Friendship and Mutual Growth through Artistic Collaboration by Marcel T. Wormsley

“Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. ‘Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow.”

-David Hume


photo oct12Chief among the process of coalition-building in the arts is the phenomenon of artistic collaboration, in which a relationship is formed among artists for the purpose of achieving a mutual creative goal/goals. Some collaborations are short-term, measured and specific, while others are more long-term and continuous. Collaborations can take many forms – from two or more artists working together on a given project, to artists studying and learning together (and from each other) for a time, to two artists establishing a mentor/mentee relationship, to one artist adapting elements of another’s work into the creation of a new work (or in many cases incorporating a direct contribution from the other artist into the work).

Collaborations can occur within and across artistic disciplines, and the number of collaborators involved can vary depending on the nature and scope of the project(s) being pursued. The most fruitful collaborations tend to be those that are based on or easily lend themselves to genuine friendships, but of course, we might just as easily envision genuine friendships between artists in which there is no collaborative relationship. All the same, at the heart of these connections is the inevitability that one artist will be influenced by another, or in the case of artists who happen to be contemporaries, perhaps even a mutual influence. Creators are both influenced by other creators and do the influencing for other creators. Some of the most prolific and renown musicians in the world of classical music, for instance, have influenced countless other musicians to varying degrees throughout generations and successive stylistic eras. In almost all cases, this influence directly contributes to an enhancement of an artist’s vision, creative philosophy, stylistic palette and overall growth.

One particularly fruitful and long-lasting collaborative relationship was that between Johann Christian Bach (1735-82) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Mozart had readily taken to Bach’s style very early on, and the two developed a close friendship shortly after meeting in London when Mozart was a young boy. Bach was a tremendous influence in Mozart’s early development as a composer, and under Bach’s guidance, Mozart composed his four-hand piano sonata K. 19d. Mozart attended a number of Bach’s musical productions, most notably performances of his operatic works. This exposure would quickly begin to solidify Bach’s influence on Mozart’s style and in addition to the love and respect Mozart had for Bach, and vice-versa. As Adena Portowitz explains in her paper, “The J.C. Bach – Mozart Connection,” Mozart was also particularly moved by Bach’s genuineness towards him, not only with which Bach praised Mozart but also with which he spoke of Mozart to others. As Mozart wrote to his father shortly after attending Bach’s opera Amadis de Gaul in Paris:

“… Mr. Bach from London has been here for the last fortnight…. You can easily
imagine his delight and mine at meeting again; perhaps his delight may not have
been quite as sincere as mine—but one must admit that he is an honorable man
and willing to do justice to others. I love him (as you know) and respect him with
all my heart; and as for him, there is no doubt but that he has praised me warmly,
not only to my face, but to others, also, and in all seriousness—not in the
exaggerated manner which some affect.” 1(Letters, 27 August 1778, adapted from Portowitz)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mozart found particular motivation in composing in the very musical forms in which Bach flourished – keyboard sonatas, keyboard concertos, symphonies and operas. Mozart would also incorporate many musical motifs and stylistic elements used by Bach, and used Bach’s early keyboard sonatas as frameworks for the development of some of his keyboard concertos. Bach also had a major influence on some of Mozart’s early symphonies, and at least a few of these symphonies were dedicated to Bach himself. The two also had a mutual affinity for making music accessible to all of the concert-going public, regardless of the level of familiarity with and involvement in the music scene itself (a project that I am personally and passionately involved in). To this end, both composers would frequently inject culturally-relevant motifs and allusions into their works that most in attendance would be likely to identify with.

Mozart’s esteem of Bach persisted throughout Bach’s life, even as the music-loving public had begun to grow weary and to an extent even bored of Bach’s compositional style, which some had taken to deride as too simplistic and repetitive. In a way, though, one could argue that because of their lasting friendship and constant engagement through influence and collaboration, both artists grew and developed remarkable reputations in their own right that would persist well beyond their years – for Mozart, one shaped by prodigious talent and prolificity that has rendered his name synonymous with classical music itself, and for Bach, one that has been shaped simply by being the wellspring of tutelage, encouragement, ideas and support that made some of Mozart’s best work possible.

Please join La Speranza as they perform works by Mozart and J. C. Bach this Friday at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houston.


Marcel T. Wormsley












2017-2018 Season Recap

July 8, 2017: We presented works by Romantic-era composers Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann and Max Bruch at Midtown Arts and Theater Center, Houston (MATCH).

