la speranza is a group of string and wind players that bring chamber music performances on period instruments of repertoire spanning from the Baroque to early Romantic eras. Named after the Italian word for “hope”, la speranza seeks to promote physical and emotional healing through their historically informed performances in Houston communities. la speranza was founded by Yvonne Smith in 2016.
Each of our musicians have made historically informed performance practice (HIPP) a focus of their careers and are active performers in the United States and Europe. We present 3-4 formal concerts a year, as well as several free concerts in local hospitals and community centers.
Photo by Kelly Hearn
Yvonne Smith, viola
Based in Houston, Texas, Yvonne Smith is an accomplished performer on modern and historical violas. She appears in several performances each season with the Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, Bach Society Houston, Mercury Chamber Orchestra, Ars Lyrica Houston, La Follia Austin Baroque, and American Bach Soloists (San Francisco, CA). Her career was featured in the May 2017 issue of Early Music America’s EMAg in the article “Early to Rise”.
Yvonne is a dedicated chamber musician who performs in both modern and historical contexts, including a residency at the Cedar Valley Chamber Music Festival (Cedar Falls, IA). In 2016, she founded La Speranza, a period instrument ensemble that brings historically informed performances of wind and string chamber music to Houston communities and explores the connection between music and wellness. Now in its third season, La Speranza made its Houston Early Music Festival debut in 2018 and has recently received a grant from Houston Arts Alliance.
Ms. Smith maintains a small private studio through the Tallowood Academy of Fine Arts and Houston Youth Symphony, and frequently coaches middle school and high school viola sections in orchestra programs throughout the Greater Houston area. Her students have earned chairs in region orchestras and competed at the state level in Solo and Ensemble contests.
Born in Ames, Iowa, Yvonne began piano lessons with her mother at the age of three and began studying the viola at her elementary school in upstate New York at the age of 9. She earned her Master of Music and Bachelor of Music degrees in Viola Performance from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University under the tutelage of Joan DerHovsepian and James Dunham. More information is available at yvonnesmithviola.com.
Yvonne’s baroque viola was made by Timothy Johnson in 2017 after Andrea Guarneri, 1676.
Joanna Becker, violin
Violinist Joanna Becker received her Bachelor’s Degree from Yale College and her Master’s Degree from the Shepherd School at Rice University, where her principle teachers were Sergiu Luca and Ken Goldsmith. She pursued additional studies in performance and musicology at the Mannes College of Music and Hunter College, in New York City. In Houston, she performs regularly with Mercury, the Orchestra Redefined, and the Texas New Music Ensemble, among other orchestral and chamber ensembles. Joanna had the honor of participating in the Da Camera Young Artist Program in 2012. She teaches violin students of all ages in her private studio and at the YES Preparatory School. Before moving to Houston, she played for five years in the New Haven Symphony and was faculty at the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven. She has performed around the United States as well as in Europe and South America.
Fran Koiner, cello
A performer, teacher, and clinician in the Houston area, cellist Francis Koiner’s experience ranges from teaching students of all ages, from young beginners to her students at both San Jacinto College-Central and Lee College, to performing professionally. She has teacher trained at the Chicago Suzuki Institute, the DFW-WOW Suzuki Institute in Dallas, and the Central Pennsylvania Suzuki Institute. As a Masters student at Rice University, Ms. Koiner was selected as a teacher of non-major cello students. She attended the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival in Brunswick, Maine, as the performing and teaching assistant to Marc Johnson of the Vermeer Quartet. Ms. Koiner’s past teachers include Elizabeth Simkin, Desmond Hoebig and Norman Fischer, and she earned a B.M. from Ithaca College in 1999 and an M.M. from Rice University in 2004. She has completed summer studies at Bowdoin with Steven Doane and Rosemary Elliot of the Eastman School of Music and has performed in master classes for David Ying and the Ying Quartet. Locally, Ms. Koiner has performed with TUTS, Mercury, the Houston Gilbert and Sullivan Society, Woodlands Symphony, Symphony of Southeast Texas, and Kingwood Chorale, among others. She has recently begun pursuing an interest in Baroque cello performance and is an original member of Houston’s only string-based historical performance chamber music ensemble, La Speranza. She also frequently performs with Bach Society Houston. Before moving with her husband to Houston, Ms. Koiner could be heard in New York with the Cornell Contemporary Chamber Players, the Cornell Festival Orchestra, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, Tri-Cities Opera, Ithaca Opera, and the Binghamton Philharmonic. She serves as principal cellist with the Pasadena Philharmonic, of which her husband is the music director. They live in Clear Lake with their two daughters.
