Artistic Director:

Edward Benyas, Conductor, New Chicago Chamber Orchestra/SIUC

Edward Benyas is Professor of Oboe and Conducting at SIU Carbondale, Music Director of the Southern Illinois Symphony, the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra—with which he made his European conducting debut—and founder and Artistic Director of the Southern Illinois Music Festival, which presents three-dozen concerts annually each June. The Illinois Council of Orchestras named him “Conductor of the Year” in 2005, the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce presented him the inaugural “Keeping the Arts in Business” Award in 2007, the Southern Business Journal named him a “Leader Among Us” in 2012, he received the Legacy Award from Carbondale Community Arts in 2015, and the Carbondale Lions Club gave him the David Kenney Award this year. Under his leadership, the Southern Illinois Symphony was named Community Volunteer Orchestra of the Year. A student of Ray Still, Robert Morgan, Victor Yampolsky, and the late Charles Bruck and Georg Tintner, Mr. Benyas holds graduate degrees in Orchestral Conducting and Oboe Performance from Northwestern University, as well as Bachelor and Juris Doctor degrees from the University of Michigan. He has conducted orchestras and opera companies throughout North America and in Europe and China. Of one appearance, a California reviewer wrote: “Maestro Benyas simply swept the audience away with a beautiful presentation of this piece.” His conducted repertoire includes nearly 400 works, including a dozen world premieres and several dozen complete operas and ballets. Mr. Benyas also enjoys an active career as an oboe and English horn player, having performed with the Chicago Symphony under Daniel Barenboim, the Lyric Opera under Zubin Mehta, the Milwaukee and Grant Park Symphonies, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, at the Spoleto and Banff summer music festivals, as Principal Oboe of the Des Moines Metro Opera for six seasons and for Andrea Bocelli’s National Tour. He is a member of the state bar of Illinois and has been elected to the Jackson County Board and the Carbondale Elementary School District Board of Education.


IsabellE Demers, Organ, Texas


With playing described as having “bracing virtuosity” (Chicago Classical Review), Isabelle Demers has mesmerized listeners worldwide. Her recital for the 2010 International Society of Organbuilders-American Institute of Organ builders convention “left the entire congress in an atmosphere of ‘Demers fever’.” She has performed recitals at cathedrals, universities, and concert halls in Germany, Oman, Australia, China, and literally from coast to coast in the United States. Highlights of her 2017-18 season include performances at the Freiburg Munster (Germany), St. Jacobs Church (Stockholm, Sweden), Victoria Concert Hall (Singapore), Winspeare Center (Edmonton, AB), Meyerson Symphony Center (Dallas), and Overture Hall (Madison), and for the Los Angeles chapter of the American Guild of Organists. She will make her debut in China in September 2018. Ms. Demers is in continual demand by her colleagues, with past invitations to perform for six regional and national conventions of the American Guild of Organists, two for the Royal Canadian College of Organists, and two for the Organ Historical Society, and for recitals throughout Europe and Asia. Fanfare Magazine proclaimed her first CD (Reger) a “brilliantly played program.” Her subsequent recordings were released on the Acis label in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2018. Born in Québec and a graduate of the Juilliard School, Dr. Demers is Organ Professor and Head of the Organ Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Isabelle Demers is represented in North America exclusively by Phillip Truckenbrod Concert Artists, LLC.

David Taylor, violin, Chicago

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David Taylor joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as Assistant-Concertmaster in 1979. Born in Canton, Ohio, he first studied violin with his father beginning at the age of four and later continued his studies with Margaret Randall and Rafael Druian at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He later studied with Ivan Galamian and Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School, where he received both bachelor and master’s degrees. He became a member of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1974. With the Chicago Symphony he has made numerous solo appearances, including performances with Sir Georg Solti.  He also has served as Acting-Concertmaster of the Saint Louis Symphony and was the Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony. He has also served as temporary Concertmaster of the Seattle and Dallas Symphonies. As a lover of chamber music he often performs in recitals and solo performances in the Chicagoland area, at Ravinia and on WFMT. He is a also a frequent soloist with the regions local orchestras. He teaches privately, at the Moody Bible Institute and at Roosevelt University. A frequent coach of orchestral violinists he has students in orchestras across the United States and Japan. David lives in downtown Chicago and is married to Michelle Wynton, also a violinist. 

Evan Wong, PIANO, Chicago


Silver medalist and audience prize winner of the 2016 Sendai International Competition in Japan, Taiwanese American Pianist Evan Wong has appeared in recitals and concerts throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Mr. Wong has appeared as a soloist with the Sendai Philharmonic, New Sendai Philharmonic, Orchestre Royal de Chambre de Wallonie, World Civic Orchestra, Saga Philharmonic, Northwestern University Symphony and the NEC Philharmonia Orchestra as well as conductors Pascal Verrot, Julian Kuerti, Victor Yampolsky, Paul Meyers, Yuri Nitta, Seitaro Ishikawa and Vincent Koh. A frequent guest in several renowned festivals, Mr. Wong has performed at the Verbier, Lucerne, Ravinia, Aspen, Gilmore festivals where he has worked and collaborated with musicians such as Itzak Perlman, Miriam Fried, Gary Hoffman, Midori, Mihaela Martin, Pamela Frank, Franz Helmerson, Laurence Lesser, and members of the Cleveland, Takacs and Juilliard Quartets. Evan holds degrees from the Hannover Hochschule fur Musik Drama und Medien in Germany (Solo Klasse), The Juilliard School (M.M) and the New England Conservatory (B.M) in the U.S, and is currently working towards his Doctorate Degree at Northwestern University under a full scholarship. A recipient of the 2013 Chi Mei Artist Award and the 2017 PACE Music Award, Mr. Wong has recorded for the MPR (Minnesota, USA), KBS (South Korea) and the Taipei Classical, Radio Taiwan International, National Education, and Voice of Han (Taiwan) stations. Other accolades include first prizes from the 2017 Thaviu Issak Competition and the concerto competitions at the New England Conservatory and Northwestern University. 

New Arts Jazztet


The New Arts Jazztet has long been regarded as southern Illinois' premier jazz group, regularly presenting a select repertoire—engaging original works as well as choice standards—forged in the energy of neo bop and the eclecticism of contemporary jazz. With its hip, approachable character and sound, the cross-generational group—saxophone, trumpet, guitar, bass, and drums—convincingly helps to sustain jazz in the 21st Century.

The NAJ’s club dates have included Cincinnati’s Blue Wisp, Chicago’s Pops for Champagne, and other nightspots around the Midwest. Its concert, clinic, and festival engagements have comprised a number of universities and other performance venues throughout the Heartland. The group has opened twice for Stanley Jordan, and has shared the stage with numerous other jazz artists, most recently the iconic Charles McPherson. In 2010, the NAJ was invited to perform at the inaugural Jazz Education Network Conference in St. Louis. The group has also performed as part of a live statewide television broadcast, Arts Across Illinois: CenterStageat PBS affiliate, WTTW/Channel 11, Chicago. And it is regularly included on the Illinois Arts Council Arts Tour Roster.   
Arkadia (a caldera productions, 2014), the most recent release by NAJ bassist, Phil Brown, features the New Arts Jazztet, and broke into the national top 50 jazz albums for radio airplay in early 2015. The group also enjoyed nationwide radio airplay and attention on Brown's previous recording, Bright Side (a caldera productions, 2009). And the New Arts Jazztet, along with the duo, FourOnSix, was featured on Brown's Darkness Into Light (a caldera productions, 2006).        

