Paying the Piper With Handel's Jephtha, the First Concert in New "Circle of Fifths"

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For Ars Lyrica artistic director Matthew Dirst, Handel's Jephthaabout the Book of Judges warrior who vows to sacrifice the first thing he sees in exchange for winning a battle (which, unfortunately for him, turns out to be his own daughter), is a perfect fit for the ensemble's current season, Fables & Follies, because it’s both.

“It is more a fable, because it’s a story about the bad deals that we sometimes get ourselves engaged in,” says Dirst. “[But] you could argue that his bargain with God was a folly. It certainly wasn’t a smart thing to do,” he adds, laughing.   

The biblical oratorio, which Dirst believes will be a Houston premiere when it debuts at the Hobby Center this month, is also the first show in the "Circle of Fifths," a new collaboration between five of Houston’s smaller music ensembles (Ars Lyrica, ROCO, Mercury, Da Camera and Houston Chamber Choir) aimed at providing a “sampler” of their work to young professionals.

For $99, subscribers to the five-concert series will have access to backstage tours, guest passes, special mix-and-mingle events and complimentary drinks. And like the Pythagorean circle it’s named for, Dirst hopes the endeavor will bring about a little local harmony.

“We’ve been collaborating with most of these organizations for some time now,” says Dirst. “So we just thought it was a great opportunity for all of us to grow our patron base, particularly with young professionals who like the diversity that a series like this offers.”

Included in the deal is a collection of Russian greats under conductor Elena Sharkova from Houston Chamber Choir, Schubert’s "Death and the Maiden" from Mercury, the ROCO Brass Quintet and the Brentano String Quartet from Da Camera. “We all do very specific things [and] one might perceive those very specific things as being somehow only for people in the know, but they’re not. These programs are for everybody.”

Dirst hopes the social aspect of the subscription series will entice audiences looking for good company, free drinks and "extraordinarily beautiful music," like that in Jephtha. And don't miss the timeless warning, courtesy of George Frideric Handel. "Be careful what you promise," says Dirst, "you just might have to deliver it."

Performances are scheduled for October 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-315-2525 or visit arslyricahouston.org. $39 to $65.

Purchase subscriptions at houstonmusicpass.com. Additional Circle of Fifths concerts include:

Houston Chamber Choir, "A Window into the Russian Soul," 7:30 p.m. November 12, South Main Baptist Church. For information, visit houstonchamberchoir.org.

River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, "Brass Quintet," 6 p.m. January 27, The MATCH. For information, visit rocohouston.org.

Da Camera, "Brentano String Quartet - Art of the Fugue," 8 p.m. March 3, Wortham Theater Center. For information, visit dacamera.com.

Mercury, "Schubert, Death and the Maiden," 7:30 p.m. April 6, The MATCH. For information, visit mercuryhouston.org.

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