Dr. Mario Aschauer, fortepiano
Praised a performer with “unconventional ludic drive” by the press and listed among Austria’s thirty-five most outstanding researchers aged under thirty-five by the Austrian Science Fund in 2013, Mario Aschauer works as conductor, harpsichordist, and musicologist at the interface of music scholarship and performance.
His book on German Keyboard Treatises in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2011) is considered a standard reference in the field. Further projects in early keyboard studies include the development of historical-style keyboard fingerings and notes on performance practice for new editions of prominent works by Beethoven and Schubert as well as a new edition of Mozart’s keyboard sonatas published by Bärenreiter.
As a performer on historical keyboard instruments Mario has built up a diverse repertoire specializing in Austrian Baroque music. He is member of the Calamus-Consort, which won first prize at the International H.I.F. Biber Competetion in 2009 and since then has been invited to numerous renowned early music festivals such as Resonanzen Wien, Bach Fest Leipzig (Germany), and Itinéraire Baroque en Périgord Vert (France). Their CD “Un dolce affanno” (Passacaille, 2012) features highlights from operas performed at the Vienna court around 1700 with chalumeau, clarinet, and harpsichord as solo instruments.
Having earned a degree in conducting from the Linz Bruckner Conservatory at the young age of seventeen, Mario had already conducted major works from the choral and symphonic canon before he graduated from high school. Shortly thereafter Mario began to specialize in the music of the late eighteenth century performed on period instruments with his Ensemble NovAntique Linz. Their repertoire is typically beyond the standard and includes large-scale sacred and symphonic works and oratorios by composers such as Gassmann, Gossec, Kraus, Salieri and Wagenseil. In addition, Mario also collaborates with other early music ensembles such as Progetto Semiserio Vienna, Harmony of Nations Baroque Orchestra, Ars Antiqua Austria, and L’Orfeo Baroque Orchestra, Ars Lyrica Houston, Houston Bach Society, and Mercury Houston.
Mario has edited Schubert’s opera fragment Adrast, D. 137, for the New Schubert Edition and gave it its world premiere in Vienna in 2010. The recording of the concert was broadcast on BBC Radio and won the “Pasticcio Prize” from the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF). Mario’s current research for a new book on Anton Bruckner’s creative process was selected for prestigious fellowships from the Austrian Science Fund and the Max Kade Foundation, Inc. (New York). The project also entails a recording of selections from Bruckner’s sketches on a mid-19th-century fortepiano similar to the composer’s own instrument. Mario is member of the advisory boards of the New Bruckner Complete Edition (Vienna) and the Anton Bruckner Institut Linz.
As Assistant Professor of Music Mario teaches music history, historically informed performance and early keyboard instruments at the Sam Houston State University School of Music (Huntsville, TX). He holds an MA in harpsichord performance from the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna, an MPhil and a PhD in musicology from the University of Vienna—all of which he earned “with distinction”—as well as a degree in conducting from the Linz Bruckner Conservatory. He has since returned to teach at these institutions. Between 2008 and 2014 Mario held a position as researcher at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Vienna). In 2012/13 he was a postdoctoral fellow and visiting guest lecturer at the Yale School of Music.
Elisabeth Axtell is a nationally recognized natural horn specialist who delights in sharing the period instrument ethos with audiences across the country.
Elisabeth is second horn of Handel & Haydn Society, the oldest continually operating performing arts organization in the United States. Other East Coast engagements include Boston Baroque, Boston Early Music Festival, Opera Lafayette, and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra. On the West Coast, she takes the stage in California with the American Bach Soloists, Opera Neo, and Musica Angelica, and in Washington with Pacific MusicWorks. She performs in the southern United States with the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra and Texas’s Mercury Orchestra, La Speranza, Ars Lyrica, and Arts at Redeemer, and in the Mountain West with the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado and the Montana Early Music Festival. Elisabeth also enjoys a regular concert schedule on the modern valved horn and has been recorded on the CORO and Collegium labels.
Off stage, Elisabeth is an entrepreneur of unconventional ensembles whose recent projects include Grand Harmonie, a wind-led period instrument orchestra, Conica, a path-breaking all-female natural horn quartet, and Emergere, a conductorless wind band. She has proudly supported community music organizations through past service as a president of New England Brass Band and as a board member of the Metropolitan Wind Symphony.
