Maria Schleuning, violinist, has been a member of the Voices of Change Modern Music Ensemble since 1996 and Artistic Director since 2009. An advocate of new music, she has worked with many of the leading composers of our day, including the legendary Witold Lutoslawski, George Crumb, Aaron Kernis, John Corigliano, Augusta Read Thomas, Sebastian Currier, Bright Sheng, Samuel Adler, Donald Erb, David Dzubay, and Pierre Jalbert. She has premiered many new works, including “Dream Catcher”, a solo violin work written especially for her as a gift by Augusta read Thomas. The world premiere performance was on May 3, 2009 in Dallas, TX. An active chamber musician, Ms. Schleuning has performed in venues such as New York’s Alice Tully Hall, Weill Hall, Merkin Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, and the Museum of Modern Art, as well as at numerous festivals throughout the United States and Europe. From 1993-2012 she was a faculty member and performer at the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Maine and served in the same capacity at Idyllwild Arts in CA from 2007-2010, and the Bennington Music Festival, VT in 2012. She has recorded with Continuum modern music ensemble in NYC, as well as in Dallas with grammy- nominated Voices of Change, and the Walden Piano Quartet. In addition, she serves as Principal Second Violin of the New York Women’s Ensemble and Principal Second Violin of the Classical Tahoe Orchestra, where she was a guest concertmaster in 2014. A member of the Dallas Symphony since 1994, she has been featured as soloist with the orchestra on many occasions. Other solo highlights include appearances with the Oregon Symphony, Seattle Symphony, West Virginia Symphony, Abilene Symphony, Laredo Symphony, Bozeman Symphony and with the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra on a tour of Eastern Europe including concerts at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig and the Rudolfinuum in Prague, in addition to a tour of China in 2015. She studied with Josef Gingold at Indiana University, where she was awarded a Performer’s Certificate; with Yfrah Neaman at the Guildhall School in London, with a grant from the Myra Hess Foundation; and with Joel Smirnoff at the Juilliard School, where she received her Master’s Degree.
Jose Ramon Mendez
Described as "an artist with a polished sound and tremendous constructive power" and hailed by the Hoja del Lunes de Madrid, as "the Spanish pianist of his generation," Jose Ramon Mendez is one of the most exciting Spanish pianists of today. Recent performances include Chopin's first piano concerto with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra and Manuel de Falla's "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" with the Nittany Valley Symphony, as well as numerous solo and chamber music performances in the United States, Europe, and Asia. His playing has been featured on WQXR's "Performance Today" and on Classical KMFA. He has been a guest performer at many music festivals, including Caramoor Festival, Barge Music Series, Festival Internacional de Piano de las Islas Canarias, Music at Penns Woods, Amalfi Coast International Music Festival, "Tocando el Cielo," Musica en Compostela, the Stony Brook International Piano Festival, and the Santander International Music Festival to name a few. As a chamber musician, Mendez has collaborated with such distinguished artists as Karl Leister, Itzhak Perlman, Michael Tree, Pascual Martinez-Nieto, and Pinchas Zukerman. Mendez received his first music instruction from his father and by the age of seven was already performing on Spanish television and radio stations. He made his solo debut at the age of eleven at the Oviedo Philharmonic Society in Oviedo, Spain, the youngest performer ever to do so in the history of the society. He first gained international recognition when he performed Liszt's first piano concerto under the direction of Sergiu Commissiona at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Since then, he has concertized extensively in his native Spain, the United States, Italy, England, Portugal, Holland, and Japan to great acclaim. With his poetry, intellect, and masterful technique, he has been praised by critics and celebrated by audiences around the world. At the age of 18, Mendez's success brought him to the United States, where he began his studies at Manhattan School of Music in New York City. He completed his Bachelors and Masters Degrees in piano performance with renowned pedagogue Solomon Mikowsky and went on to finish his Doctorate of Musical Arts under the tutelage of Byron Janis and Miyoko Lotto. During his stay in New York, he won top prizes in many international competitions, including Pilar Bayona International Piano Competition, Hilton Head Island International Piano Competition, Frederick Chopin Competition in New York, and Hermanos Guerrero International Piano Competition, among others. Mendez's professional teaching career began in 1996, when he was invited to teach master classes at the Gijon School of Music. Since then, he has given master classes in numerous cities in Spain, including Lugo, Aviles, Valencia, Gijon, Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela, and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, as well as in the United States at top music schools such as Oberlin Conservatory, Northwestern University, University of Michigan, and Columbus State University. Mendez also taught as assistant teacher to Miyoko Lotto at the Perlman Music Program, a program for gifted young musicians founded by the world famous violinist Itzhak Perlman. Currently in the summers, he is the Artistic Director and on the faculty of the Gijon International Piano Festival in Gijon, Spain, as well as frequently being invited to perform and teach at various festivals. Formerly on the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin, he formed part of the Artist Piano Faculty at New York University in New York City from 2007 to 2014. He is now teaching as an Assistant Professor of Piano at Pennsylvania State University.