The NAJ is in residence at Southern Illinois University, where all but one of its members are School of Music faculty. Its current line-up is Dick Kelley, reeds; Bob Allison, trumpet/flugelhorn; Isaac Lausell, guitars; Phil Brown, bass; and Jimmy Beers, drums/percussion. Each fall, the group presents a formal concert of standards, and each spring, a formal concert of original music. The NAJ is also a headline ensemble at the Southern Illinois Music Festival each summer.

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One of Musical America’s Top 30 Innovators in Classical Music in 2016, Josh Shaw is the Executive and Artistic Director of Pacific Opera Project (POP), a Los Angeles based company dedicated to presenting accessible, affordable, and ENTERTAINING opera.  Over the past nine seasons, he has directed over 30 productions at POP including The Rake’s Progress, Ariadne auf Naxos, La calisto, Tosca: A Moving Production, and La boheme: AKA “The Hipsters”.  Mr. Shaw’s reimagining of Die Entführung aus dem Serail as an episode of Star Trek has gained national attention and has been produced by eight companies selling out houses with record-breaking numbers. Since turning his attention to directing in 2011, he has directed over 70 productions at companies including New Orleans Opera, Opera Santa Barbara, Intermountain Opera, The Southern Illinois Music Festival, Opera Neo, Alamo City Opera, Queen City Opera, Opera Orlando, and Salt Marsh Opera. Recent projects include productions of Don Giovanni, La gazzetta (Rossini), La traviata, Guillaume Tell, Carmen, and Tabasco: A Burlesque Opera, a newly rediscovered operetta by G. W. Chadwick, last performed in 1894. Mr. Shaw also wrote a new book and additional lyrics for the project that celebrated the McIlhenney Company’s 150th anniversary. In addition to the rewrite of Tabasco and the new book and lyrics for Abduction from the Seraglio, Mr. Shaw has written several English version librettos for operas including a Wild West setting of Die Lustige Witwe, a contemporary setting of Die Schauspieldirektor, and most recently a hit production of Die Zauberflüte set in the world of 1980s video games and a groundbreaking production of Madama Butterfly sung in Japanese and English, a co-production of POP and Opera in Heights (Houston). Upcoming projects include, The Mikado at POP, Gianni Schicchi at Opera Columbus and I pagiliacci at Salt Marsh Opera. More details at



Nyghél J. Byrd received his B.A. in Music from Berea College in Kentucky and his M.M. in Opera/Music Theatre and Choral Conducting. Byrd comes from a very musical family and has sung, played, and taught in various capacities. Byrd started studying music formally at Berea College and has since gained a love and joy for performing and teaching music. In 2012 and 2015, he assumed the lead role of Coalhouse Walker in the musical “Ragtime”, at Berea College and the Bay View Music Festival. Byrd has sung Peter in the opera Hansel and Gretel and Father in Children of Eden the musical at Southern Illinois University. Byrd’s most recent role was Armored Man II in the Southern Illinois Music Festival’s 2018 production of the Magic Flute.



Hailed by KUSC Los Angeles as the “next great tenor”, Brian Cheney, protégé of legendary tenor Jerry Hadley, has gained international acclaim for his portrayal of characters such as Don José in Carmen, Mario Cavaradossi in Tosca, Rodolfo in La bohème, the Duke in Rigoletto, Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, and Canio in Pagliacci. “It is tenor Brian Cheney as the brave painter Cavaradossi who really blew me away. Cheney has that terrific tenor sound: the power, richness, and vocal color of a high baritone combined with ringing, awe-inspiring high notes” (Stage and Cinema.) Of his performance as Don José in Carmen, critics hailed: “Tenor Brian Cheney's portrayal of Don José was the most effective dramatic and vocal realization of character in the production...this excellent singer revealed a voice of amazing power and great beauty. Cheney's booming tenor voice and effective dramatic realization of the passionate Don José soon made him the audience's favorite character." (Classical Voice of North Carolina) Last season, Mr. Cheney created the role of Victor Frankenstein to critical acclaim in Gregg Kallor’s World Premiere Frankenstein in New York, made his debut with the National Philharmonic as the Celebrant in Bernstein’s Mass, performed as Scalia in Derrick Wang’s Scalia/Ginsbergand the title role of Werther with Opera Delaware, Canio in I Pagliacci with Opera Orlando, Nicely Nicely in Guys and Dolls in Concert with New Haven Symphony, the tenor soloist in the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s performance of Verdi’s Requiem, sang Haydn’s Creation with Glacier Symphony as part of their Easter Festival, and as a tenor soloist in Attila Glatz Concert Productions New Year’s Concert Salute to Vienna in Chicago, Boston and Hartford. In 2020, Mr. Cheney will make his Virginia Opera debut as Radames in Verdi’s Aida. To watch his 6 part documentary and to purchase his critically acclaimed album please visit his website (, for more details.

Zachary Devin, Tenor, St. Louis

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American Tenor Zachary Devin’s voice has been praised as “superb”,“strong”, and “impassioned” by Opera Today. After receiving degrees in music from Millikin University and the prestigious Rice University Mr. Devin traveled to London where he studied at the famous Royal Academy of Music. Mr. Devin made his London stage debut as Jupiter in Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Semele in 2012 and soon after his European debut in Budapest as Peter Quint in Britten’s Turn of The Screw. Mr. Devin returned to the United States where he quickly became a prominent figure in the St Louis music scene, appearing with Winter Opera St Louis, Union Avenue Opera, and the St Louis Symphony Chorus. In recent years, Mr. Devin has become passionate about fostering young talent as vocal instructor. He is currently serves as adjunct voice faculty at University of Missouri St. Louis, Lindenwood University, and St. Charles Community College. Most recently, Mr. Devin could be seen performing the cantatas of JS Bach with The American Kantorai of St. Louis.



Baritone David Dillard enjoys a career that encompasses both teaching and performing. Now in his twelfth year at Southern Illinois University, Dr. Dillard teaches applied voice, lyric diction, opera history, and voice pedagogy. Professionally, he appears most summers at Union Avenue Opera and the Southern Illinois Music Festival. His eclectic operatic repertoire includes both comprimario and leading roles such as Dr. Malatesta in Don Pasquale, Escamillo in Carmen, the Police Sergeant in Pirates of Penzance, Polyphemus in Acis and Galatea, Owen Hart in Dead Man Walking, and Gunther in Götterdämmerung just to name a few. He has also performed with Florida Grand Opera, DiCapo Opera Theater, Austin Lyric Opera, Tanglewood Music Festival, and Lake George Opera. In addition to opera, Dr. Dillard is passionate about art song. In 2015, he coached Jake Heggie’s song cycle A Question of Light with the composer. He has performed Schubert’s Winterreise with internationally acclaimed collaborative pianist Martin Katz at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio. At the Franz-Schubert-Institut in Baden bei Wien, Austria, Dr. Dillard studied with Wolfgang Holzmair, Elly Ameling and Helmut Deutsch, among others. In 2016, Dr. Dillard taught at Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ Spring Training Program and participated in the McClosky Institute for Voice Summer Seminar in Redlands, CA. In 2015, he completed Levels I and II of Jeannette LoVetri’s Somatic Voicework TM and in 2007 he was a NATS intern. He earned music degrees from Principia College, The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Olivia Donnel, Mezzo-Soprano, Southern Illinois


Olivia Donnel is a vocal performance major at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale. From a young age, Olivia demonstrated a passion and love for music. During her studies at SIU, Olivia has tackled musical challenges with ease while also demonstrating excellence in the classroom. In the past year she has performed in Die Zauberflöte and Amelia Goes to the Ball. Her largest professional accomplishment has been covering the mezzo-soprano solo for Verdi’s Requiem that was performed by the Southern Illinois Symphony in April of this year. Before making her debut as Inez in the Southern Illinois Music Festival’s production of Il Trovatore, Olivia traveled with the First United Methodist Church choir to Carnegie Hall and performed under the direction of Maestro Jonathan Griffith. She will also be employed through the summer at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan as a camp counselor and mentor to young musicians. When not performing, Olivia stays busy on campus. She has served as a student representative on the Fine Arts Activity Fee committee through the School of Music and has also held the leadership positions of Music Chair, Receptions Chair, Recording Secretary, Corresponding Secretary, and President of the professional music fraternity Sigma Alpha Iota. Olivia intends to continue her education by perusing a Master’s in vocal performance upon graduation in May of 2020.