A Pacific Northwest native, Elisabeth holds degrees in English and music from Minnesota’s Gustavus Adolphus College and a masters degree in music performance from Boston University. Her principal teachers are Kathleen Vaught-Farner, Eric Ruske, and Todd Williams.
Georgeanne Banker, bassoon
A New York native, bassoonist Georgeanne Banker has performed throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. Georgeanne frequently performs on historical and modern bassoons and is a co-founder and bassoonist of the San Francisco-based conductorless orchestra One Found Sound. Georgeanne has appeared with a variety of ensembles including The Carmel Bach Festival, Mercury – The Orchestra Redefined, The Santa Rosa Symphony, Monterey Symphony, Magik*Magik Orchestra, and the Lake Tahoe Music Festival Orchestra, where she appeared as a soloist in 2016. Enthusiastic about both very old and very new music, she can also be found playing various shawms and dulcians with The Whole Noyse, and she can be heard on the albums of indie artists including Gem Club, Christina Vantzou, and Viking Moses, and on the soundtrack of the Oscar-nominated animated short The Dam Keeper.
Thomas Carroll, clarinet
With a sound described as “beautifully warm” (Herald Times) and “sweet and agile” (New York Times), period clarinetist and instrument builder Thomas Carroll performs extensively throughout North America and Europe on historical instruments. He holds degrees from Oberlin Conservatory, Indiana University, and The Royal Conservatoire of The Hague, where his major teacher on early clarinets and chalumeaux was Eric Hoeprich.
Internationally, Thomas has performed under such directors as Christophe Coin, Richard Egarr, Philippe Herreweghe, Jos van Immerseel, Allessandro Moccia, and David Stern; and has performed at numerous festivals as an orchestral and chamber musician including Oude Muziek Utrecht, Muziekzomer Gelderland, Young Euro Classic, Festival de Saintes, and Musica Antiqua Brugge in venues ranging from the Kozerthaus in Berlin to the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. He has been featured as a concerto soloist with Lyra Baroque, Ensemble ad Libitum, and Grand Harmonie to critical acclaim. In North America, Thomas is the principal clarinetist with Boston-based Grand Harmonie and Houston-based Mercury: The Orchestra Redefined, and frequently collaborates with other early music specialists on the east coast including the Clarion Music and Handel and Haydn Societies and Boston Baroque. He has given faculty chamber recitals and guest lectures and masterclasses on both coasts and at the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival. Thomas is currently on the faculty of the Brookline Music School and maintains a private studio.
An interest in instrument mechanics and acoustics has led Thomas to a secondary career as an instrument builder and extensive research into 18th and 19th century wood treatment and seasoning. He studied woodworking and instrument construction with Linda Shortridge, Rob Turner, and Paul Beekhuizen, and builds chalumeaux, baroque, and classical clarinets, and basset instruments for use in historically-informed performance ensembles.
Flutist Alaina Diehl has performed on Baroque flute with La Speranza, Ars Lyrica Houston, Austin Baroque Orchestra, Mercury Ensemble, Houston Baroque, Santa Fe Pro Musica, and the Victoria Bach Festival. On modern flute and piccolo, she has performed with the New Mexico Philharmonic, Opera Southwest Albuquerque, Santa Fe Symphony, Santa Fe Pro Musica, Festival Ballet Albuquerque, and the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players. She studied at the Flute Studio of Trevor Wye in Kent, England, and has a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Houston. She teaches musicology courses at the University of Houston, San Jacinto College, and Lone Star College.
Elisabeth Ellison, double bassist, began studying early music on the viol da gamba in 1980, just a few yards across Holman Street at the former campus of the High School for Performing and Visual Arts, and has been a lifelong performer in Houston and Chicago. Elisabeth performs on occasion with Bach Society Houston and is a member of the crossover ensemble Cantiga.
Paul Ellison, double bass
Performing solo and ensemble concerts as well as giving master classes on the double bass and period instruments on four continents, Paul Ellison is the Lynette S. Autrey Professor of Double Bass and chair of strings at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, Visiting Artist-Faculty University of Southern California and guest tutor at the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Royal College of Music, and Bass Club, England. Current summer positions include principal bass at the Grand Teton Music Festival, faculty/performer at the Sarasota Music Festival and faculty/performer at Festival Domaine Forget, Quebec.