Jose Ramon Mendez is a Yamaha Artist.
American soprano Melissa Givens moves and excites audiences and critics alike with a rich, powerful tone, crystalline clarity, and intelligent musical interpretations. Especially noted for her expressiveness and elegance on the stage, she's been hailed as a singer whose music making is “consistently rewarding” and “a pleasure to hear,” [Houston Chronicle]. Givens is also an extremely versatile artist, regularly performing repertoire from the Baroque era through music of the 21st century. An Early Music America review of her performance in the 2011 Boston Early Music Festival Fringe Concerts praised her voice as “beautiful and rich, [singing] Baroque music with conviction.” A writer for Classical Net mused, “Melissa Givens has a voice you imagine coming from the goddess Erda” in a review of Sing Freedom!, Conspirare’s 2012 recording of spirituals on the Harmonia Mundi label. A featured artist in Conspirare's ongoing tours of Craig Hella Johnson's groundbreaking oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard, recent performances also include Haydn's Creation with the Aiken (SC) Masterworks Chorale and a The Artist at Fifty, recital of art songs from the composers' fiftieth year. She remains in demand on concert series throughout the United States and internationally, including recent recitals in Claremont (CA), Georgia, and Houston. A champion of collaborative musical endeavors, she performs with various chamber music groups, including Grammy© nominated Ars Lyrica Houston and Conspirare: Craig Hella Johnson and Company of Voices, the 2015 Grammy© winner for Best Choral Performance. Her solo appearances on major label releases from both groups have received enthusiastic reviews and she can also be heard on her solo CD, let the rain kiss you. Givens will be joining the voice faculty of Pomona College in Claremont, California. She earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Houston Moores School of Music, a Master of Music degree from the Rice University Shepherd School of Music and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Davidson College.
Elizabeth Buccheri, chamber musician and vocal coach, was assistant conductor of Lyric Opera of Chicago from 1987 to 2013. Previously, she served as collaborative pianist for Ravinia Festival's Steans Institute for Young Artists and pianist for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. She has toured as pianist of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and has performed with the Vermeer and Shanghai string quartets, and with Midori, Gil Shaham, Michelle DeYoung, Vinson Cole, Samuel Ramey, Thomas Hampson, Sherrill Milnes, and Susanna Phillips. Her recordings can be found on the CRI, Spectrum, Sony, Cedille, Boston, and Albany labels. She is the first American to receive the Sir Georg Solti Foundation Award. A dedicated teacher, Ms. Buccheri has given master classes at The Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music, AMFS, Lawrence Conservatory, and the music academies of Lithuania and Latvia. As a faculty member at Northwestern University, Buccheri supervised the collaborative piano program in the Bienen School of Music from 2000 to 2013. Ms. Buccheri is a native of South Carolina and was educated at Winthrop University and the Eastman School of Music, from which she received the performer’s certificate in piano and Doctor of Musical Arts degree. Buccheri is an artist-faculty member of the New Horizons program, which is made possible by an endowment gift by Kay and Matthew Bucksbaum.
