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

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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

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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

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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.

Guest Artists

Jude Ziliak, violin

Jude Ziliak is a violinist specialized in historical performance practices. He is a member of Sonnambula, Ensemble in Residence at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018-2019, and a principal player with the American Bach Soloists. He teaches violin and directs string ensembles at the Special Music School (P.S. 859), New York’s K-12 public school for musically gifted children.

Ziliak’s performances with Sonnambula have been featured on NPR’s Performance Today, and the ensemble recently completed the first recording of the complete works of Leonora Duarte, to be released on Centaur in fall 2018. Their 2018-2019 residency at the Metropolitan Museum will include four concert programs at the Cloisters and feature collaborations with Piffaro: The Renaissance Band, writer and photographer Teju Cole, and lutenist Esteban La Rotta. In previous seasons, the ensemble has performed at the Madison Early Music Festival, Princeton University, Strathmore Mansion, Baruch Performing Arts Center, and the Hispanic Society of America, for whom they have presented annual concerts of music from the Iberian peninsula to standing-room crowds.

With the American Bach Soloists, Ziliak has served as concertmaster for a recording of Bach’s Four Orchestral Suites, to be published in 2018, and was featured as soloist in Vivaldi’s Concerto per la Santissima Assonzione. He has also appeared on the ABS recordings of Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Motets. Ziliak has also performed with The English Concert under the direction of Harry Bicket, Les Arts Florissants under William Christie, and many of North America’s period instrument orchestras, including the Clarion Society, Blue Hill Bach, Trinity Baroque Orchestra, New York Baroque Incorporated, and Musica Angelica. As a chamber musician, he has been a guest of Cantata Profana and the Four Nations Ensemble and has collaborated with Elizabeth Blumenstock, Florence Malgoire, and Jaap Schroder.

Ziliak studied Historical Performance at the Juilliard School as a pupil of Monica Huggett and Cynthia Roberts. While there, he encountered many leading figures in the field of early music, including Richard Egarr, Ton Koopman, Jordi Savall, and Masaaki Suzuki. Studies with Joshua Rifkin and David Schulenberg ground his approach to the study of performance practice.

Trained as a modern violinist at Rice University (Master of Music), Boston University (Bachelor of Music), and the Royal College of Music, London, his principal teachers were Bayla Keyes, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Dona Lee Croft. A former member of Lorin Maazel’s Castleton Festival Orchestra, he has been concertmaster at the National Orchestral Institute under Andrew Litton and led orchestras there as a New Lights Fellow. In 2018 Ziliak received the Jeffrey Thomas Award from the American Bach Soloists, awarded annually to recognize “exceptionally gifted emerging professionals in the field of early music who show extraordinary promise and accomplishment.” Raised in Sewanee, Tennessee, he now makes his home in New York with his wife, violist da gamba Elizabeth Weinfield, and their son, Walter.

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.

Georgeanne Banker, bassoon

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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 traverso with Austin Baroque Orchestra, Mercury Ensemble, Ars Lyrica Houston, 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, San Juan Symphony, and 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. This evening she will be performing on an ebony replica of an eighteenth-century Beukers flute and a boxwood Martin Wenner piccolo.

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.”

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

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.

Nadia Lesinska, violin

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Bulgarian-born violinist Nadia Lesinska has garnered an exceptional career spanning continents and genres. As a specialist in baroque violin technique, Nadia performs throughout the country, and is a frequent guest with Ars Lyrica Houston, Austin Baroque, Bach Society Houston, Houston Baroque, Mercury Baroque, and Viols of Houston. She can be heard on five commercial recordings, including Handel’s Op.6 Concerti Grossi, Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico, and Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes with Mercury Baroque, Colonna’s Psalmi ad Vesperas with the Houston Chamber Choir, and Ars Lyrica’s GRAMMY-nominated recording of Hasse’s Marc Antonio e Cleopatra. As a modern violinist, Nadia’s credits include the Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, Los Angeles Pops Orchestra, and San Juan Capistrano Symphony. An active recitalist and chamber musician, Nadia can be heard throughout the year in her own concert series and as a collaborator with many of Houston’s top musicians. In addition to classical music, Nadia is also a frequent jazz violinist and fiddler. A graduate of Chapman University, Nadia’s teachers included Paul Manaster and Todor Pelev. She received her period performance training from Oberlin’s Baroque Performance Institute and from studies with Jann Cosart, Marc Destrube, Marilyn McDonald, and Cynthia Roberts. Nadia resides in Houston with her husband, viola da gamba player Jordan Witherspoon.

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.