Christopher Goeke, Tenor, Missouri

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Christopher Goeke, tenor, is currently professor of music at Southeast Missouri State University. Goeke is an active performer, teacher, and opera director. At Southeast, his primary responsibilities are applied voice and opera (including conducting, directing and serving as technical coordinator). Dr. Goeke is an active member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), for which he serves as Central Region Treasurer, and has served as the Missouri Governor. Goeke is also a member of the National Opera Association (NOA). Goeke began collegiate studies at Southeastern Community College and completed his undergraduate degree and Master's of Music degree in Vocal Performance at the University of Iowa. He later returned to the University of Iowa and completed a D.M.A in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy. Goeke appeared with the Central City Opera in Colorado, the State Repertory Opera of New Jersey, Westchester Opera in New York, the Light Opera of Manhattan, New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, New York Choral Artists, Santa Fe Desert Choral, Cedar Rapids Symphony, Muddy River Opera (IL), and the Bach Society of St. Louis. Some of his operatic roles include Almaviva in Il Barbieri di Siviglia, Tamino in The Magic Flute, Tybalt in Romeo and Juliette, Spoletta in Tosca, Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Alfred and Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus. Recently, Goeke has appeared as Rudolphe in Rossini's Guillaume Tell and Monostotos in The Magic Flute with the Southern Illinois Music Festival. The tenor is also active in recital and enjoys presenting art songs of all periods including Schubert’s masterpiece Die Winterreise and song cycles by Schumann, Britten, and Cipulo. Goeke lives in Cape Girardeau, Missouri with his wife, Lori Shaffer, an active soprano, who maintains a private voice studio and teaches through the University.

E. Scott Levin, Bass-Baritone, Los Angeles


Bass-Baritone, E. Scott Levin, described as having a “smooth, buttery voice,” “incredibly sharp timing,” and “a gifted comic actor,” has been making audiences laugh for the past sixteen years. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis and Graduate Certificate in Vocal Performance from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. Since 2002, Scott has portrayed almost sixty distinct roles. Many of those have come from appearing in over twenty productions with Union Avenue Opera in Saint Louis, including Zaretsky in Eugene Onegin, the Imperial Commissioner in Madama Butterfly, the Mandarin in Turandot, Wagner in Faust, Pistola in Falstaff, Benoit and Alcindoro in La bohème, the Sprecher in Die Zauberflöte, Marco in Gianni Schicchi, Le Dancairo in Carmen, Baron Zeta in The Merry Widow, Hortensius in La fille du régiment , Alidoro in La Cenerentola, Masetto in Don Giovanni, and Pooh-Bah in The Mikado. Since moving to Los Angeles, Scott has regularly performed with Pacific Opera Project as Leporello in Don Giovanni, Schaunard in La bohème, Bartolo in Le Nozze di Figaro, Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd, Pane in La Calisto, Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro, the Sacristan in Tosca, Baron Zeta in The Merry Widow, Maestro Biscroma Strappaviscere in Viva la Mamma!, and KoKo in The Mikado. In addition, Scott has performed with Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera, Long Beach Opera, Center Stage Opera, Redlands Opera Theater, Definiens Project, OperaWorks, Orange County Opera, and Celestial Opera. In 2015, Scott made debuts at Los Angeles Opera both “Off-Grand” as Babayan (Bartolo) in Figaro 90210!, and mainstage as Dr. Spinelloccio in Gianni Schicchi, starring Placido Domingo and under the direction of Woody Allen, now available on DVD. In 2016, Scott made his Opera Santa Barbara mainstage debut as Simone in Gianni Schicchi and returned the following year as Badger/Priest in The Cunning Little Vixen. Scott also performs as a concert soloist. Between 2003 and 2006, he served as the Liturgical Soloist at Temple Sha'are Emeth and as the Baritone Young Artist with the Bach Society of Saint Louis. From 2009-2014, Scott was a featured soloist with the Los Angeles Bach Festival. Visit for more information.



Eric McCluskey, baritone, is a native of Southern Illinois where he received his early training at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. After completing a Master’s Degree in Carbondale, he began performing throughout the United States with several opera companies and symphony orchestras, including: Opera Theater of Saint Louis, New York City Opera’s National Company, San Francisco Opera’s Western Opera Theater, and the Spoleto Festival. One of the more unique singing engagements of his career was singing Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” with the Paris Opera Ballet while the late Rudolf Nureyev danced. McCluskey is the recipient of several awards that helped jump start his career including the William Matheus Sullivan Award, the Richard Gaddes Award from Opera Theater of Saint Louis, as well as winning the Young Artists Competition from the Women’s Association of the Saint Louis Symphony Society.  After singing professionally for eighteen years, McCluskey returned to school and earned a doctor of music degree from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. Dr. McCluskey is an Assistant Professor of Voice at the University of Evansville and when he is not teaching enjoys performing recitals and working with several ensembles including the Evansville Philharmonic, Winter Opera St. Louis, and the Southern Illinois Music Festival.

Ariel Pisturino, Soprano, lOS aNGELES


The Los Angeles Times hails soprano Ariel Pisturino as “an impressive young discovery,” after seeing her professional debut performance as Nancy T’ang in Long Beach Opera’s production of Nixon in China. An enthusiastic advocate of contemporary works and collaborations with composers, Ariel performed the role of Lover in The Industry’s nationally-acclaimed production of HOPSCOTCH and created the role of Laurie in Mark Abel’s premiere opera Home is a Harbor, released on Delos Records. She collaborated with Abel once before on his song cycle Five Rilke Songs on the album Terrain of the Heart, also for Delos Records. Ariel created the role of Rosina Brandram in a newly written Gilbert and Sullivan review, Hail Poetry, with Opera
a la Carte. Propelled by her interest in promoting new works, Ariel co-founded the performance troupe Chamber Opera Players of LA and the new music summer concert series unSUNg, focusing on new and unknown vocal music. Highlights of her work with Chamber Opera Players of LA include her commission and premiere of the opera The Last Silent Voice by George N. Gianopoulos in conjunction with Ned Rorem’s Three Sisters who are not Sisters. Other contemporary performance highlights include her performances with Long Beach Opera as Witch 1 in Bloch’s Macbeth, creating the role of Margarita in a new electronic opera The Master and Margarita by Russian composer Gamma Skupinsky, and the premiere of the oratorio Circular 14: The Apotheosis of Aristides by Neely Bruce in remembrance of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who saved thousands during the Holocaust. Ms. Pisturino not only performs new works but also lends her creamy legato to traditional roles such as Donna Elvira, Fiordiligi, Micaëla and Second Lady. She has also been heard as the soprano soloist in the Brahms Requiem, Fauré Requiem, Mozart’s Mass in C Minor and Requiem, and Rutter Gloria. An avid language student, Ariel is a dedicated Italian student and attended the Russian Opera Workshop to study the Russian language and perform the role of Tamara in Rubenstein’s opera, The Demon. Ariel holds a Masters degree from the University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music, a Bachelors degree in Music from Northern Arizona University, and is an OperaWorks alumna. Born in San Francisco but a native of Kingman, Arizona, she now resides with her bass-baritone boyfriend and three kitties in sunny Los Angeles.