Hailed by the New York Times as "Powerful and Passionate", Dr. Jeremy Benson, American flutist and pedagogue, joined the faculty at the David L. Walters Department of Music at Jacksonville State University in the fall of 2011, where he is Associate Professor of Flute Studies, Director of Orchestral Studies and Conductor of the JSU Civic Symphony and the Jacksonville Opera Theatre Orchestra, and teaches music history. In 2019 he was honored by receiving the JSU Faculty Scholar Lecturer of the Year Award for his service to research, publication, and original work in the music field. In 2012, Dr. Benson was awarded the JSU Ray and Ruth Ringer Award for superior achievements and accomplishments in the flute community. He served as the Coordinator for the National Flute Association's Young Artist Competition from 2013-2018 and is currently serving as a Board Member and the Vice President of the Florida Flute Association. As an active soloist, chamber musician, and adjudicator, Dr. Benson was named a First Prize Winner at the 2011 Alexander & Buono International Flute Competition at Carnegie Hall in New York City, New York. In addition to being a lecturer and performer, he has had the prestigious honor to serve on juries for international and national flute competitions & master classes including: the National Flute Association's competitions, the New York Flute Club, the Florida Flute Association, the Mid South Flute Society, the Flute Society of Washington, D.C., the MTNA Woodwind Soloist Competition, and the ENKOR International competitions. He is an international solo and chamber musician with recordings on NAXOS, Mark Customs Recording, and Cantilena Records. He is one of five flutists globally invited as an ambassador for the USA to lecture and perform at the Festivales Internacionales de Flautistas in Lima-Peru in May 2020.He completed the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Flute Performance from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, the Master of Music in Performance degree from Florida State University, and a Bachelor of Music degree from Jacksonville State University. He is currently the Principal flutist in the Gadsden Symphony and serves as the Director of Music at Heflin First United Methodist Church in Heflin, Alabama. He is a Muramatsu flute performing artist.
Returning to the panel is Eric Mitchko, general director of North Carolina Opera, a young company that collaborates with many arts organizations including Carolina Ballet, Burning Coal Theatre and the UNC Arts and Ideas Seminar. Formerly director of Artistic Administration for The Atlanta Opera and vice president of Columbia Artists Management in New York, Mitchko studied politics and philosophy at both Princeton University and Columbia University. Presently a lecturer on opera, Mitchko has hosted programs on classical radio and provided written music analysis.
Diane Schultz, professor of flute at the School of Music at The University of Alabama, joins the panel in 2019. Formerly a member of the faculty departments of Stephen F. Austin University and Eastern Illinois University, the award-winning flutist and piccoloist’s solo and chamber performances have taken her to the international locales of Austria, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Romania and Russia. A Rotary International Scholar at McGill University in Montreal, Schultz has shared her expertise through masterclasses and clinics across the United States as well as in England, Quebec, the Bahamas and Cuba.
Kay Stern, concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and professor of Violin and Chamber Music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, returns to provide guidance to the competition’s finalists in 2019. Stern received full scholarships for her Bachelor, Master's and Doctoral degree programs at Juilliard School, where she had the honor of studying with Dorothy DeLay, an award-winning violin educator. A teacher and coach at music festivals around the world, Sternhas been featured on television and radio, and contributed several articles to Chamber Music America.
Conductor of the Missouri Symphony Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, has agreed to join the panel for the competition’s 35th year. Trevor trained at London’s Guildhall School of Music, graduating cum laude in cello performance and conducting before continuing his studies in France and the United States. A renowned educator and cellist, he has served as director of orchestral studies at the University of Tennessee, as guest teacher at various universities and conservatories around the world, and has been the director of the International Workshop for Conductors held annually in the Czech Republic.
San Antonio native, William Wellborn, pianist, teacher and lecturer,is another panel veteran who returns to the competition to share his knowledge with some of the state’s top classical music performers. A faculty member of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music since 1989, he teaches piano in the Pre-College division, and Piano Pedagogy in the Collegiate division. Wellborn earned his Master of Music degree from New England Conservatory, and his Doctor of Musical Arts in performance and Bachelor’s in piano pedagogy from The University of Texas.
