The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) have selected four outstanding musicians for the next class of the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship. Born out of a mutual desire to make American orchestras more inclusive, this groundbreaking fellowship program launched in 2015 with a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
In addition, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has approved a generous renewal grant of $850,000, funding two additional classes of Fellows, through June 2021. This ensures the program will continue to develop, as the CSO and CCM strengthen different components and recruit highly qualified candidates who will achieve audition success as they embark on their careers, thus realizing the program’s mission to change the face of American orchestras. The Foundation’s continued support allows the Orchestra and University to create deep connections between students, as well as an alumni network that will impact these graduate-level musicians for years to come.
The next class of CSO/CCM Diversity Fellows are Anita Graef, 22 (cello); Ian Saunders, 30 (double bass); Weiyi Shao, 24 (violin); and Dan Wang, 31 (viola). These four exceptional string players will officially join the two-year fellowship program in August 2017, bringing the total number of CSO/CCM Diversity Fellows to eight for the 2017–18 academic year and performance season. The inaugural class of Diversity Fellows — comprised of Emilio Carlo, Diana Flores, Vijeta Sathyaraj and Maurice Todd — will complete the second year of the program in April 2018. An additional Fellow from the inaugural class, Blake-Anthony Johnson, just accepted a cello position with the New World Symphony in Miami, Florida, and credits the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship with the next step in his professional career:
“As a Fellow I received valuable guidance and support from not only my peers participating in the Fellowship but also from the CSO and CCM conductors, musicians and administrative staff members. The resources and opportunities available to me as a Fellow were crucial in my musical career development, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this great network of people who became family in such short time.”
The CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship Program is open to exceptional violin, viola, cello and double bass players coming from populations that are historically underrepresented in classical music. The program utilizes a broad definition of diversity that encompasses race and culture while also including underrepresented populations like first-generation college students and individuals who took non-traditional pathways to higher education. The program’s tagline — “Bravos Without Barriers” — gets to the heart of its mission: eliminating obstacles that can prevent extraordinary musicians from achieving their full potential.
“Thanks to the generosity of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Diversity Fellowship Program allows us to provide outstanding early-career musicians with access to the combined resources and expertise of the CSO and CCM,” said CCM Interim Dean bruce mcclung. “The result is an unparalleled experience-based education that will empower these musicians and prepare them to succeed in their chosen fields. Our hope is that this program will also inspire the next generation of diverse young artists. This will allow us to continue making American orchestras better reflect the diversity of their communities.”
HOW THE FELLOWSHIP WORKS
Fellows perform the equivalent of five weeks per season with the CSO while enrolled in a two-year Master of Music (MM) or Artist Diploma (AD) degree program at CCM. Each class of Fellows is selected through a rigorous series of auditions, which saw hundreds of graduate-level musicians audition for CCM faculty members. Fifteen string players were invited back to Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre for a final round of auditions judged by CSO musicians on March 11, 2017.
Each Fellow receives full tuition scholarship support from CCM, in addition to a $10,000 per year graduate stipend and a one-time Graduate School Dean’s Excellence Award of $3,000. Each Fellow also receives compensation of $8,000 per season while performing with the CSO.
With this collaborative Fellowship program, CCM and the CSO hope to provide new opportunities for underrepresented musicians, while simultaneously fostering a more inclusive environment in the orchestral industry. This mission is part of the appeal for Fellowship participant Anita Graef:
“I believe that adaptability and diversification are crucial to the modern landscape of classical music, and the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship is a pioneering opportunity in that field,” said Graef. “I am excited to further my education and to uphold the standards of this prestigious orchestra. I hope that my work will inspire others and show that when we embrace musicians from all walks of life, we enrich the meaning and purpose of making music.”
“The Diversity Fellowship presents students like me with not only a first-rate education from a great institution like the UC College-Conservatory of Music but also real life on-the-job training with the fantastic Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra,” said Diversity Fellow Weiyi Shao. “I am very grateful that this program offers a generous scholarship, which makes it possible for me to attend. I feel very honored and humbled to be one of the participants.”
“The inaugural class of Fellows played an important role with the Orchestra throughout the 2016–17 season, and not only are we looking forward to their continued artistic contributions, but also we are seeing a very promising future for the next class starting this fall,” said Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Vice President and General Manager Robert McGrath. “Through our partnership with CCM and with the extraordinary support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we will continue to provide all of our Fellows with guidance and transformative experiences that ultimately help them achieve their goals as professional musicians.”
MEET THE FELLOWS
Anita Graef, Master of Music (MM) student, Cello
A native of Chicago, Anita Graef began her cello studies at age four and made her concerto debut at age 12. She went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance, where she studied with Professor Anthony Elliott. This fall, she will begin pursuing a master’s degree at CCM, under the tutelage of CSO principal cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn. She is thrilled to appear with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as part of the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship.
Previously, she has had the opportunity to work with such cellists as Stephen Geber, Johannes Moser and Felix Wang. Graef has studied with several members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, including Jonathan Pegis, Richard Hirschl and Brant Taylor. She has performed in several orchestras under the baton of maestros such as Leonard Slatkin, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, JoAnn Falletta and Keith Lockhart.