Former students hold titled positions in major ensembles and institutions of higher learning on five continents. Previous positions include principal bass of Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Aspen Festival Orchestras (also faculty), professor of double bass and chair of strings at the University of Southern California, and president of the International Society of Bassists. Ellison was the first to receive both the diploma and teaching certificate from Institut International Rabbath, Paris. “…The treat of the afternoon turned out to be hearing the double bass as a solo instrument…Paul Ellison…demonstrated virtuosity. [The] bass shines as [the] music festival gets underway.”
Allen Hamrick, bassoon
Praised for his musicality and virtuosity, Allen Hamrick enjoys a varied career as a period bassoonist and recorder player. He has performed with the Boston Early Music Festival for their production of Orlando Generoso by Agostino Steffani; he has performed with Boston Baroque and The Handel and Haydn Society; and he has performed for Bach festivals in Toronto and Charlotte, North Carolina. Allen has appeared with the Teatro Nuovo Bel Canto festival since its inaugural season in 2018, and looks forward to recreating the music of Rossini and Donizetti in 2021. He frequently performs with La Fiocco and has made many appearances with Grand Harmonie and other ensembles across the country. Allen holds music degrees from Indiana University, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and The Juilliard School, where he toured nationally and internationally with Juilliard415 under the direction of renowned directors William Christie, Masaaki Suzuki, and Jordi Savall.
Nate Helgeson is one of the West Coast’s leading specialists in historical bassoons. Born into a musical family in Eugene, Oregon (his brother, Aaron Helgeson, and uncle Stephen Gryc are both accomplished composers), Nate studied modern bassoon with Steve Vacchi and Richard Svoboda before taking up the baroque instrument, continuing his studies with Dominic Teresi at the Juilliard School.
Based in Oregon, Nate performs on stages large and small throughout North America. In addition to solo and orchestral appearances with premier period ensembles across the country, he can be heard on recordings by Apollo’s Fire, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra. Beginning in 2018, Nate has performed works of Rossini and Bellini on period instruments as part of the Teatro Nuovo opera festival in New York, exploring 19th century ‘bel canto’ sounds and performance practices on the opera stage. Nate is on the faculty at Baroque Music Montana’s Period Instrument Workshop, and from 2019-2020 taught modern bassoon at the University of Oregon.
Toma Iliev is a violinist focused on historically informed performance. Holder of the Ruth and Charles Poindexter chair with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, recent engagements include performances with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, American Bach Soloists, Oregon Bach Festival, Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, Clarion Music Society, and the Valley of the Moon Festival, as well as broadcasts on MediciTV, BBC3 radio, WQXR, and the CBC “Rush Hour” series.
An avid chamber musician, Toma is a member of the Renaissance ensemble Sonnambula, who held the position of 2018-19 artists in residence of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Toma was the winner of the 2014 Christa Bach-Marschall Foundation Prize from the Leipzig International Bach Competition, and was the winner of the 2013 Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra Concerto Competition.
A native of Sofia, Bulgaria, Toma discovered his passion for music at an early age. Beginning hisstudies at the National Music School in Sofia, he later received his bachelor and master of music degrees at Indiana University where he studied with Kevork Madriossian and Stanley Ritchie, and received his graduate diploma from the Juilliard School, where he was a member of the prestigious and selective historical performance program.
In addition to performing on baroque and classical violin, his versatility has led him to solo and chamber performances on baroque and classical viola, viola d’amore, and tenor viol, and modern engagements with such ensembles as San Francisco-based conductorless chamber orchestra One Found Sound. Having learned from inspirational figures such as Stanley Ritchie, Monica Huggett, Rachel Podger, Nigel North, Jordi Savall, Robert Levin, Richard Egarr and others, Toma has been developing his own vision of the specifics of historically informed performance and is focused on bringing the evolving principles of the HIP movement to each performance as well as music beyond the baroque and classical repertoire.
Kurt Johnson has been a member of The Houston Symphony first violin section since 2001. He received his master’s degree in violin performance from Northwestern University and his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin Conservatory. Mr. Johnson studied violin with Gerardo Ribeiro, Marilyn McDonald, David Taylor, Almita and Roland Vamos, as well as soloist Rachel Barton. While attending Northwestern, he was concertmaster of the Northwestern Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He was also a member of The Grant Park Symphony in Chicago. As a youth he was a winner of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra’s concerto competition. On baroque violin, Mr. Johnson performs regularly with Ars Lyrica and Bach Society of Houston. Kurt is also an amateur trumpet player and proud father to his daughter, Allegra and son, Luke.