Performers: Thomas Carroll (on original clarinets from Johannes Brahms’ lifetime), Yvonne Smith (viola), Andrew Schneider (Bosendorfer piano)


Despite a thunderstorm right before the concert, MATCHBox 1 was nearly full with our enthusiastic audience!

On October 12, we returned to MATCH to present the first concert in our “Mentors Inspire” series as we focused on classical composer Franz Joseph Haydn’s early life and the mentors that helped shape his musical path.


Backstage at MATCH

Our program included: an early string quartet by Johann Stamitz in B flat major, Trio Sonata in F Major, Wq 154 by Carl Philippe Emanuel Bach, and Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 9 no. 2. Though the audience was much smaller than our audience in the summer, we were still able to donate a full bag of towels and toiletries to the Downtown YMCA for The Beacon, an organization that provides resources to Houston’s homeless and low-income population.

On October 27, we revisited some of our favorite trios and duos at St. Mark’s Episcopal for a small audience (Astros World Series Game 2 was that night). Proceeds from the evening went to Lord of the Streets, St. Mark’s ministry for the homeless. Music included a movement from Schubert’s String Trio in B flat major, the first movement of Mozart’s Divertimento in E flat major, K. 563, a duo for violin and viola in A major by Franz Joseph Haydn, and the string trio in F Major, Op. 3 no. 3 by Wranitsky.


In January, we launched Sonorous Sojourns at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center. Once a month, we visit patients in their rooms and families in waiting rooms and serenade them with pieces for solo instruments by Johann Sebastian Bach. One patient said, “I wish I had a bottle to capture my feelings now, just listening to this music- that I could revisit them whenever I wanted.” Another commented, “I was anxious about my surgery tomorrow, but a weight has now been lifted. Thank you!”

Playing Bach in a patient’s room

We’re going to add duos to the mix in the fall. Thank you to all who have donated to this campaign. You may still do so HERE.

On February 14, La Speranza made our highly-anticipated Houston Early Music Festival debut. This performance was the second in our “Mentors Inspire” concert series. The first half of the program featured the relationship between Haydn and Mozart in the middle of Haydn’s career. We performed the first quartet (in b minor) in Haydn’s “Russian” quartets, op. 33 and the first of Mozart’s “Haydn” Quartets, Op. 387, the set of six quartets that were inspired by the Haydn’s “Russian” quartets. The second half of the program was Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet with Thomas Carroll on basset clarinet d’amore, the instrument for which the quintet was intended.

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We also gave a special preview performance at Houston Methodist Hospital as a part of their Crain Garden series which included the Mozart string quartet and clarinet quintet on February 13th.


On March 16th, Andrew Schneider gave a special preview performance of Franz Liszt’s transcription of the Beethoven’s Septet for piano at Houston Methodist’s beautiful Willowbrook campus.


Joanna Becker and I (Yvonne Smith) performed a concert that featured Mozart’s Duo in G Major, K 423 and several solo works at Jim and JoAnn Fonteno Center on April 10. The presentation included a lively Q&A session and we loved spending part of our afternoon with such enthusiastic audience members.

On April 19th, La Speranza performed at San Jacinto College in our first concert with harpsichord. The program featured the connections between the well-known composers of the Baroque period and included: Handel’s Trio Sonata op. 6 no. 2, C. P. E. Bach’s B flat major trio sonata, Domenico Scarlatti’s Sinfonia a tre in G Major, George Philippe Telemann’s Quartets in F and D Major, and Christoph Graupner’s Quartet in g minor. Audiences were also treated to a solo fantasy by Johann Sebastian Bach performed beautifully by Andrew Schneider.

Photo credit: Jordan Witherspoon

A week later on April 26th, we were the featured group at Bar Boheme’s Cultured Cocktails through our fiscal sponsor Fresh Arts. From 5-8 pm we performed solo pieces by Bach and Telemann as well as duos, trios, and quartets from previous concerts and chatted with bar patrons. 10% of all food and drink purchased during our performances went towards Sonorous Sojourns. (We have yet to hear how much exactly. Update coming soon!)


Finally, on June 2nd, La Speranza’s season finale and last concert in our “Mentors Inspire” series featured the tenuous relationship between Haydn and Beethoven. We performed Haydn’s String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 76 no. 4 “Sunrise” and Beethoven’s Septet Op. 20 for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and double bass. In addition to Thomas Carroll returning on clarinet (traveling from Boston), we were thrilled to welcome double bassist Paul Ellison, bassoonist Georgeanne Banker (San Francisco), and hornist Sadie Glass (San Francisco) for the first time.