Pianist Elizabeth Buccheri, a native of South Carolina, was educated at Winthrop University and the Eastman School of Music, from which she received the Performer’s Certificate in Piano and the Doctor of Musical Arts degree. At Eastman, she was a student of the imminent collaborative pianist, Brooks Smith. During these Rochester years, she was pianist for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and also performed and toured with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Her varied career as coach and accompanist has included twenty-eight seasons as accompanist for the Chicago Symphony Chorus and the legendary Margaret Hillis; pianist coach for the opera companies of Rochester’s Opera Under the Stars and the Brevard (N.C.) Music Festival; accompanist/coach for conductors Sir Georg Solti, Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta, Sir Andrew Davis, and Christoph Eschenbach; and since 1987, assistant conductor at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
An experienced recitalist, Buccheri has appeared in concert with singers Nicole Cabell, Susanne Mentzer, Susan Graham, Michelle DeYoung, Samuel Ramey, Elizabeth Futral, and Sherrill Milnes, with the Shanghai and Vermeer String Quartets, and with violinists Midori and Gil Shaham. These concerts have taken her to all parts of the United States and to many countries in Europe.
Buccheri has recorded extensively on the CRI, Sony, Boston, Cedille and Albany labels and was responsible for musical preparation on London Records’ issues of Schönberg’s Moses und Aron, Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürenberg, and Verdi’s Otello, Sir Georg Solti conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists. For this work, Elizabeth Buccheri received the Solti Foundation Award, the first American musician to be so honored.
In previous years, Buccheri assisted Maestro Pierre Boulez, the Cleveland Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists with preparations for performances at Severance Hall, Cleveland and Carnegie Hall, New York. She is the founder and music director of Chamber Music at North Park, and was awarded the honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by North Park University in May 2004.
A dedicated teacher, Buccheri has given master classes at Juilliard, Eastman, Northwestern, and at the music academies of Lithuania and Latvia. In 2013 Buccheri was named Head of Music for the Opera Program at the Aspen Music Festival and School.
Born in Japan, Miyoko Nakaya Lotto began piano lessons at the age of three, enrolling in the preparatory division of the Toho School of Music. At age 17, she captured the Third Prize in the prestigious Mainichi-NHK Music Competition and toured throughout Japan as a prizewinner.
Lotto entered the Juilliard School at age 18, and quickly became assistant to Sascha Gorodnitzki in her junior year at the Juilliard School. Lotto received her B.S., M.S. and Post Graduate Diploma from the Juilliard School.
Awards: Finalist in the Kosciuszko Chopin Competition, Second Place in the Juilliard Orchestra Concerto Competition, Finalist in the Concert Artist Guild, Finalist in the Young Concert Artist Competition, First Prize winner of the Sterling Staff Competition and Finalist in the F. Busoni International Piano Competition in Italy.
Lotto has performed in more than 40 states across the U.S., including her New York City debut at Alice Tully Hall. She has given numerous Master Classes throughout Japan and the U.S., Germany, Israel, China and Spain, and has served as juror on the panels of several international competitions such as the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition and the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition.
Lotto is on the faculty at New York University, the Manhattan School of Music and the Perlman Music Program. Her students have been prize winners of numerous major international piano competitions such as the Leeds Competition, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, International Chopin Competition, International Hamamatsu Piano Competition.
She has worked with Daniel Barenboim as music editor and consultant on the documentary “Barenboim on Beethoven” which aired on PBS’s‘Great Performances’ on March 22, 2007. It will also be aired on BBC, ARTE France, NHK and numerous other TV networks around the world. The project was released as a 6 DVD set in February of 2007 from EMI and it is in its second printing. Her latest project, DVD “Mahler: his New York year” form ARTE France where she was a monitor for a three-way conversation with Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez and Henri la Grange who has written the definitive biography on Gustav Mahler.
MARIA SCHLEUNING, violinist, has been a member of the Voices of Change Modern Music Ensemble since 1996 and Artistic Director since 2009. An advocate of new music, she has worked with many of the leading composers of our day, including the legendary Witold Lutoslawski, George Crumb, Aaron Kernis, John Corigliano, Augusta Read Thomas, Sebastian Currier, Bright Sheng, Samuel Adler, Donald Erb, David Dzubay, and Pierre Jalbert. She has premiered many new works, including “Dream Catcher”, a solo violin work written especially for her as a gift by Augusta read Thomas. The world premiere performance was on May 3, 2009 in Dallas, TX.
