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, and the Southern Business Journal named him a “Leader Among Us” in 2012. 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. 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.



Director Josh Shaw has a distinctive artistic vision, formed over a decade of work in opera and music theatre and the experiences from over 100 productions. He is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Pacific Opera Project (POP), a Los-Angeles based company dedicated to producing affordable, accessible, and ENTERTAINING opera.  During the 2015 POP season Mr. Shaw directed sold-out and critically acclaimed productions of Ariadne auf Naxos, Falstaff, Viva la mamma!, and Abduction from the Seraglio.

Mr. Shaw is the Resident Director for Chamber Opera Players of Los Angeles and has directed productions of Il segretto di Susanna, A Hand of Bridge, Gallantry, A Sunday ExcursionThe Man on the Bearskin Rug, Three Sisters who are not Sisters, and The Last Silent Voice (World Premiere) for the up and coming company.  He has been on staff at Opera Neo in San Diego for the past three seasons where he has directed multiple productions and events and has served as the Director of Community Events. Other recent directorial projects include Tosca: A moving production, La bohème AKA “The Hipsters”, La CalistoThe Turn of the Screw, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Le nozze di FigaroThe Mikado, Cosi fan tutte, Trouble in Tahiti, Sweeney Todd, and Don Giovanniand with POP; Carmen, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Abduction from the Seraglio at the Southern Illinois Music Festival; The Medium for Redlands Opera Theatre; Cavalleria rusticana and I pagliacci with the Celestial Opera Company; and Madama Butterfly with Saltmarsh Opera.  

In 2016 Mr. Shaw will direct several revivals of his “Star Trek” Abductionincluding performances at The Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood, CA, Opera Piccola San Antonio, Festival Opera in Oakland, CA, and at Salt Marsh Opera in CT.  He will also direct Guillaume Tell at the Southern Illinois Music Festival and The Merry Widow, The Rake’s Progress, The Impresario, and Prima la musica, e poi le parole (Salieri) at POP.  Both Widow and Impresariowill feature new English book and libretto by Mr. Shaw.

Mr. Shaw is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and Southern Illinois University, with a master’s degree in Opera/Music Theater. 

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Praised by Opera News as a “gifted and fiercely committed young baritone…whose voice is spacious and reverberant,” Wes Mason continues to be recognized for his performances in opera, musical theatre, and more. This season sees several company and role debuts for Wes, including Ping in Turandot with Nashville Opera, Sciarrone in Tosca with Dallas Opera and the title role in Guillaume Tell with the Southern Illinois Music Festival.

 Widely acclaimed for his work in both opera and musical theater, some of his previous engagements include Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor with Fargo-Moorhead Opera, Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire with Kentucky Opera, Jonathan in Siren Song with Hawaii Opera Theater, the title role in Hamlet with Fort Worth Opera, Billy Bigelow in Carousel with Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre, and Masetto in Don Giovanni with Opera Philadelphia.

 He was a finalist in the Opera Index Competition and has received awards from The Sullivan Foundation, The Loren L Zachary Society and the Metropolitan Opera National Council. A native of Norfolk, Virginia, he holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Michigan and is a graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts.


Upon his debut of Rigoletto with Tuscia Opera Festival, the Italian news reported, “The biggest ovation, however, was for William Davenport. The young tenor demonstrated a huge vocal ability.” The young lyric tenor is the Winner of the 2016 Veronica Dunne International, Opera Orchestra of New York Agnes Varis, Gerda Lissner, Giargiari Bel Canto, Licia Albanese, and of the Loren L. Zachary Society Vocal Competitions. He is a 2015 graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and Peabody Conservatory of Music.

He has sung Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore with the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica and Opera Delaware and Rodolfo in La bohème with Opera Naples in recent seasons. His 2015/16 season included: Rodolfo, as winner of the first OperaLive Competition in Potenza, Italy; debuts of Ernesto in Don Pasquale with Opera Naples and the title role in Roberto Devereux at the Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova which was presented in LiveStream globally.  His 2016/17 season includes: house debut at the Palau de les Artes in Valencia, Spain as Nemorino and role debut in Lucrezia Borgia; he returns to Genova as Alfredo in La Traviata; and a Gala concert in Dublin, Ireland.