Rehearsal for the septet
Performing the Haydn String Quartet
Septet in performance!


In addition to our concert at St. Mark’s Episcopal, we performed the Beethoven Septet on June 1 for a packed house at Thomas A. Glazier Senior Education Center. We spoke with the audience members about our Classical instruments and answered questions about our individual journeys in historical performance. Some came again to our concert at St. Mark’s the next day!


2017-2018 was a truly remarkable year, especially with Hurricane Harvey drastically affecting every aspect of life here in Houston. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to pull such a season off, especially as this was just our second year of existence!

However, we’ve performed for over 400 people through 10 concerts and reached another 80 through Sonorous Sojourns! We also raised over $6,600. Thank you to all of our wonderful musicians, volunteers, hosts, and donors!

So what’s next for La Speranza?

Well, here are a couple of short term goals:

  • Form a board of directors and become a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization in March 2019.

We are currently under the 501(c)3 umbrella of Fresh Arts, a non-profit arts organization in Houston which means we are able to receive tax-deductible donations and valuable support in the early stages of our ensemble. It is now time to take the next step!

  •  Individual donations covering 75% of the cost of our season.

Our entire 2018-2019 season will be announced on July 8. Now is a great time to DONATE to our general fund to give us a head start on the fundraiser, which will happen in August. Each concert costs between $3,000-6,000 to present, and we wouldn’t be able to exist without individual donations.

I believe in the power of historically informed chamber music performances in healing and transforming an audience and, in turn, a community. When we return to the roots of  the music, we find parallels between then and now – in music and also the human condition. Our mission is unique in Houston and – as affirmed again and again in our performances and presentations this season- an extremely important one.

I am passionate about our mission- so passionate, in fact, that my personal finances make up for whatever we don’t raise in donations for each concert. I am extremely grateful for every dollar raised, and no donation is too large or small!

  • Grants covering 25% of the cost of our season.

If you have attended one or more of our performances this year,  we would love to hear from you. Testimonials are extremely valuable when we apply for donations and grants from larger organizations. You can use the Contact form or e-mail us directly.

Thank you again for all of your support this year! Have a great summer!


~Yvonne Smith, artistic director and violist


Thank you!

Taken from our e-newsletter:

Yesterday was a wonderful day for La Speranza! Seven of you donated a total of $702.70 between our two campaigns. Thank you for your generosity!

Here’s where each of our campaigns now stands:

Debut at Houston Early Music Festival: $1,070 out of $3,717 raised (28.7%)
End Date: Thursday, November 30 at 11:30 PM (tomorrow!)

Season Finale: $652.70 out of $4,700 raised (13.8%)
End Date: Sunday, December 31 at 11:59 PM

As you can see, we’ve made wonderful progress but we still have a ways to go. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today so that La Speranza can continue to illuminate the connection between music and wellness through chamber music on historical instruments!

To sign up for our e-newsletter, click HERE.

What Makes La Speranza Unique, part 4: Leadership

When I was eleven or twelve, I loved listening to Philharmonia Baroque’s recordings of Corelli violin concerti. The warm sound of gut strings intrigued me, and sometimes I even tuned my little viola down to A415 to play along with the recording.

However, I never thought I would get to play on a baroque viola in an orchestra, much less in a chamber music ensemble. Why? Well, up until about twenty years ago, historically informed performance practice (HIPP) was more advanced in Europe but almost nonexistent in the United States. Now the idea of recreating historically accurate representations of music written hundreds of years ago has caught on in the United States, and Houston is quickly joining the ranks of cities boasting several early music ensembles. Despite the growing popularity and accessibility of the art form, the overwhelming majority of musicians of HIPP ensembles in the United States are white, and most of the directors of HIPP ensembles are men.

Yvonne Smith/Photo by Shannon Langman

La Speranza is directed by an African-American female, setting the ensemble apart from every other HIPP ensemble in Houston. Yvonne is also the ensemble’s violist.

As the only minority-directed ensemble in Houston, La Speranza has the unique opportunity to challenge the long-held expectation that HIPP musicians and directors are white, expanding and diversifying HIPP audiences nationwide. We love seeing the faces of other women and ethnic minorities at our performances who are delighted to see someone of their gender or skin color directing an ensemble. I (Yvonne) look forward to seeing how Houston’s HIPP audience expands in the next five and ten years because of the influence of La Speranza!

