is kind of put together in the idea of hope.”

Some of the other programs in the series will illustrate gratitude with music by Ferdinand Ries, motivation with early works by Ludwig van Beethoven and laughter with pieces containing musical jokes by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn. The latter two composers will be featured again in May, as the season finale highlights each of their celebrated string quartets in D major, a key typically reserved for depicting joyous victory, Smith explained.

“In the Baroque era, but then also the Classical and Romantic, I love just how much liberty the performer has when we research the intentions of the composer, how much liberty the performer has in really bringing a fresh, new perspective to the work,” said Smith, who performs on a Baroque viola made by Timothy Johnson in 2017, after Andrea Guarneri’s 1676 model.

Music, as a universal language, has the capability to unite people from all walks of life, and under normal circumstances, la speranza plays for a diverse audience in a few live concerts each year. The main trio also presents monthly performances in the waiting areas of Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center as part of its Sonorous Sojourns program, which Smith established two years ago and hopes to expand to other area hospitals.

In this new virtual venture, the ensemble is dedicated to maintaining possibilities for connection by sharing relevant articles, resources and tidbits from professionals in the local health and music community on its social media channels and encouraging meaningful interactions with engaging posts leading up to each concert.

“Music in this isolating, divisive time, it’s the thing that unites us, and what’s great about it is you don’t really have to understand everything about it to be moved by it,” Smith said. “When you look on social media and see people fighting, not listening or just shouting to be heard, music provides a way for all of us to just listen and be brought together by something else.”

Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a Houston-based writer.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Houston Chronicle

Houston Chronicle
Houston Chronicle
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon