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"I play harpsichord, organ and sometimes get up there and wave my arms," says Ars Lyrica Artistic Director Matthew Dirst.

Early music may very well be the most beautiful stuff you’ve never heard, according to Matthew Dirst, professor of Musicology at University of Houston’s Moores School of Music, and Artistic Director of Ars Lyrica. “The kind of music we do tells a story of some kind or another, whether in an instrumental way or with singers—sometimes a mix of the two,” notes Dirst, who leads his music group in its annual New Year’s Eve celebration at the Hobby Center.

After studying the harpsichord in Paris and brushing up on his knowledge of the instrument and of musicology at Stanford, Dirst headed to Houston, eventually founding the group in 1998 before incorporating it in 2003 when he gained tenure at UH. And with generous support from some of the city’s classical music–loving patrons the group has been able to produce regular performances, including the annual New Year’s Eve gala, which also includes a dinner and silent auction.

Every year the event carries a theme—prior years have included masquerades and Venetian flair—like this year’s “Fire and Ice” featuring Vivaldi’s rushing and violent Winter and Handel’s Apollo e Dafne with solos by violinist Adam LaMotte, soprano Lauren Snouffer and baritone Mark Diamond.

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Adam Lamotte performs with Ars Lyrica on New Year's Eve

Winter speaks directly of concepts like fire and ice—the idea of walking on ice or the contentment you have of sitting in front of a fire while it’s raining outside during winter. So these starkly opposed images were a starting place for me,” says Dirst.

So, where does reserved 17th and 18th century Baroque music fit into a night filled with midnight revelry and barbaric ballyhooing? “It’s an evening that doesn’t have a lot of classical music events going on around town, for starters,” Dirst admits. “But people are nuts about [early music] here. One of the great things about being a cultural entrepreneur in a city like this is the fact that people are interested in coming.”

Fire and Ice. Dec 31 at 9:30. $37–59, concert; $60, gala; $70, dinner. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St. 713-315-2525. arslyricahouston.org

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