What else makes La Speranza unique? Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Be a part of our Houston Early Music Festival debut! Donate today.


What Makes La Speranza Unique, part 3: Sonorous Sojourns

When I (Yvonne) was in middle school, I had the opportunity through the local youth orchestra to play viola for hospitalized children and their families, and the experience impacted me profoundly. When I began La Speranza last year, I knew I wanted to have the group participate in a similar program.


Sonorous Sojourns brings music to patients and their families in local hospitals. La Speranza is working with Bailey Curtis at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center to bring two musicians for 90 minutes once a month to spend time performing for and visiting with patients and their families. The program was set to begin in September, but Hurricane Harvey had other plans. Currently, our plan is begin playing there at the end of November. Patients will be able to request a visit from a musician (pending doctor approval, of course), and musicians will make the rounds for an hour and a a half, stopping at each room or common area for 15 minutes each.

I truly believe that music helps us in our physical and emotional healing processes, and we are excited to begin bringing music to places of healing like Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.

Long-term plans for Sonorous Sojourns include expanding to more hospitals and beginning a similar program in a local prison. If you’d like to have La Speranza musicians play at your hospital, please contact me. We’d be honored!

What Makes La Speranza Unique, part 2: Behind the Scenes

Unlike larger ensembles that need access to a large space in a theater or church to rehearse, La Speranza is able to rehearse at home, saving us hundreds of dollars in rental fees and allowing our members the flexibility to bring and care for their children.

We rehearse at the home of Joanna Becker, one of our fabulous violinists and a mom of a two-month-old baby boy named Liam. On breaks, she feeds the baby, and we can eat lunch or dinner around the kitchen table.

Giving Gremlin the kitty some attention

While rehearsing at home means flexibility and comfort, we have extremely productive rehearsals in Joanna’s music room, where we have access to scores and sheet music. Liam hangs out with his daddy or his grandmother in the living room. Sometimes Nadia’s son and husband and Fran’s daughters tag along for the day.


We all enjoy getting to see the children and play with the many pets Joanna and her husband Dante keep.

Gus, the tortoise, enjoying a strawberry
Sloopy, not wanting to be left out

Even though we are a relatively new organization, La Speranza already feels like a family because we rehearse at home. I’m extremely fortunate to work with such lovely people!

What Makes La Speranza Unique, part 1: Genre

Houston is the home to a vibrant arts scene, including a rapidly growing audience for historically informed performance. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, historically informed performance (or historical performance practice, HPP) refers to the performance of music written before the 20th century on period instruments, that is, instruments that would have been used during the time the music was written.

There are many fantastic HPP groups in Houston, like Bach Society Houston, Viols of Houston, and Ars Lyrica that mainly perform early music (music written before the Classical era began in 1750). Mercury Houston is an orchestra that performs everything from the music of the Baroque era (1600-1750) to music written in the twentieth century. Context, directed by Brian Connelly, is a group that presents chamber music works for piano from the Classical era to the 20th Century.

La Speranza is the only strings-based ensemble that presents historically informed performances of chamber music from the Baroque through Romantic eras. We are also committed to remaining a small chamber music group instead of expanding into an orchestra.

Why does this matter? Why does Houston benefit from period instrument strings-based chamber music?

1. We are uniquely positioned to provide high quality string chamber music to Houston audiences because this is our only focus. Whether we’re at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center or at MATCH, our goal is to perform historically informed chamber music at the highest level. We have the time and resources to research and put together stellar programs that enrich and brighten the lives of our audience members.


2. The average Houstonian concertgoer only hears historical performance experts in an orchestral context. La Speranza provides the unprecedented opportunity to hear these and other seasoned musicians in a chamber music setting. In this more intimate context, audience members gain a deeper connection with musicians and the music itself.


3. Without La Speranza, Houstonians simply do not hear Classical and Romantic era chamber music for strings played on period instruments. Performances on period instruments provide a fresh perspective for even the most seasoned audience members. La Speranza keeps the audience for historically informed performance fresh and excited to hear more.



A Family Affair

In preparation for a big announcement next week, we’ll be posting regular blog posts about the musicians and instruments of La Speranza.


Last week at our season opener, siblings shared the stage! Well, none of the musicians are related, but two of our instruments are.


Nadia Witherspoon’s violin and Yvonne Smith’s viola were made by the same luthier.