Marina HArris, soprano, Los Angeles

Praised in the San Francisco Chronicle for her "knockout combination of vocal power and expressive eloquence", soprano Marina Harris is exciting critics and audiences alike. 

A recent graduate of the Adler Fellowship program at the San Francisco Opera, Ms. Harris sang in three world premieres with the company; as Susan Sowerby in Nolan Gasser's The Secret Garden, Tamar in Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and a Maid in Tobias Picker's Dolores Claiborne. Recently, Marina garnered national attention as a last minute replacement for Patricia Racette in the role of Elena in Boito's Mefistofele, the season opener for the San Francisco Opera. Her diverse repertoire includes the title role in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which she covers this season with the Los Angeles Opera, Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos, Miss Jessel in The Turn of the Screw, Arminda in La Finta Giardiniera, Cupid/Samantha in the world premiere of Jack Perla's Love/Hate, Elsa in Lohengrin, and many more. Upcoming engagements include the world premiere of Neely Bruce’s oratorio Circular 14 (based on the heroic acts of Aristedes de Sousa Mendes during WWII), Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte with Center Stage Opera, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Eureka Symphony. 

 In 2015, Ms. Harris received international acclaim after winning the Dorothea-Glatt-Förderpreis in the triennial International Wagnerstimmen Competition, judged by an international panel of judges including Eva Wagner-Pasquier, head of the famed Bayreuth Festival in Germany and great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner himself. In 2014, she won the George London Leonie Rysanek Award.  

Ms. Harris resides in Los Angeles. She studies with Shigemi Matsumoto and Jeremy Frank. 


Praised by Opera News for the “agility with which she negotiated her beautiful upper register”, Sara Duchovnay is quickly making a name for herself as an exciting young performer. She is pleased to return to the Southern Illinois Music Festival as Jemmy in Guillaume Tell, after making her debut with SIMF in 2014 as Blondie in the wildly successful Star Trek inspired Abduction from the Seraglio.  She is pleased to reprise her role in the production later this summer with Festival Opera. Most recently she appeared with Opera San Jose as Stella (A Streetcar Named Desire), Opera Santa Barbara as Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Hidden Valley Opera Ensemble as Della (David Conte’s Gift of the Magi), and West Edge Opera as Rosina (Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia).

During the 2014-2015 season, she originated the role of Dorothea in Allen Shearer’s chamber opera Middlemarch in Spring during its World Premiere in San Francisco. Of her performance, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that she “sang with precision and expressive grace as Dorothea.” She was also hailed as "radiantly voiced" by LA Weekly and "a charismatic stage creature" by Opera Today for her performance as Zerbinetta (Ariadne auf Naxos) with Pacific Opera Project in Los Angeles.

Other notable roles include Musetta (La bohème), Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro), Naiad (Ariadne auf Naxos), and Soprano 1 (Hydrogen Jukebox),

 A native of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Ms. Duchovny holds a BM from the Hartt School of Music and an MM from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. 


A bass vocalist of increasing demand, Andrew Potter is a true Basso that has been hailed by audiences and critics across the country for a larger-than-life stage presence and a powerful, lithe voice.

Pursuing his undergraduate in Vocal Performance at Liberty University he got a taste of the stage performing roles like the Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance, Poo Bah in The Mikado, and Baron Mirko Zeta in The Merry Widow.

In 2012, Andrew was cast by Opera on the James in their performance of Die Fledermaus as a chorus member and dancer. Opera on the James then re-cast him in their Spring production of The Magic Flute as The Second Armored Man. In their 2013-14 season, Opera on the James cast Andrew as Betto in Gianni Schicchi, Mr. Dashwood in Mark Adamo’s Little Women, and the Big Bad Bully in Stop Bully – an outreach opera performed in schools and community centers.