Martin Jones is in his fourth year studying with Professor Ken Cowan for a bachelor’s degree in organ performance at Rice University. Martin is also studying harpsichord with Mario Aschauer. Martin won the 2018 AGO Southwest Regional Competition for Young Organists in Denver, having won the Houston chapter competition that year. He won third prize, the hymn prize, and the audience prize in the High School Division of the 2016 Albert Schweitzer Organ Competition. He has also played in masterclasses with notable performers including Alan Morrison, Nathan Laube, Daniel Roth, Paul Jacobs, Peter Richard Conte, and David Higgs. A former American Boychoir chorister and Interlochen Arts Academy graduate, Martin is now organ scholar at St Thomas’ Episcopal Church and School in Houston.
Kristin Olson, oboe, knew from the moment she stepped on stage to perform the role of “young Mozart” in a 4th grade play that she would grow up to be a musician. She now believes that her 10 year old self would be proud of her accomplishments, especially performing early music (including her beloved Mozart) on period instruments all over the country. In addition to performing, Kristin organizes a concert series for patients, staff, and doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where she herself was a patient some years ago. Recognized as a 2016 “Mover and Shaker” by Musical America for her work at the hospital, Kristin is passionate about the power of music to reach and heal those who are suffering.www.mountsinaiconcerts.org
Andrew Schneider, keyboard
A Houston native, Andrew Schneider is a pianist, harpsichordist, organist, conductor, composer, music copyist, vocal and instrumental coach. He obtained his B.Mus. in composition at Rice University. In 2009, he was a finalist in the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Competition. His compositions, including a growing body of music for educational-level ensembles, evince his complete faith in the relevance of traditional musical aesthetics and forms, in the conservative spirit of “reality being infinitely more interesting than fiction.” He thus considers it essential to be a well-informed musical citizen about all aspects of the concert music tradition. Throughout this, he is avidly interested in understanding music intrinsically, rendering it relevant to the present age.
To that end, Andrew considers being an active performer a key part of being an informed composer. Among his most formative influences in the realm of performance has been Thomas Jaber, whose effortless finesse in providing supportive accompaniment has rubbed off well, especially in the art of realizing continuo from figures. Since 2012, Andrew has been playing harpsichord continuo with period instrument ensemble Mercury Houston, including as part of the Texas Early Music Festival since 2014. He has also played Handel’s Messiah with the San Antonio Symphony and the Kingwood Chorale, and Haydn’s Creation with the Woodlands Chorale.
From 2012-16, Andrew served as organist at St. Michael Catholic Church in Houston, and since then has been an active church organist throughout the Houston area. Likewise, he has been a staff accompanist at LSCS-Kingwood since 2014. Recently, Andrew made his music directorial debut in Sweeney Todd and Rita, and his operatic coaching debut in Ariadne auf Naxos. He has also coached the leading role in Die schweigsame Frau for a 2016 Pittsburgh production. In his spare time, Andrew enjoys history, literature, linguistics, cartography, and murder mysteries.
Brian Ross Yeakley is a Houston, Texas based tenor originally from Wichita, Kansas. After a long road of applied vocal music education from Wichita State University (Bachelors 2012) and University of Houston (Masters 2014, Artist Diploma 2020),Yeakley is proud to call Houston his home base. Yeakley attended training programs from Florence, Italy (2011) through various high profile United States young artist programs, all the while having professional guest artist contracts in between. Notably among programs attended include Wolf Trap Opera (2013); Glimmerglass Opera Festival (2014); Opera Saratoga (2015); Virginia Opera (2016-2017). After consecutive travelling work in these years, Yeakley decided to create a home base in Houston, Texas and begin his establishing roots with his own local opera company (Operativo Houston est. 2016-present) and began professional contracts in more regional companies and orchestras. Highlights include Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco (2014-2015); Bach Society Houston (2016); Houston Symphony (2016); Austin Symphony (2017); Opera in the Heights (2017-2018); Austin Opera (2018). Due to the pandemic, Yeakley has had work rescheduled or cancelled from Moores Opera Center; Operativo’s Cendrillon as Production Manager; San Antonio Opera debut; Opera Saratoga. Yeakley is optomistic the Houston performing arts scene will pull through in this trying time.
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