Timothy Johnson, a luthier now based in Connecticut, crafted both of these beautiful instruments. Nadia’s violin, finished in the spring of 2016, was modeled after the Stradivarius P mold, a violin on display in the Stradivari museum in Cremona. The decorations on the violin are from the Nicolo Amati “Louis XIV”, made in 1656 and on display in the Smithsonian museum.


Yvonne’s viola is modeled after the “Conte Vitale” viola by Andrea Guarneri and has a Brothers Amati scroll. The original “Conte Vitale” viola has a cello style scroll, but the Amati scroll better suits the dimensions and aesthetic of the viola. This wonderful instrument was finished in September of 2017. In fact, our season opener was its debut performance. It was extremely honored to perform alongside its older sibling for its very first public concert.



The siblings (and their musicians) are looking forward to many more performances together!

la speranza needs your help!

Edited on April 27: We have raised $920 so far! The 25th has come and gone, but we are obviously still taking donations. Our next concert is May 12 and we would be so grateful to have our concert costs covered by then. Thank you for your support!


If you haven’t heard, la speranza hopes to raise $2,500 by April 25 to offset costs for the last two concerts of our season. Below is an explanation detailing what your money funds and why we are asking for your support in these crucial few weeks.

Where does $2,500 go?

Funding for hall rental: 16%
We are planning a “summer salon” at MATCH, and your donations so far have helped us put down a deposit to reserve the hall.

Advertising/printing/sheet music/sponsorship fees: 10%
Your donations so far have helped procure the music for our May 12 concert.

Paying musicians: 74%
Each musician who plays with la speranza invests a considerable amount of their time to play a single concert program, not including the thousands of hours and dollars it takes to become a professional musician and maintain a high level of performance. Though la speranza is young, we strongly believe in paying musicians, so we’ve put on only a few concerts this season with the hope of expanding our concert season in the future as more funds become available. You might be wondering if I (Yvonne) pay myself as a performer in la speranza. The answer is NO, not until donations and grants can completely fund our concerts. For now, I make up the deficit with my own money. Practically speaking, this arrangement can’t last forever, and we are relying on donations and grants if la speranza is to continue and thrive.

Anything extra will be applied directly towards costs for next season.

Why donate to la speranza?

Your donations will be tax-deductible.
la speranza is fiscally sponsored by Fresh Arts, a non-profit arts organization. This means that contributions for la speranza will be tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.


You’ll allow us bring joy to communities.
Our goal is to bring period instrument chamber music to our communities and promote wellness and healing through our performances. With just two performances under our belt, we have already reached dozens of patients, doctors, and nurses at Houston Methodist Hospital as well as the community in Spring Branch. One concertgoer wrote afterwards: “[We] were both feeling a little rocky last night but the four of you truly lifted our spirits.” We would not have the honor and privilege of brightening others’ days without your contributions.

You’ll help us accomplish big plans.
We have an entire concert series in the works for next season called “Mentors Inspire” that explores the life and influence of Haydn. We also plan to implement a hospital outreach program by the end of the upcoming season in which our musicians give informal performances for patients and their families in their rooms.


Here’s a partial list of everything we want to accomplish in the next five years:
-Neighborhood tours of our concert programs
-Lecture series in conjunction with our concert season about the benefits of music and aspects of historically informed performance
-Residence at a yoga studio
-Annual Texas tour, giving concerts in communities around the state
-Acquisition of a fortepiano
Meeting these goals starts with your support this year. We’re beyond excited about what we can accomplish with your generosity!

Please visit THIS LINK to make a tax-deductible donation.

If you’ve already donated, thank you! We are so grateful for your support.
If everyone who follows la speranza on Instagram and Facebook were to give $15, we would surpass our goal. If you’re not in a position to give and if you’ve already given, please share this campaign (and this blog post) with your friends and family.

Thank you!



March 30 Concert

Here’s a recap of last week in pictures. Enjoy!

During a well deserved break in rehearsal
Gremlin helping us get some work done
Our first program!
sound check at Christ the King Presbyterian. They were such wonderful hosts!
Final bows. Tired and happy smiles!
Enjoying the reception. Unfortunately we did not get a photo with the reception table which was beautifully prepared by Phyllis Smith. We had about 20 in attendance, and as a result of ticket sales and donations, we are 20% of the way towards our fundraising goal. The four of us had a wonderful time performing for our audience and are looking forward to our next concert in May.