A Conversation with Matthew Dirst

IMAGE ABOVE: Matthew Dirst of Ars Lyrica. Photo by Anthony Rathbun.


Blair Doerge Photo by Anthony Rathbun.

Blair Doerge
Photo by Anthony Rathbun.

Ars Lyrica celebrates the New Year by taking a little jaunt to Venice with “Venetian Carnivale,” a concert featuring music by Monteverdi and Vivaldi, and performances by Sopranos Melissa Givens and Blair Doerge, violinist Yung-Hsiang Wang, Baroque flutist Colin St. Martin, and guitarist Richard Savino. The concert is followed by a gala, complete with champagne, delicious hors d’oeuvres from Artista Restaurant, Venetian masks and a silent auction. A + C editor in chief Nancy Wozny chatted with Matthew Dirst about the big event.

Arts + Culture: Let’s talk music before party. I’m always curious how artistic directors select repertoire for an evening. What guided your thinking in making the choices for a Venetian Carnivale?

Matthew Dirst: I wanted to sample a fairly broad range of repertory, from Monteverdi in the early 17th century to some 18th-century operatic music, while featuring a couple of singers and some instrumental soloists.

A + C: Bring us into the Monteverdi selections. What should we be listening for?

MD: These are mostly duets, a texture for which Monteverdi was justifiably famous! The two voices weave together artfully and not without both comedy and sex appeal. It’s delicious stuff, set to flowery and sometimes provocative poetry.

A + C: Vivaldi’s La Notte sounds dreamy. What makes this piece complement the rest of the program?

MD: The La Notte concerto gives us a chance to spotlight Baroque flutist Colin St Martin. He’s a marvelous player, and Vivaldi is a “must-have” for this kind of program—perhaps the most extraordinary Venetian musician of all time.

Melissa Givens. Photo by Jeanique LaCour.

Melissa Givens.
Photo by Jeanique LaCour.

A + C: It’s not a new year for me without hearing Melissa Givens’ gorgeous voice. I thought she sang like an angel even before I learned she was from my hometown, Buffalo, NY. How do you see her talents as a match for the rep you have planned?

MD: Melissa is a perfect match for this program, along with soprano Blair Doerge. They both have beautifully lyric, flexible voices that work well in music that’s both expressive and just a wee bit fussy—i.e., in Baroque music!

A + C: What do Yung-Hsiang Wang and guitarist Richard Savino bring to the table?

MD: Yung-Hsiang Wang leads the band as concertmaster for this program, and Richard Savino will be playing a Vivaldi guitar concerto on this program, which should be great fun.  He’s a master of the snappy rhythmic gesture, which is exactly what one needs to bring the Venetian Baroque to life!

A + C: Your concert/gala hybrid has become a favorite activity for classical music lovers who are looking for a more elegant experience for New Year’s Eve. How did you come up with this idea and what can your guests expect?

MD: I love putting together holiday programs, but am somewhat allergic to the idea of having to do Handel’s Messiah or some other Baroque Christmas favorite every year. New Year’s Eve thus has great appeal for me as a programmer, since almost anything festive will work well on this night of the year. The gala is a wonderful way to prolong the evening and ring in the new year with other music-loving friends. It certainly beats loud, overly crowded and way-too-expensive bars and clubs on New Year’s Eve!

A + C: Ars Lyrica is in growth mode. After all, you have been featured in Modern Luxury’s fabulous Art + Power issue! What’s next for you? New recordings, travel, early music taking over the world? Bring us into your next adventures.

MD: Colin St. Martin and I will be making a CD of French Baroque chamber music right after the New Year’s Eve program, and I’m very much looking forward to digging into Boismortier!  In early February, Ars Lyrica will present another modern world première: Alessandro Scarlatti’s La Sposa dei Cantici, which I’m looking forward to hearing, since I’ve been laboring with the manuscripts to create a score and parts for several years now. It’ll be exciting to bring this neglected masterpiece back to life.