Opera NEO cast Andrew in his long awaited role debut of Sarastro in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte in San Diego; and has recast him in their 2015 season as Escamillo in Carmen and Argante in Rinaldo. Andrew made his Verdi debut with Undercroft Opera, singing Ramphis in Aida in Pittsburgh, PA. St. Petersburg Opera cast Andrew as Fiorello and the Bartolo cover in their 2015 production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Upcoming operatic engagements for Andrew in the 2015-16 season(s) include the roles of Osmin, Larkens, Zoroastro, Colline, Escamillo, Argante, Il Commendatore, and Dr. Dulcamara. He will also be making his musical theater debut as Beast (in Beauty and the Beast). Andrew Is under the management of Leota Arts in Illinois.

Nicholas Lagesse, Bass, Los Angeles

Guillaume Tell is baritone Nicholas LaGesse’s debut appearance with the Southern Illinois Music Festival. During the 2015-2016 season, he has appeared as Danilo in Pacific Opera Project’s production of The Merry Widow and he helped create the role of Jameson in the critically acclaimed, multi-location production of Hopscotch with Los Angeles' premier experimental opera company, The Industry. His previous operatic roles include Harlequin in Ariadne auf Naxos and Zuniga in Carmen (both with Pacific Opera Project), Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream,Ottone in L’incoronazione di Poppea, Claudio in Agrippina, Jupiter in Orpheus and the Underworld and Marquis de la Force in Des dialogues des carmélites.

He has been honored as a finalist in the Palm Springs Opera Guild Competition, the winner of the Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Competition, and was a Bella Voce award recipient in the Bel Canto Foundation Competition. In addition to his operatic endeavors, Nicholas was a member of Bachata Caliente and Clave y Tumbao Latin dance companies and trained with Omambo Dance Project; the 2014 and 2015 World Latin Dance Competition salsa team champions. He holds a Bachelor of Music from Northwestern University, a Master of Music from UCLA and has also trained at Marlena Malas’ summer voice institute at the Chautauqua Institution.

Zachary Devin, TENOR, St. Louis

Zachary Devin - Headshot.jpg

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 he traveled to London where he studied at the famous Royal Academy of Music. Zachary made his London stage debut as Jupiter in Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Semele and in 2012 and then made his European debut in Budapest as Peter Quint in Britten’s Turn of The Screw.

Mr. Devin is also an experienced and sought after recitalist having performed a variety of repertoire both in the US and abroad. Including Britten's Serenade for Horn and Tenor, The Winter Words, Schumann's Dichterliebe, and Lili Boulanger's Clairières dans le ciel." 

The 2016/2017 season will see Mr. Devin making his debut in several roles, including Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola with Salt Marsh Opera, Roderigo in Otello with Dayton Opera, Roudi in Guillaume Tell with the Southern Illinois Music Festival, and Le Remendado in Carmen with Nashville Opera.

Other recent roles include Cassio in Otello, Charlie in Brigadoon, Tamino in The Magic Flute, Beppe in I Paglacci. and Leonard Meryll in Yeoman of the Guard.

Chris Goeke, Tenor, SEMO

Christopher Goeke, tenor, (Rodolphe) has performed 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. He has appeared as tenor soloist in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, St. Matthew Passion, St. John Passion, and the Magnificat, The Messiah by Handel, The Creation by Haydn, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.  Goeke is an active recitalist and has presented a wide range of literature. Most recently, Goeke presented multi-media performances of Schubert’s Winterreise with subtitles and projected art images.

Currently, Goeke is a professor of music at Southeast Missouri State University teaching voice; he is also very active in opera including conducting, directing and serving as technical coordinator for the full operatic productions at Southeast.  Goeke holds both the D.M.A. in vocal performance and pedagogy and M.M. in vocal performance from the University of Iowa and is an active member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS.) He has served as the Missouri Governor for NATS, and is beginning a term as Treasurer for the Central Region NATS.  


Elizabeth Kerstein Headshot.jpg

Called a “dynamic” performer by the Baltimore Sun, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Kerstein is rapidly gaining recognition for her riveting stage presence and a musical sophistication beyond her years. 