An active chamber musician, Ms. Schleuning has performed in venues such as New York’s Alice Tully Hall, Weill Hall, Merkin Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, and the Museum of Modern Art, as well as at numerous festivals throughout the United States and Europe. From 1993-2012 she was a faculty member and performer at the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Maine and served in the same capacity at Idyllwild Arts in CA from 2007-2010, and the Bennington Music Festival, VT in 2012. She has recorded with Continuum modern music ensemble in NYC, as well as in Dallas with GRAMMY®-nominated Voices of Change, and the Walden Piano Quartet. In addition, she serves as Principal Second Violin of the New York Women’s Ensemble and Principal Second Violin of the Classical Tahoe Orchestra, where she was a guest concertmaster in 2014.
A member of the Dallas Symphony since 1994, she has been featured as soloist with the orchestra on many occasions. Other solo highlights include appearances with the Oregon Symphony, Seattle Symphony, West Virginia Symphony, Abilene Symphony, Laredo Symphony, Bozeman Symphony and with the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra on a tour of Eastern Europe including concerts at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig and the Rudolfinuum in Prague, in addition to a tour of China in 2015. She studied with Josef Gingold at Indiana University, where she was awarded a performer’s certificate; with Yfrah Neaman at the Guildhall School in London, with a grant from the Myra Hess Foundation; and with Joel Smirnoff at the Juilliard School, where she received her master’s degree.
William Florescu has been General Director of the Florentine Opera Company since 2005. Prior to that, he was General Director of the Lake George Opera from 1999-2005, and the Columbus Light Opera from 1993-1999.
Companies he has guest directed for include Hawaii Opera Theatre, Nashville Opera, Opera Columbus, Lake George Opera, and Opera Birmingham and Kentucky Opera.
He is also active as an adjudicator and master teacher for such institutions as The Metropolitan Opera National Council, Fort Worth Opera, University of Michigan, Eastman School of Music, Westminster Choir College, Shreveport Opera, Opera Birmingham, Opera Columbus, Rutgers University, The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Classical Singer Convention.
He is committed to new opera, having been a co-commissioner of Ned Rorem’s Our Town for Lake George Opera (now Opera Saratoga). In March of 2010, he produced the Midwest premiere of Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry. This production was commercially released on the Naxos label this past July. The Florentine’s recording of Gantry won two Grammy awards in February, and was recently named to the Opera News Top 10 recordings of 2011 list. In October 2010, the Florentine produced the world premiere of Rio de Sangre by Don Davis (the composer of the music for all three of The Matrix films). This was commercially released on the Albany Records Label, and was also a Grammy winner. This past June, the Florentine’s recording of Carlisle Floyd’s Wuthering Heights was released on Reference Records to outstanding international reviews. This past October, he commissioned and directed the world premiere of Aldridge and Garfeins’ Sister Carrie to critical and popular acclaim. These performances will be released on the Naxos Label, which will be the company’s fourth release.
Active also as a writer and Educator, he has had articles published in Classical Singer Magazine, and in several Opera America publications. In Spring of 2015, he taught The Business of Opera for Rutgers University in an innovative Skype format (which he is teaching again In Winter, 2017).
Over recent seasons Mr. Florescu has directed Albert Herring, Susannah, La Traviata ,La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, L’Elisir d’Amore and Heggie’s Three Decembers for the Florentine, Candide at Rutgers University, Cimarosa’s L’Impresario in Angustie for La Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy and Three Decembers for Kentucky Opera. This May, he will direct Il Barbiere di Siviglia for the Florentine.
Mr. Florescu serves as Secretary on the Board of Directors for Opera America, as well their Strategic Planning Committee and New Works Forum.
Cynthia Estill has been a faculty member of Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music since 1972. After 44 years of service, she has recently retired as the Principal Bassoonist of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Estill has also performed as principal bassoon of the Aspen Chamber Symphony, the Aspen Festival Orchestra, the Festival der Zukunft in Ernen, Switzerland, and in the Peninsula Music Festival in Wisconsin. Additionally, she served as the bassoonist in the Blair Woodwind Quintet for 40 years. Ms. Estill studied at the Oberlin Conservatory, Indiana University, and the Mozarteum.