A bass vocalist of increasing demand who towers at an imposing and athletic 6’10”, Andrew Potter is a true Basso who has been welcomed by audiences and critics across the country for a larger‐than‐life stage presence with a voice to match. With years of studying under renowned teachers such as Rick Christman, Braeden Harris, and Kenneth Shaw; Andrew became a standout in mainstage roles at several of the nation's most prestigious Young Artist programs such as Des Moines Metro Opera, St. Petersburg Emerging Artist Program, and the Tyler Young Artist Program. He has since performed across the country proficiently demonstrating the vocal power and sonority to sing such roles as Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faustand Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, the range and physicality to perform buffo roles like Don Bartolo (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Don Alfonso (Così fan tutte), Don Magnifico (Cenerentola); and the flexibility and agility to sing challenging Handelian roles including Zoroastro in Orlando, Ariodate in Serse, and Argante in Rinaldo. Having proven his vocal diversity on stage performing roles spanning from basso roles like Osmin in Die Entführung, to varying Bass‐Baritone roles such as Escamillo in Bizet’s Carmen and Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca; his is truly a vocal range granting incredibly rare versatility ‐ making him stand out among the growing community of low voices.

Megan Potter, mezzo-soprano, Virginia


Mezzo-soprano Megan Potter has been hailed for her “dark colorings,” “emotional vulnerability” and “effortless athleticism.” Her rich vocal quality and powerful stage presence have earned her roles including Dorabella (Così fan tutte), Romeo (i Capuleti e i Montecchi), Hänsel (Hänsel und Gretel), and the title role in L’enfant et les sortilèges; while her vocal precision and agility have allowed her the ability to perform such roles as Rosina (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) and Nerone (L’incoronazione di Poppea). Mrs. Potter received her Bachelors of Music Education from Northern State University and her Masters of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Colorado – Boulder. In recent seasons, she has performed roles at regional companies across the United States including Central City Opera, Pacific Opera Project, Emerald City Opera, and Mid-Ohio Opera. Her concert repertoire has boasted a wide array of musical tastes such as the mezzo-soprano solo in Rossini’s Messa di Gloria, the soloist in Berio’s Folk Songs, and as Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni). Upcoming engagements this season for Mrs. Potter include her debut as Carmen (Carmen) and also as a Walküre (Die Walküre).

Kenneth Stavert, Baritone

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Praised for his strong “sense of theatricality,” Baritone Kenneth Stavert has performed on operatic, concert and recital stages throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. Some of his recent highlights include Silvio in Pagliacci, Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, and Ping in Turandot (Dayton Opera), Harlekin in Ariadne auf Naxos (Palm Beach Opera), Yamadori in Madama Buttrfly (Santa Fe Opera) and Renato in Un ballo in Maschera (Opera in the Heights). Kenneth recenetly sang the role of Sharpless in a world premiere of a new translation of Madama Butterfly in Japanese (Pacific Opera Project and Opera in the Heights). Kenneth’s Orchestral credits include Berlioz’s Lelio, Fauré’s Requiem, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Handel’s Messiah and Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore. He has also been a featured recitalist throughout the United States specializing in less performed English art song. Upcoming engagements for Kenneth include a return to Dayton Opera where he will perform Marcello in La bohème.

Allison Travelstead Weaver, Stage Manager, Southern Illinois


A Southern Illinois native, Allison Travelstead Weaver is a former student of John A. Logan College and Southern Illinois University – Carbondale. Originally a vocal performance major, Allison discovered her love for technical theater alongside her mentor, Nathan Arnett, early in her college career. Since then Allison has found great joy in bringing a bit of order to the magic of theater for local groups such as John A. Logan College, Artstarts, and  the Sesser Opera House. Currently in her fifth season with the Southern Illinois Music Festival, she is thankful for another opportunity to practice her craft and make new friends alongside two of her most favorite – Maestro Benyas and director Josh Shaw. Allison would like to thank her husband, Jeremy, and children, Gwendolyn and Teddy, for their continued love and support.

Breanna Williams, Soprano, Georgia

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Soprano, Breanna Williams is a Georgia native and a rising young artist based in Carbondale, IL. Before making her debut as Lauretta with the Southern Illinois Music Festival, she recently performed the role of 1st Chambermaid and chorus member in Amelia Goes to the Ball with SIUC’s School of Music. This summer she will be a young artist with SI Music Festival and Redwoods Opera Workshop in Mendocino, CA. An avid learner, Ms. Williams has been fortunate to participate in masterclasses with Metropolitan Opera stars Cynthia Lawrence, Solomon Howard and Karen Slack respectively. She was a semi-finalist in both the central and mid-south regions of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) auditions and Orpheus Vocal Competition. Previous engagements include: the Mompox and Sinsu Jazz Festivals in Colombia, South America; the world premiere of Anthony Plog’s Magdalene with the Nashville Philharmonic Orchestra; featured soloist in the Harry T. Burleigh Spiritual Festival; apprentice artist with Inversion Vocal Ensemble; member of Southern Illinois Symphony Chorale. Currently, Ms. Williams is pursuing a M.M. in Vocal Performance at SIUC and studies with Dr. Brittany Benningfield. She is very excited to complete her first SI Music Fest production!

Instrumental Artists:

Robert Allison, Trumpet, sOUTHERN ILLINOIS

Robert Allison hails from Memphis, Tennessee, and is Associate Professor of Trumpet and Jazz Studies at Southern Illinois University. He has also taught at Millikin University and the Latvian National Conservatory in Riga, Latvia. Besides fulfilling his teaching duties at Southern Illinois University, Dr. Allison is active as a recitalist and clinician, and in addition to the New Arts Jazztet, also performs regularly with the SIUC Faculty Brass Trio and the Brass Ensemble of Illinois. He has performed with numerous jazz artists, including James Williams, Cal Thomas, Willie Thomas and Stanley Clarke. Dr. Allison received most of his training at the University of Illinois where he was a student of Ray Sasaki, David Hickman and Mike Tunnel. He is also a former winner of the International Trumpet Guild's Jazz Improvisition Competition.

Michael Barta, Violin, Hungary/SIUC


Violinist and violist, Michael Barta, studied at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, Hungary and received his degree with highest honors. In 1973 he won the 2nd prize at the Joseph Szigeti International Competition and the Gold Medal of the Ysaye Society in Brussels, Belgium. In 1974 he received a Diploma as Finalist of the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, Russia. From 1975-1980, he held the title Soloist of the National Philharmony in Hungary and was first violinist of the Kodály String Quartet. He came to the United States in 1980 and became professor of violin at Central Michigan University. He currently serves as Professor of Violin and Chamber Music at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, a position he has held since 1985. Mr. Barta has performed in 25 countries, including many European countries, China and Japan. He performed such venues as Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall in the United States, in Wigmore Hall in London, at Radio France in Paris, and many others. He served on the summer faculty of the Central Catalonia Music Festival and Academy in Spain and regularly teaches master classes in Hungary, Bulgaria, Malta, Latvia and Austria. He is co-founder of the Southern Illinois Chamber Music Society, and also performs as the Assistant Concertmaster of the Illinois Symphony and Chamber Orchestra and as Concertmaster of Sinfonia da Camera in Urbana, Illinois.



Gabrielle Baffoni is Associate Professor of Single Reeds at Southeast Missouri State University, where she has been on faculty since her appointment in 2012. She previously held teaching positions at Tabor College, the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) Conservatory of Music and Dance, and the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Dr. Baffoni earned her Doctor of Musical Arts in Clarinet Performance from the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance where her final doctoral project was a lecture-recital presenting works for clarinet and percussion duo. With a passion for chamber music, Dr. Baffoni has performed with several chamber ensembles over the last fifteen years, including the Liberace Winds Graduate Fellowship Wind Quintet at UMKC. As a clarinetist, Dr. Baffoni has performed with various ensembles throughout the United States and has appeared as a soloist with ensembles at the University of New Hampshire, UMKC, Bethel College, and Southeast Missouri State University. She held the position of second clarinetist with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra from 2008-2011, and performed regularly with the Miami City Ballet, Hollywood (FL) Philharmonic Orchestra, Boca Raton Philharmonic Symphonia, and Civic Opera Theatre of Kansas City. She currently performs as principal clarinetist with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra in Kentucky, and appears regularly with the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra.

Kara Benyas, Piano, Southern Illinois

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Pianist, Kara Benyas has served on the faculties of Southern Illinois University and McKendree University. She holds degrees from Northwestern University and SIU, and has also studied at the Aspen Music School. She has been an accompanist for the voice studio of the late William Warfield and with the Des Moines Metro Opera. Ms. Benyas has appeared several times as a soloist with the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra, on subscription concerts in downtown Chicago and on tour throughout the Midwest. She has appeared as soloist with the Southern Illinois Symphony and soloist and chamber music artist with the Southern Illinois Music Festival on numerous occasions. Ms. Benyas appeared on the Dame Myra Hess Recital Series at the Chicago Cultural Center, a performance broadcast on local television, on WFMT-FM in Chicago and syndicated nationally over the internet. In 2011 and 2013 she performed a series of concerts in Northern Italy, including Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. In Southern Illinois, Ms. Benyas helped establish Klassics for Kids, a highly acclaimed concert series that exposes preschool and school age children to a variety of live classical music and jazz, and is a certified Kindermusik instructor. This summer, she is Director of the Pre-College Program at the Suoni D’Abruzzo Music Festival in Ortona, Italy. She and her husband live in Southern Illinois with their two children, Gabriela and Maya, and their dog Rosina.

Meghan Berindean, Cello, Tennessee


Originally from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, cellist Meghan Berindean is currently serving as Assistant Professor of Low Strings at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. An enthusiastic performer of chamber music, Berindean has performed as a member of the Tallahassee-based Eppes Quartet and the Cleveland-based Judson String Quartet, with whom she was the recipient of the Francis E. Sykora Outreach Grant through the Cleveland Institute of Music. Previously, she was a first prize-winner of the MENC Pennsylvania State Chamber Group Competition as a member of the Valens Piano Quartet. Berindean enjoys spending her summers at Sewanee Summer Music Festival, where she coordinates the string chamber music. She looks forward to joining the faculty of the Bay View Music Festival in northern Michigan for the summer of 2019. As an orchestral player, Berindean is currently co-principal cello of the Clarksville-based Gateway Chamber Orchestra, She has served as principal cello of Sinfonia Gulf Coast, Northern Tier Symphony, and Altoona Symphony, as well as assistant principal of Williamsport Symphony and the Pennsylvania Centre Orchestra. She has performed with Charleston Symphony, Paducah Symphony, Mobile Symphony, Southwest Florida Symphony, and Tallahassee Symphony. As the winner of the 2016 Florida State University Doctoral Concerto Competition, Berindean was a featured soloist in the University Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 season. She has performed in masterclasses with Steven Isserlis, Raphael Wallfisch, Colin Carr, Andrés Diaz, Lynn Harrell, and David Finckel. Berindean completed her doctoral degree in cello performance at Florida State University as a student of Gregory Sauer, writing her dissertation on the cello music of Bohuslav Martinu. She received her Master of Music degree of the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she was a student of Sharon Robinson. She achieved her Bachelor of Music degree in cello performance from the Pennsylvania State University, as a student of Kim Cook, where she was the recipient of the Eleanor Beene Scholarship Prize.

Razvan Berindean, Viola, Tenneesee

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Violist Mihai Razvan Berindean from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, began his studies of music at the early age of six. After graduating the “Sigismund Toduta” Music High School, Razvan received his Bachelors and Masters of Music degrees from Bowling Green State University (OH), studying with Matthew Daline, Megan Yanik Fergusson, and Csaba Erdelyi.  While at Bowling Green State University, Razvan was the recipient of the Bernice Coulon Special Achievement Award, the Music Talent Award, and held the viola position for the Bowling Green State University Graduate String Quartet. He recently received his Doctorate in Music Performance from Florida State University as a student of Dr. Pamela Ryan. While working on his doctorate, Razvan received the Harsanyi Scholarhip and was also part of the Eppes Quartet – the graduate string quartet at Florida State University. Razvan has participated in many master classes for pedagogues such as Paul Neubauer, the Penderecki String Quartet, Caroline Coade, Peter Slowik, Ralph Fielding, Misha Galaganov, Michael Larco, Daniel Strba, and Randolph Kelly. An avid performer, Razvan has had the opportunity to perform in venues around the world, including extensive tours in China, Japan, Spain, France, Germany, Greece, England, and Romania. Berindean is a passionate orchestra player and currently serves as principal viola with the Mobile Symphony, and also performs with Bryan Symphony Orchestra, Jackson Symphony Orchestra, Toledo Symphony, and Louisiana Symphony. Previously he has performed with the National Repertory Orchestra, Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, Toledo Ballet Orchestra, Ann Arbor Symphony, Jackson Symphony, Dearborn Symphony, Great Lakes Symphony, and Lima Symphony. Dr. Berindean also serves as an Adjunct Professor at Austin Peay State University.

William Bewley, Bass, North Carolina

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A native of Hickory NC, William Bewley started his conducting experience at 15 years of age at the Cannon Music Festival where studied conducting lessons with Dr. James Allen Anderson and conducted a performance of Jean Sibelius' "Andante Festivo". He would later find more experience with the Western Piedmont Youth Symphony and the prestigious Hickory High Orchestra under the direction of John and Sally Ross. He studied  bass privately with Paul Sharpe before attending East Carolina University where he would receive an undergraduate degree in music performance studying bass under Leonid Finkelshteyn and conducting under Dr. Jorge Richter. Prior to graduate studies at SIU William received a comprehensive advance performance certificate in bass performance from ECU in May of 2016.  In addition to conducting numerous private recitals and three appearances with the East Carolina Symphony Orchestra, William has conducted a world premiere with the ECU Symphony as well as a world premiere opera with his own ensemble. He has performed with the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra and was an active member in the Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival in Greenville, NC. Under the mentorship of Edward Benyas, William has made numerous conducting appearances as Associate conductor of the Southern Illinois Symphony. William received his Master of Music degree in Instrumental conducting in May 2019



Dr. Jessica D. Butler is currently a lecturer of low brass and music history at Southern Illinois University. Jessica completed her doctorate in trombone performance and pedagogy with a secondary emphasis in musicology at The University of Iowa in 2013 under the advisement of Dr. David Gier. Jessica also achieved her master of arts degree in trombone performance and pedagogy at the University of Iowa.  She achieved her undergraduate degree in trombone performance at Columbus State University, studying with Dr. Bradley Palmer. As an applied studio professor, Jessica enjoys teaching graduate and undergraduate trombone, euphonium, and tuba students. In 2014, Jessica created SIUC’s Low Brass Collective– a low brass ensemble that allows students to develop chamber music skills. As a music history professor at SIUC, Jessica teaches Modern Music I and II, Romantic Music, Baroque Music, Music History I and II, and Music Understanding. Jessica won the S.E. Shire’s trombone solo competition hosted by the Southeast Trombone Symposium in 2010. Her current scholarly research focuses on women’s roles in music and feminist musicology. Jessica has presented and performed at The International Women’s Brass Conference, The International Trombone Festival, The Southeast Trombone Symposium, The Midwest Trombone and Euphonium Conference, as well as various colleges and universities. Jessica looks forward to performing with the prestigious Cramer Trombone Choir this summer at the International Trombone Festival.

Rossana Cauti, Viola, Florida

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Violist Rossana Cauti enjoys a musical career that spans through Europe, Latin America, United States. She is the Director of the International Chamber Music Festival “Suoni d’Abruzzo” (Italy), in its 6thedition in 2019. She has recently been appointed as the Assistant of Dr. Pamela Ryan at Florida State University. She currently won positions as section violist for Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, Pensacola Symphony, Sinfonia Gulf Coast, and Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra. She also serves as section viola for Jacksonville Symphony and Principal Viola for Florida State Symphony Orchestra. She has previously served as Principal Viola for “Pergolesi Spontini” Orchestra (Italy), Orchestra da Camera di Lugano (Switzerland), Orchestra “A. Vivaldi” (Italy), touring Europe, Asia, South America, and performing in all major concert halls in Italy. She is regularly invited to perform and teach in internationally acclaimed Chamber Music Festivals, between others “Aurora Chamber Music Festival” (Sweden), “International Chamber Music Festival Del Garda” (Italy), “Festival Settembre in Musica” (Italy), “New York Summer Festival” (USA), “Festival de Musica de Campinas” (Brazil), “Southern Illinois Music Festival” (USA). Passionate Chamber Musician, she collaborates in Europe with world-renowned artists such as Michael Flaksman, Yulia Berinskaya, Fabrizio Falasca, Andrea Massimo Grassi, Marco Fiorentini, Frieder Berthold, Susanne Rabenschlag, Andrea Rucli, Andrej Kurti. As a Viola faculty, she has taught at “New York Summer Music Festival”, “Southeast Missouri Chamber Music Institute”, “Festival Suoni d’Abruzzo” (Italy), “Cives Mundi Academy” (Switzerland). She is a Viola D.M.A. candidate at Florida State University, holds degrees from Southern Illinois University (M.M.), Pescara Conservatory in Italy (A.D. and B.M.), Lugano Hochschule for Musik (Switzerland), “Accademia Internazionale di Musica di Roma” (Italy) and at the “Accademia del Garda” (Italy). She plays on a beautiful “Thomas Meuwissen” Viola from Brussels, Belgium. In her (very little) spare time, she loves beach trips, traveling, parties, concerts and friends time. 

Bill Cernota, Cello, Lyric Opera of Chicago


William Cernota, violoncello, has been a member of the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra since 1982. From 1982 to 1996 he was a substitute cellist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. While a student of Chicago Symphony Principal Cellist Frank Miller, he was Principal Cellist of the Chicago Civic Orchestra. During this period William performed as soloist in Don Quixote and Schelomo with the Chicago Civic Orchestra. His other teachers include Alois Trnka, Raya Garbousova, Karl Fruh, and Daniel Morganstern. He has also held principal cello positions with the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, Concertante di Chicago, Chicago Opera Theater, and Peninsula Music Festival. In 2012 he was appointed Principal Cellist in the Southern Illinois Music Festival. He performed the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata on a national broadcast from WFMT as part of its “Schubert Live” Series and was a soloist on two European tours of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra. William is currently on the adjunct music faculties of both Northwestern and Loyola Universities. Following graduation in Ideas & Methods and Biology from the University of Chicago he served for three years in the Peace Corps, Sierra Leone as a biology teacher and band director. With special interests in new as well as old music, William appears regularly in contemporary music concerts and has also performed on baroque cello with several period instrument groups. He performed Lutoslawski’s works for solo cello at Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago with the composer in attendance. With pianist Joy Doran, he recently issued a CD: On or About December, 1910. He is a founding member and General Director of Chicago Camerata and the Overtones Ensemble in Residence at Loyola University Museum of Art. William resides with his wife, Maria, and daughter, Naomi, in Chicago where he also works as a research scientist at Fermalogic, Incorporated and recently completed the Masters in Engineering Degree from the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Kurt Civilette, Horn, Michigan


Kurt Civilette is a freelance performer and teacher based in Lansing, Michigan. He holds several permanent orchestral positions in the area including principal horn with the South Bend Symphony and principal horn with the Midland Symphony. He is also 3rd horn in Flint Symphony and Ann Arbor Symphony. As a member of the South Bend Symphony principal wind quintet and Ann Arbor Symphony Brass Quintet he performs chamber concerts and educational concerts. Other recent freelance engagements include playing sub/extra on stage with Detroit Symphony, Saint Louis Symphony, Utah Symphony, and Ft. Wayne Philharmonic and in the opera pit with Michigan Opera Theater and Santa Fe Opera. He is frequently asked to play guest principal, playing that role with Ann Arbor, Flint, Michigan Opera Theater, Kalamazoo, Saginaw Bay, Windsor (ON), and West Michigan Symphonies. He is the horn instructor at Lansing Community College and Michigan State University’s Community Music School. For 15 years from 1995-2010, Kurt was full-time 3rd horn/associate principal with New Mexico Symphony in Albuquerque, substituting as interim principal horn for the entire 2001-02 season. Before winning the permanent job in New Mexico, he held temporary positions as principal horn with Charleston (SC) Symphony, acting principal horn of the Savannah (GA) Symphony, and assistant principal with Honolulu Symphony. While in New Mexico he was also 3rd horn with Santa Fe Symphony and appeared with Santa Fe Opera orchestra. As a successful freelance musician, he has appeared with Chicago Lyric Opera, Chicago Symphony, Grant Park, Jacksonville and North Carolina Symphonies, and played many jingles and recording sessions. During the summers, Kurt plays principal horn with the Southern Illinois Music Festival in Carbondale, and Baroque on Beaver Island Festival. He has appeared in various US and international summer festivals including Spoleto Festival in USA and Italy, the Assisi Festival (Italy), the Kumamoto Festival in Japan, and Music from Angel Fire.

Sophia Han, Violin, SEMO


Described by the Classical Voices of North Carolina as "a polished [and] fully professional performer," violinist Sophia Han is the Assistant Professor of Upper Strings and Concertmaster at Southeast Missouri State University. A versatile musician, Han is equally comfortable in classical and popular music settings having performed as guest soloist with orchestras across the US as well as appearing on tour with artists such as Michael Bublé, Audra McDonald, and STARSET. Currently serving as the Associate Concertmaster of Paducah Symphony Orchestra, Han has also appeared as the Assistant Concertmaster of Tallahassee Symphony, Concertmaster of the 2016 Lake Tahoe Music Festival Orchestra, and is in demand as an adjudicator across the nation. With degrees from Florida State University (DM), University of Michigan (MM), and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (BM), Han's principal teachers include Corinne Stillwell, Aaron Berofsky, and the late Richard Luby, and has participated in masterclasses with Gil Shaham, Jennifer Koh, and Patinka Kopec, among others.

Marla hansen, Piano, Oregon


Marla Hansen, graduated with a Masters in Collaborative Piano from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2015. Beginning the violin at age four and the piano at age nine, Marla has garnered numerous awards, including placing in top positions of the University of Redlands Merit Awards Auditions (violin/piano), the Young Artists Competition held by the Inland Valley Symphony (violin/piano), NCMTA Piano Festival and the Inland Empire Piano Festival. Her former piano teachers are Dr. Kerry Carlin, Alex Hock, David Griswold, Dr. Marie Jureit-Beamish. and Dr. Paul Transue (SIUC), and she previously studied the violin with James Zagami, Dr. Gregory Hurley (ECU), Todor Pelev, Laura Garritson Parker, and Michael Barta (SIUC). She has performed in masterclasses with Boris Berman, Paul Badura-Skoda, Luiz de Moura Castro, and Martin Katz. In her senior year of high school, she soloed on violin with the MSJC Symphony Orchestra and on piano with the Inland Valley Symphony. In 2010 and 2012, Marla was in a select group of students representing Principia College on the Spring Arts Tours which consisted of five performances on the west coast, and six performances on the east coast, including a performance in Steinway Hall, New York. She also soloed on piano with the Principia College Orchestra in spring of 2011 and 2012. As a student of Principia, she was awarded the Ackley Music Award for exceptional work in performance and academics, the Georgie Graham Ives Music Award for excellence in music scholarship and performance, and the Frances Van Der Meid Smith Award for promoting musical excellence in the community. As part of her graduate assistantship at SIUC, Marla served as rehearsal pianist for operas, accompanied the Concert Choir, and worked with numerous vocal students as well as instrumentalists. She has served as a vocal soloist for churches, and she enjoys composing and arranging music as well as performing. She recently moved to Bakersfield, CA and works as an accompanist at Bakersfield College. Teaching is her passion, and she has a large studio of private piano and violin students. This is Marla’s fifth year with SIFest.

Anita hutton, PIANO, southern illinois


Pianist Anita Hutton retired from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2012. She is the organist/pianist at First United Methodist Church in Carbondale. Anita is a participant/coach at several chamber music workshops in the United States, Germany, and England.She is also active as a musician and accompanist on the SIUC campus and in the community.  Anita earned her Bachelor of Music Education (Vocal & Instrumental) from Idaho State University and her Master of Music from SIUC.

YUKO KATO, PIANO, Southern Illinois

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Yuko Kato has performed as a soloist and collaborative musician in the United States and internationally. She has given recitals in Canada at The Banff Centre and at Carleton University (Ottawa), in Austria at Musiksalon Erfurt, and has performed at various music festivals, including Songfest in Los Angeles, the New Sound Festival at SUNY Fredonia, the St. Paul Concert Series in Cincinnati, the New Music Circle in St. Louis, the Gesher Music Festival in St. Louis, the Austin Chamber Music Center Festival in Texas, and the Cedarhurst Chamber Music Series at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in Illinois. She made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall in 2004 as the winner of the Artists International Competition in New York. Dr. Kato has degrees in piano performance from Northwestern University and Manhattan School of Music, and currently serves as Associate Professor of Piano at Southern Illinois University.



Kiril Laskarov is in his 20th season as Concertmaster of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. A native of Bulgaria, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the State Academy of Music in Sofia and a Master's degree from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale where he studied with Prof. Michael Barta. Laskarov has appeared as a soloist with the Arkansas Symphony, Las Vegas Philharmonic, Southern Illinois Symphony, Abilene (TX) Philharmonic, Symphony Irvine (CA) and Texarkana (TX) Symphony and also as a guest concertmaster with the Monroe (LA) Symphony and McCall (ID) Festival Orchestra. Mr. Laskarov presented the world premiere of the Double Concerto for Two Violins by Michael Fine (2017) with the Arkansas Symphony and the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello (2018) by Jacob Tews with the Southern Illinois Symphony.

Janice Lee, Violin, Illinois


Currently pursuing her doctorate at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, violinist Janice Lee attended Cleveland Institute of Music for her masters and taught at Cleveland School of the Arts as an Artist in Residence. She has performed as soloist with the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra, Raleigh Symphony Orchestra and East Carolina Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Lee has spent summers performing under Marin Alsop at Britten-Pears Orchestra, National Repertory Repertory Orchestra, Southern Illinois Music Festival and also working with El Sistema programs in Uruguay and El Salvador. Alongside performing in Illinois Symphony, Heartland Festival Orchestra and Millikin Decatur Symphony Orchestra, she teaches preparatory students at Millikin University. Her teachers include Stefan Milenkovich, Nelson Lee, Ivan Zenaty and Ara Gregorian.

Chris Leverenz, Bass, Virginia

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Dr. Chris Leverenz is a 2006 Southern Illinois University graduate currently living in Virginia Beach. Chris performs with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and the Virginia Arts Festival and currently resides as Adjunct Professor of Double Bass at Christopher Newport University. He is also an active teacher in the community working with local youth orchestras and teaching private lessons. Until last July Chris had spent the prior four years living in Germany performing with Deutsche Philharmonie Merck and Heidelberger Kantanenorchestre. As a member of these ensembles Chris had the honor of performing for many international dignitaries including the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. After graduating from SIU Chris attended the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati where he earned his Masters and Doctorate in double bass performance. Chris has always enjoyed returning to Southern Illinois and has performed with the Southern Illinois Music Festival in five prior seasons including the inaugural SIFest of 2006. After a four year break Chris looks forward to hiking in Giant City, eating Quatro's pizza, and making beautiful music with the Southern Illinois Music Festival once again.

Jennifer Presar, Horn, Southern Illinois


Jennifer Presar, originally from West Virginia, is currently the Assistant Director of the School of Music and teaches horn and music theory at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She holds a BM in theory and composition (University of Illinois) and a MM in horn performance (West Virginia University). She is the principal horn of the Paducah Symphony and has performed with the Southern Illinois Music Festival Orchestra, Chicago Chamber Orchestra, Champaign-Urbana Symphony, West Virginia Symphony, Wheeling Symphony, Illinois Symphony, and others throughout Illinois, West Virginia, and Maryland. She is particularly proud of her opportunities to perform with the Sphinx Symphony – a symphony celebrating African-American and Latino musicians and diversity in the arts. Ms. Presar is also active as a chamber musician. She was a founding member of Neoteric (horn, bassoon, and cello) and has just formed J3 – a trio of horn, trombone, and piano. J3 is planning a Florida tour for Fall 2019 as well as regional appearances.

James Ryon, Oboe, Texas


James Ryon is currently Professor of Oboe at the University of North Texas and Principal Oboist with the Baton Rouge Symphony. He received Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from the Juilliard School, a degree in Engineering & Applied Science from Yale University, and performance fellowships with the Aspen, Berkshire, Blossom, Kneisel Hall and New College Music Festivals. He has also served as Principal Oboist with the Caracas Philharmonic, the Florida Orchestra and the Akron Symphony. His wide-ranging musical experience includes tours and concerts with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Cleveland Opera, the Cleveland Ballet, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Ohio Ballet, the Canton Symphony, the Charleston Symphony, the Las Colinas Symphony, the Bach Aria Group and the British rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He taught for 8 years at Louisiana State University and for 19 years at the University of Akron, where he was also a member of the Solaris Quintet. His CD of 20th Century Brazilian Chamber Music for Oboe, Cello and Piano with the Burle Marx Trio is available on Jeanné Digital. His recordings with Solaris may be found on Capstone Records. For further information visit:

Kristin Sarvela, Oboe, Illinois

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A native of Southern Illinois, Dr. Kristin Sarvela joined the faculty of Eastern Illinois University in 2016, where she teaches oboe and music theory, and joined the faculty of the University of Illinois at Springfield in 2017, where she teaches oboe. She earned a Bachelor of Music in Oboe Performance from the University of Illinois with a Minor in Mathematics, a Master of Music in Oboe Performance from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University with a Masters Minor in Music History, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Oboe Performance and Literature from the University of Illinois with a Cognate in Musicology. Sarvela has an active performing career and has held many positions in orchestras around the Midwest, including principal oboe of the Danville Symphony Orchestra, second oboe in the Sinfonia da Camera, and oboe and English horn in the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra. She has participated in Le Domaine Forget, Ad Astra, Outside the Box, Madeline Island, and the Southern Illinois Summer Music Festivals and has performed with such artists as Menahem Pressler, Emmanuel Ax, and the Mark Morris Dance Group. She has performed in such halls as the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and Carnegie Hall. 

JoshUA Schlachter, Violin, Grand Rapids Symphony


Joshua Schlachter joined the Grand Rapids Symphony violin section in 1999. At the Southern Illinois Music Festival, he has performed as soloist and serves as Principal Second Violin. Joshua has performed regularly as Principal Second Violin of the Chicago Chamber Orchestra and has played with the Columbus Symphony and Fort Wayne Philharmonic. Joshua received a Bachelor of Music degree from Northwestern University and a Master of Music degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.  Kurt Sassmannshaus, Peter Oundjian, and Geoffrey Applegate are among his principal instructors. An active teacher, Joshua has served as Visiting Professor of Violin at Grand Rapids Community College and Adjunct Instructor of Violin at Aquinas College. He and his wife, Tenille, live in Rockford, Michigan, with their children, Samuel, Zachary, and Sophia.

Charles Shapera, Bassoon, Chicago


Charles Shapera is a native of Chicago involved in performing, teaching, and conducting for over 30 years. As a performer, he is Principal Bassoon of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra and an original member of two outstanding chamber groups, the Oak Street Winds (with Maestro Benyas) and the Kallima Quintet. As an educator, Mr. Shapera teaches Elementary and Jr. High aged band. Twice a graduate of DePaul University, Mr. Shapera studied bassoon with Anne Eagleton, William Kaplan, Bruce Grainger, and William Buchman. This will be his eighth year participating in the SIFest. Mr. Shapera shares every day with his lovely wife Zoe - who generously allows him the time to come to Carbondale each summer - and his two beautiful children, Arza and Micah.

Abigail Simoneau, flute, new hampshire

Abigail Simoneau, a New Hampshire native, is currently pursuing her Doctorate of Musical Arts at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Ms. Simoneau is adjunct music faculty at Alamance Community College in Graham, North Carolina and is Director of Music Education and Community Outreach at the Moore Music Company. Ms. Simoneau earned her Master of Music degree in Flute Performance from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and her Bachelor of Arts from the University of New Hampshire. Her teachers include Linda True, Peggy Vagts, Douglas Worthen, Carla Copeland-Burns, and Erika Boysen. Ms. Simoneau has performed with numerous ensembles throughout her college career, and this will be her eighth season with the Southern Illinois Music Festival. She also performs regularly with the Piedmont Wind Symphony, Western Piedmont Symphony, and the Hickory Choral Society in North Carolina.

Juan Carlos Siviero, Viola, Space Coast Symphony Orchestra/Argentina


Juan Carlos Siviero has played 14 seasons with the Southern Illinois Music Festival! A native Argentinian, Juan Carlos resides in Orlando, FL where he performs as Principal Violist with Space Coast Symphony Orchestra and holds membership with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, The Villages Phiharmonic, and Ocala Symphony Orchestra. His orchestral experience included the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Rockford Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra of Argentina, and the Orchestra of the State of  Tucuman to name a few. Juan Carlos received his musical training from the Conservatorio Provincial de Musica de Tucuman, his Masters Degree from Roosevelt University, as well as a Graduate Certificate from DePaul University. He greatly enjoys teaching viola and violin. In his spare time, Juan Carlos is an enthusiast of Archeology, Astronomy, World War II, and American Civil War related subjects. He also cares for small cute felines.

James Thompson, Flute, Indiana


An energetic and passionate musician, Dr. James Thompson has performed on three continents in diverse venues ranging from LA's Walt Disney Concert Hall to medieval Italian churches to the Great Wall of China. Recently, James was named a winner of the National Flute Association Masterclass Competition, the Ball State University Graduate Concerto Competition, and the Illinois State University Concerto Competition. James performed for three years as the flutist of the Ball State Graduate Wind Quintet and he has been invited to perform at four National Flute Association conventions as a member of the flute ensemble, “Calliope.” James has also appeared in numerous music festivals such as Domaine Forget, the Southern Illinois Music Festival, the Fresno Opera & Orchestra Summer Academy, and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. Raised in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, James began studying the flute with his father at the age of 12. He now resides in Muncie, Indiana, where he completed a doctorate in flute performance at Ball State University. James currently serves as Education Coordinator for the Muncie Symphony Orchestra and is also a flutist with the orchestra.

David Tuttle, Clarinet, Chicago

David Tuttle is an active freelance musician who has performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Milwaukee Symphony, the Honolulu Symphony, Ars Viva Chicago, and the Lake Forest Symphony. He has been performing as an extra player with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1974. He can be heard on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s recordings of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Wagner’s Prelude and Love Death, and Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite. In addition to his extensive freelancing, David currently serves as principal clarinetist in the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, Light Opera Works, and the Southern Illinois Music Festival, for which he is also personnel manager. He is the founder and director of Chicago Winds, Inc., which has presented more than 2,000 programs in Chicago Public Schools. Tuttle has been on the roster of Vandoren Performing Artists since 2011.

Joseph Walczyk, Trumpet, Connecticut


Hailing from Baltic, Connecticut, Joseph Walczyk is an extremely active musician and educator both in and out of school. He received his Bachelor’s degree in music at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) in 2016 under the direction of Dr. Daniel D’Addio. Outside of school, he played with several groups, such as the Norm Hathaway Big Band in New York and the Second Company Governor’s Footguard Jazz Band. Joseph also participated in Drum Corps International with 7th Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps from New London, CT, and won the 2016 DCI World Championship with the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps from Canton, Ohio. At SIU, Joseph is working towards his Master’s degree in Trumpet Performance under the Direction of Dr. Robert Allison, and participates in several ensembles. Most recently, Joseph won the annual Stars of Altgeld concerto competition with the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra. Outside of school, Joseph has played with the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra, and holds the position of Bass Section Leader with the First United Methodist Church in Carbondale, where he also regularly plays trumpet. Joseph made his recording debut on the title track of Jason Ringenberg’s new album “Stand Tall.” He is excited to return for his second summer with the Southern Illinois Music Festival!

Robert Weiss, Trombone, Southern Illinois


Robert L. Weiss, Jr. is currently Director of Music at First United Methodist Church in Carbondale, Illinois and Professor of Music Emeritus at Southern Illinois University Carbondale where he taught for 29 years, the last 13 of which he was Director of the School of Music. He Holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Music Education from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in Education from SIUC.  In retirement from SIUC, he continues to play trombone and sail his Rhodes 22 sailboat on Kentucky Lake.