Elizabeth’s operatic interests range from classical to contemporary. During spring 2016 she began singing with Los Angeles company Pacific Opera Project. Favorite past roles include Cherubino (Le nozze di Figaro, St. Olaf Lyric Opera), Nancy (Albert Herring, Baltimore HexaCollective), and The Lady With A Hatbox (Postcard From Morocco, Peabody Opera Theatre). From 2012-2015, she was a proud member of the Lyric Opera Baltimore and Baltimore Concert Opera choruses. She has also been a young artist at
Lorin Maazel’s Castleton Festival.

A passionate proponent of art song, Elizabeth spent summers 2014 and 2015 on scholarship at SongFest, Los Angeles’ esteemed art song festival. There she was privileged to work with renowned artists including Dawn Upshaw, John Musto, and Sanford Sylvan. Elizabeth is also devoted to researching and performing contemporary Jewish music; her last recital on this topic was presented by Johns Hopkins University.

Elizabeth recently returned to her native Los Angeles after studying at the Peabody Conservatory (MM) and St. Olaf College (BM). In October 2015 she was a winner in the Young Musicians Foundation Los Angeles scholarship competition. Elizabeth is a recipient of the Charles M. Eaton Voice Award and two Peabody Career Grants. She studies with Susanne Mentzer.


Eric McCluskey, baritone, has performed 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, Kentucky Opera, Sarasota Opera, Connecticut Grand Opera, Spoleto Festival, St. Louis Symphony, and Nashville Symphony. Some highlights from his career include singing Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” with the Paris Opera Ballet while the late, Rudolf Nureyev, danced. He also sang ‘Opera At Sea’ aboard the HMS Vistafjord and Sagafjord for three extended cruises. 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.  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 SI Music Festival.

Joseph ryker, director of Chorus, Southern Illinois 

Joseph A. Ryker is an adjunct professor of music at Rend Lake College, where he is the conductor for the concert band, jazz band, community orchestra, and teaches chamber music and applied lessons in the winds, strings, and voice areas. He currently serves as the music director of the Morthland College Youth Band, an ensemble started in the Fall of 2015 for middle and high school band students in Southern Illinois. From 2012 to 2015 he served as the Associate Conductor for the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra working with Maestro Edward Benyas, and has served as the Chorus Master and Associate Conductor for the Southern Illinois Music Festival since 2013. Past performances include Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Bizet’s Carmen, and Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio and “Coronation” Mass.

In 2013, Mr. Ryker was hired on as the orchestra director for Kre8ive Fine Arts Academy, an organization dedicated to giving professional opportunities to children of all ages in musical theater. In February 2016, he appeared as one of the guest conductors for the Murray State University Quad-State Senior High Band Festival. He is currently the music director at the Murphysboro United Methodist Church, a position he started in August 2015. He also has an active career as a bassoonist, acting as the interim bassoon instructor at Southern Illinois University for the 2014-2015 academic year. He has performed with the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra, Southern Illinois Music Festival, Paducah, Jackson and Southeast Missouri Symphonies, SIU Wind Ensemble, and McLeod Summer Playhouse. 


Maggie Soluna, Director, Southern Illinois

Maggi Soluna has been dancing with Susan Barnes for 26 years and has been an instructor with Willow Street Studios for 11 years.  She is currently the Assistant Director and Studio Manager of Willow Street Studios, and Director of the Susan Barnes Dance Company.  She greatly enjoys teaching all ages, from very young to adults, in Ballet, Contemporary Ballet, Jazz, and Contemporary Modern.  Over the years, she has studied Classical Ballet, Contemporary Ballet, Pointe, Jazz, Modern, Music Theater, Hip-hop, Celtic, and African through the studio. Ms. Soluna has also pursued dance opportunities outside of the studio, such as Middle Eastern and Theatrical Vaudeville performance. 

Ms. Soluna has been dedicated to continuing her training as a dancer and an instructor.  To do so, she has attended workshops and intensives; including Jose Limon, MamLuft Co., River North, Pilobolus, Jump Rhythm Jazz, Thodos Dance, Inaside Jazz, Giordano Jazz, World Jazz Dance Congress, Chicago National Association of Dance Masters, and more.  She strives to bring a piece of all these companies, styles, and teachers back to her students at Willow Street Studios.  This year, she will be attending the Polaris Dance Company intensive in Portland, Oregon.

Ms. Soluna continues to be an active performer in the community.  She has performed with Willow Street Studios, the Susan Barnes Dance Company, Southern Illinois Music Festival Ballets, and the V2T2 Cabaret.  She looks forward to continuing the never-ending growth as a dancer, choreographer, performer, instructor, and director.

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 Acting Concertmaster of Sinfonia da Camera in Urbana, Illinois.


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. She and her husband live in Southern Illinois with their two children, Gabriela and Maya, and their dogs, Carmen and Rosina.

Brandon Christensen, Violin, Southeast Missouri State

Violinist, Brandon Christensen, graduated from New York’s Stony Brook University with the doctor of musical arts in 2002. That same year he joined Southeast Missouri State University’s music department, which is now part of the Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts. A full professor, he teaches violin and viola, directs the string chamber music program, and is concertmaster of the symphony orchestra. Prior to coming to Missouri, Brandon was a visiting artist at Dickenson College, and a member of the artist faculty at the Pennsylvania Academy of Music.

Brandon’s major teachers were Elaine Richey and Mitchel Stern but his chamber music coaches at Stony Brook: Timothy Eddy of the Orion string quartet, pianist Gilbert Kalish, and bassist Julius Levine also had a profound influence on him as a musician. In recent years Brandon has collaborated in chamber music performances with a wide variety of artists including: pianist Valentina Igoshina, flutist Mark Sparks (Saint Louis Symphony), cellists Michael Flaksman (Mannheim Conservervatory) and Jeffrey Ziegler (Kronos Quartet), violist Vladimir Mendlessohn (Paris Conservatory), violinists Susan Rabenschlag (Verdi Quartet) and Robert Kowalski, concertmaster of the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, and clarinetist Andrea Massimo Grassi, Academia del Teatro all Scala, Milan, among many others.

As an orchestral player, Brandon is assistant concertmaster of the Paducah Symphony and is beginning a new association with the Arkansas Symphony this season. He is a regular soloist with the Southeast Symphony and has been featured as a soloist with the Southern Illinois Festival Orchestra, Carolina Chamber Symphony, and Beijing Sinfonietta, among others. Brandon has a strong interest in early musics and performs regularly on the baroque violin with regional early music ensembles. An aviation enthusiast, Brandon has a commercial pilot’s license with an instrument rating, and is part owner of a Cessna 182 single engine airplane.

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

In the fall of 2010, Kurt Civilette started as 3rd horn in Ann Arbor Symphony and as a member of the A2SO Brass Quintet. He frequently appears as guest principal in Ann Arbor Symphony and many local orchestras, playing that role with Michigan Opera Theater, Flint, Saginaw Bay, Windsor (ON), Midland, and West Michigan Symphonies. He substituted several times in the 2011-12 season with Detroit Symphony. 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, 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, St. Louis, Utah, Grant Park, Jacksonville and North Carolina Symphonies, and played many commercial jingles and recording sessions. During the summers, Kurt plays principal horn with the Southern Illinois Music festival in Carbondale. 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. Kurt has performed as an extra player with Santa Fe Opera since 1998.


Described by Arts Atlanta as having a “musical chemistry that is on target”, Clarinetist and Saxophonist Jonathan Goodman is no stranger to the New Music realm.  He has stayed active as a new music chamber player playing for various groups across the United States, including Atlanta-based GremlinsDuo and Chicago-based Wei Zhongle, as well as having performed at the International Clarinet Association’s Conference in 2014. Active in the Classical world as well, this will be Jon’s seventh season playing clarinet and administrating the Southern Illinois Music Festival in Carbondale, Illinois.  He has also performed with Winston-Salem Symphony, the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra and Northern Symphonic Winds. As a clinician and lecturer, Mr. Goodman has given masterclasses and lectures at Appalachian State University, Duke University, and University of Delaware among others.

Originally from Syracuse, NY, Jonathan now resides in Greensboro, NC, where he stays active performing as well running his own woodwind repair business Goodman Custom Woodwinds. His primary teachers include Norbert Buskey, Raphael Sanders, and Eric Mandat. He received his Bachelors of Music from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam and his Masters of Music from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. 

Marla hansen, Piano, Oregon

Marla Hansen graduated with a Masters in Collaborative Piano from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2015.  Her former piano teachers include Dr. Marie Jureit-Beamish (Principia College) and Dr. Paul Transue (SIUC), and she previously studied the violin with 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.  She has soloed on violin with the MSJC Symphony Orchestra and on piano with the Inland Valley Symphony and the Principia College Orchestra.  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.  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 is currently living in Beaverton, OR, teaching private lessons and working as a collaborative pianist at nearby colleges and universities.

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.  Anitaearned her Bachelor of Music Education (Vocal & Instrumental) from Idaho State University and her Master of Music from SIUC.

jenny kirby, piano, Southern Illinois

Jenny Kirby is an active performer in the southern Illinois area. Recent engagements include being a featured soloist for 2015 Southern Illinois Festival with works such as Piano Concerto No. 2 and Piano Trio No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich. This upcoming season, she will be returning to present Piano Trio op. 121a by Ludwig Beethoven and Piano Trio by Maurice Ravel.
From the studio of Dr. Yuko Kato, she appears regularly as a collaborative pianist for vocalists and instrumentalists as part of her graduate assistantship at SIUC. She has been involved in the Illinois chapter of the National Federation of Music Clubs as an adjudicator and this coming July, she will be part of the staff of SIUC's piano camp, teaching 4-hands repertoire. She also serves Murphyboro United Methodist and Grace United Methodist in Carbondale as the organist. She holds a Bachelors of Music in Piano Performance from Truman State University and will receive a Masters of Music in Piano Performance from SIUC in August.


Kiril Laskarov is the Co-Concertmaster of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra Director at the Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock. A native of Bulgaria, he received a Bachelor Arts degree from the State Academy of Music in Sofia and 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, Texarkana (TX) Symphony, and Sioux Falls (SD) Chamber Orchestra. He will make his debut with the Symphony Irvine (CA) during the 2016/17 season as the featured soloist in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.

Matt Oliphant, Horn, Chicago

Hornist Matthew Oliphant is a new music and chamber music specialist living in Chicago, IL. Oliphant is fast becoming known as an adventurous and courageous young player. As solo hornist with new music group Ensemble Dal Niente, he performs the music of our time by established and emerging composers, as well as classics of the new music repertoire.

In demand as a freelance chamber musician, he has performed with Fulcrum Point New Music Project, Access Contemporary Music, Present Music, the New Millennium Woodwind Quintet, and on the Rush Hour concert series. In addition, he has performed as principal horn of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra, The Florida Orchestra, the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, and Orchestra Prometheus.

As a member of Axiom Brass from 2007-2014, he traveled the country performing for and engaging with audiences through music. Far from being constrained by the classical tradition, he regularly performs with experimental ensemble, performed as a member of the free jazz/classical/improv hybrid ensemble the Tomorrow Music Orchestra, and with various friends in free improvisation group An Outdoor Adventure.

David peshlakai, cello, Grand Rapids Symphony

David Peshlakai has been Principal Cellist with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra since 2004 where he holds the Diether Haenicke Principal Cello Chair.  In reviewing the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert of the 2010-11 season, Mr. C.J. Gianakaris of the Kalamazoo Gazette described Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 as, “perfection — Garrick Ohlsson [soloist] and the KSO appeared in perfect synch, highlighted by cellist David Peshlakai’s ravishing solo passages.” 

Mr. Peshlakai was born and educated in Michigan.  He received his Bachelor of Music from Michigan State University in 1990 and his Master of Music from the University of Michigan in 1993, studying with Owen Carman and Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, respectively.  Other teachers who were also deeply influential include Louis Potter and Mario DiFiore.

 Mr. Peshlakai is also in great demand as an extra cellist with several regional orchestras throughout Michigan, including performing as principal cellist with the Battle Creek, Flint, Jackson, and Lansing Symphonies.  He has appeared as soloist with the Kalamazoo, Jackson, Battle Creek, Greater Grand Forks, Central Iowa, and Michigan State University Symphony Orchestras, the Hillsdale College/Community Orchestra, the Albion College Orchestra, and the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse Symphony Orchestra.

As cellist of the KSO’s Burdick-Thorne String Quartet, Mr. Peshlakai performs with his colleagues in their Epic Evenings Series.  The Quartet participated in master classes given by both the Emerson and Muir String Quartets.  He has performed in many chamber recitals and festivals throughout Michigan and in Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Iowa.  His coaches have included members of the Juilliard, Alban Berg, Concord, Vermeer, and Kronos String Quartets.   

Mr. Peshlakai has been teaching cello at Hillsdale College since 1992.  In 2010 he was invited to teach at Kalamazoo College as well.  He previously taught at Albion and Alma Colleges and Grand Valley State University.  

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: 

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.

reiko sCHOEN, piano, Japan/southern illinois

Reiko Takasawa Schoen has an associate degree in music education from the Musashino Academia Musicae of Tokyo, Japan. In college she was a member of the chorus, performing Haydn’s Jahrzeiten, Bach’s St. Mathew Passion and the Requiems of Mozart and Fauré under the baton of Seiji Ozawa. After working for a classical music magazine publisher in Tokyo, she taught music in high schools in her home city, Shibata. She has been an active piano teacher and performer. She moved to Carbondale, Illinois in 1993. Her students have been winners and finalists in the Illinois State Competition of the Federation of Music Clubs. Several of her students have majored in music in both Japan and U.S. She has studied piano with Geir Braaten of Norway and Dr. Kenneth Drake of Illinois. She has been a cellist in the Civic Orchestra of Carbondale since 2015. 

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.


A native of Paducah, KY, Michelle Skinner is a sought-after violinist across the United States and around the world. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance from Wheaton College Conservatory of Music and earned both a Master of Music and
Graduate Performance Diploma in Violin Performance from the Peabody Institute where she studied with renowned violinist Herbert Greenberg. Additionally, she serves as teaching assistant to Mr. Greenberg at the Peabody Institute.

Michelle is the Principal Second Violinist and Guest Concertmaster of the Amarillo Symphony (Amarillo, TX) and member of the Nu Deco Ensemble (Miami, FL). She is a violinist in the Florida Grand Opera, Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival, and regular guest musician with the Charleston Symphony, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, and Annapolis Symphony. She serves as Concertmaster for such conductors as Leon Fleisher, Gustav Meier and Marin Alsop. A fellow at the Aspen Music Festival for four years, she served as Principal Second Violin and Assistant Concertmaster. Michelle is a founding member of the Janós Quartet, a featured ensemble in the Spring International Chamber Music Festival in Shanghai, China. She has performed with members of the Brentano Quartet, Meliora String Quartet and has worked with the Takács Quartet, Ying Quartet, Ariana String Quartet, and Eighth Blackbird. An advocate of new music, Michelle regularly collaborates with such acclaimed composers as Kevin Puts, Andy Akiho, Adam Schoenberg, and Chris Rogerson.

Michelle dedicates this performance to her new friend Harriet Simon and the memory of her friend Mary Boyle.

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. This past fall, she became part of the adjunct music faculty at Alamance Community College in Graham, North Carolina and is Flute Instructor at the Music Academy of North Carolina. 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 fifth season with the Southern Illinois Music Festival.

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

This is Juan Carlos Siviero's 11th Season 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 Florida Lakes Symphony, The Villages Phiharmonic, and the Orlando Philharmonic. 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.

Kelly Sulick, Flute, Virginia

Kelly Sulick currently teaches at the University of Virginia and serves as Principal Flute in the Charlottesville Symphony and Director of the University of Virginia Chamber Music Series. Prior to her appointment, she served as Principal Flute with the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra and as Consortium Instructor of Flute at the University of Evansville for three years. She earned her Master of Music degree in Flute Performance from the University of Southern California and completed three seasons as principal flute with the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra in Los Angeles, California. Prior to her graduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Flute Performance and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan, where she graduated with highest honors and was named a James B. Angell Scholar for her academic achievements.