She recently participated in the 79th season of the Brevard Music Festival as principal cellist, as well as Credo Chamber Music Festival at Oberlin Conservatory. She is a proud member of the Juliani Ensemble, where she has collaborated with members of both the Chicago Symphony and Lyric Opera Orchestra, among others. She was recently awarded the Silver Prize with Distinction at the Young Classical Virtuosos of Tomorrow international competition.
Outside of music, she is an avid reader, equestrian and lover of all things fashion. She also enjoys traveling, weight lifting, hiking and quality time with friends and family.
Ian Saunders, Artist Diploma (AD) student, Double Bass
A multi-faceted musician, Ian Saunders enjoys an exciting career as a sought-after bassist and educator. The Virginia native began his studies with Christopher White, principal bassist of the Virginia Symphony, in his hometown of Norfolk. Within a year he received his first major scholarship from R&B legend Ben E. King. Saunders completed his bachelor’s degree under the tutelage of renowned bassist Robert Nairn at the Pennsylvania State University. As an undergraduate, he took part in several world premieres by the prolific Finnish composer Teppo Hauto-Aho.
Saunders continued his graduate studies under Nairn while fulfilling numerous professional engagements with the Williamsport Symphony, Penn’s Woods Festival Orchestra, Ballet Theatre of Central Pa and Manassas Ballet Theatre bass sections. In addition, he served as principal bassist of the Penn Centre Orchestra, Nittany Valley Symphony and Altoona Symphony.
In 2016, Saunders received his doctorate from the University of Maryland while studying with Robert Oppelt, principal bassist of the National Symphony Orchestra. Saunders is currently in demand within the competitive Baltimore and DC freelance community, most notably as the bassist for the critically acclaimed Post-Classical Ensemble. In addition, he has also performed with the National Philharmonic and the Collaborative Artist of Baltimore. In March 2016, he was featured on WBJC 91.5 Baltimore performing Guillaume Connesson’s Sextuor. Furthermore, he has fulfilled engagements abroad in Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas as well as across America in renowned concert halls including the Kennedy Center, Heinz Hall and Carnegie Hall.
Outside of the classical world, Saunders has been invited to participate in orchestras backing Bootsy Collins, Kansas and hip-hop artist Thee Phantom. He can also be seen in the nationally televised special Cherish the Ladies: An Irish Homecoming, backing the Irish super group Cherish the Ladies. The program was nationally syndicated on PBS in 2013.
As an educator, Saunders recently served as the interim double bass professor at Penn State. In addition, he has taught classes at the University of Maryland, Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA, and St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Saunders also spends his summers as the Associate Dean of Students at the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, NC.
Weiyi Shao, Master of Music (MM) student, Violin
Born in Daqing, China, Weiyi Shao began studying the violin at age five. She attended the Middle School of the Shenyang Conservatory of Music, where she was concertmaster of the school orchestra as a student of Professor Tong Mu. She came to the United States in 2011 with a full scholarship to the Texas Christian University (TCU), where she earned a bachelor’s degree in violin performance under the tutelage of Curt Thompson, Swang Lin and Michael Shih.
During her studies at TCU, Shao received numerous awards and prizes, including the Modena Rogers Clark Spitler Violin Scholarship in 2013 and the Faculty and Friends Chamber Music Society Award in 2014. In 2015, she was a Strings Department Winner of TCU’s annual Concerto Competition. She has also attended the Aspen Music Festival and School as a pupil of Naoko Tanaka, and performed in master classes given by Karen Gomyo, Augustin Hadelich, Gary Levinson and Midori. Since 2013, she has been a member of the Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra in Texas.
Currently, Weiyi is pursuing a Master of Music degree at CCM as a student of Professor Won-Bin Yim.
Dan Wang, Artist Diploma (AD) student, Viola
Dan Wang is a first-year Artist Diploma student in viola performance at CCM. She is currently being mentored by CSO principal violist Christian Colberg and CCM visiting scholar Jan Grüning, violist of CCM’s string quartet-in-residence, the Ariel Quartet. She came to the United States from Shenyang, China to study at CCM in 2009, graduating with a master’s degree in violin performance in 2012. She previously studied at the Shenyang Conservatory of Music and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA). During her previous musical training, she had been mentored by CCM Professor Kurt Sassmannshaus, Professor Michael Ma and Professor Tong Mu.
Wang has also performed with the Shenyang Conservatory of Music Orchestra and HKAPA Symphony Orchestra as concertmaster, and with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta as section/substitute section violin. She has served as concertmaster of the CCM Philharmonia and CCM Concert Orchestra. In 2017, she won a permanent position in the viola section of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.
Wang received a full scholarship from HKAPA and CCM. She has also won several music competitions, most notably fourth prize in the seventh China National Violin Competition.
CCM and the CSO will begin accepting applications for the 2018-20 class of Fellows on Aug. 1, 2017. The application deadline is Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.
Live auditions with CCM faculty will be held on Jan. 13, Jan. 27 and Feb. 17, 2018. Finalists will audition for the CSO at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati in March of 2018. Fellowship decisions will be sent in April of 2018.
Learn more by visiting ccm.uc.edu/chance2perform.