Ms. Sulick won second place in the 2010 National Flute Association's Young Artist Competition, and was awarded the prize for the best performance of Kristin P. Kuster's Perpetual Afternoon. She has been a finalist or semi-finalist in numerous national competitions, including The Flute Society of Kentucky Young Artist Competition, the University of Michigan Concerto Competition, the Pasadena Showcase House Instrumental Competition, the Young Musicians Foundation National Debut Competition, and the Frank Bowen Young Artist Competition. Ms. Sulick has recorded several compact discs, including William Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and of Experience under Leonard Slatkin, a Naxos release that received four Grammy awards including Best Classical Album.

Metiney Suwanawonsge, Violin, SIUC

Metiney Suwanawongse instructs Viola in the School of Music, and is Director of Southern Illinois Civic and Junior Orchestras at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  She has a BM in violin performance and a MM in viola performance, both from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

As a freelance musician, Metiney performs regularly with the Illinois Symphony, Paducah Symphony, Southern Illinois Symphony, Southern Illinois Music Festival, and Southeast Missouri Symphony Orchestras. She also works frequently with the Southern Illinois Chamber Music Society, an organization that aspires to raise scholarships for exceptional string students in the School of Music, and promote quality chamber music in the region.

She maintains an active private studio along with her husband, who is also a music educator. When they aren’t playing or teaching, they can be found hiking mountains and pursuing the tastiest morsels together.

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 program in Chicago Public Schools.  Tuttle has been on the roster of Vandoren Performing Artists since 2011.


Violinist, conductor and teacher Linda Veleckis Nussbaum has performed as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician throughout the United States and Europe. 

A dedicated teacher, Linda Veleckis serves as Director of Orchestras in Orland Park, Illinois, where she conducts four orchestras serving over 200 young musicians. Her private studio in Chicago focuses on developing strong technical foundation and preparing students for competitions and auditions. 

Orchestrally, she has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera Orchestra, Chicago Sinfonietta, Elgin Symphony, New Philharmonic and currently serves as principal second violin with both the Illinois Philharmonic and Heartland Festival Orchestras

In recent recitals, she has performed the complete sonatas of Beethoven and Brahms, composers of the Baltic diaspora and several programs commemorating composers lost in the Holocaust. 

Her 2014 concert tour of Lithuania was met with critical praise for her “elegant playing, compelling tone and passionate interpretations”. This tour included an appearance at the “Operetta at Kaunas Castle” festival, where she captivated over 10,000 listeners with her transcriptions of operatic masterpieces. 

The Lithuanian Opera of Chicago holds a special place in Linda’s heart, as it was here that she first fell in love with opera. She serves as Concertmaster, Orchestra Manager and Assistant Conductor for the company, performing operas in the Lithuanian language on both sides of the Atlantic. This spring, she will be featured in Lehar’s rarely performed operetta Paganini. 

Linda performs on an 1878 violin by Samuel Nemessanyi (her “partner in life”) and an instrument made for her by Augustino Napoli (2013, Chicago).   


Barron Weir began studying the double bass at age 10 at the Music Arts Institute in Independence Missouri with the former Kansas City Symphony Bassist Steven Peters. He attended The UMKC Conservatory of Music for his undergraduate studies where he was finalist in the Midwest ASTA Young Artist Competition. He then continued his studies at Juilliard where he received a performance diploma, studying with Eugene Levinson the principal Bassist of the New York Philharmonic. He then continued his graduate studies at the UMKC music Conservatory with Jeff Kail the principal Bassist of the Kansas City Symphony. As a student at The Aspen Music Festival and School Barron has studied with Bruce Bransby-former principal bassist of the Kansas City Symphony and L.A. Philharmonic, Albert Lazlo former principal Bassist of the Columbus Symphony, and Chris Hanulik the current principal bassist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Barron has played as freelance musician in New York, and through the Midwest, has previously been a member of the Des Moines Symphony, and Springfield Symphony.  Barron enters his first season as principal Bass with the Arkansas Symphony.

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.