CSO Diversity fellows performing at Music Hall

CSO and CCM announce 2020-22 class of Diversity Fellows

UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) have selected four outstanding musicians for their next class of CSO/CCM Diversity Fellows. Born out of a mutual desire to help American orchestras be more inclusive and to better represent the communities they serve, the performance fellowship program was launched in 2015 with a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Through the collaborative program, CCM and the CSO provide graduate level academic study and professional development and performance opportunities for the Diversity Fellows while simultaneously catalyzing a more inclusive environment for underrepresented musicians in the orchestra field. 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.

“The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra exists to serve our community. Our entire community.” said CSO President Jonathan Martin. “But how can we authentically serve our entire community if a significant part of that community doesn’t see themselves reflected in our organization? The CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship is one of many steps we are taking to address this disparity. By providing professional opportunities to a more diverse group of outstanding musicians, we hope to cultivate—and begin changing —the next generation of American orchestral musicians.”

“The University of Cincinnati’s ‘Next Lives Here initiative is built on the interdisciplinary pillars of innovation, inclusion and impact, and the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship program is a perfect example of how those three principles can lead us into a new era,” said CCM Dean Stanley Romanstein. “Our Fellowship is designed to remove the barriers that can prevent talented musicians from pursuing professional carriers in music, but the work to change the face of American orchestras is ongoing. If we’re serious about enhancing racial and ethnic diversity in the arts, orchestras and conservatories have to work together to become more accessible to a diverse population of artists, and we have to do everything possible to help prepare them for long-term success.”

Four exceptional string players will officially join the two-year fellowship program in August 2020, bringing the total number of CSO/CCM Diversity Fellows to nine for the 2020-21 academic year and performance season. The new Fellows are:

  • Maalik Glover, violin
  • Amy Nickler, double bass
  • Max Oppeltz-Carroz, cello
  • Javier Otalora, viola

The CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship Program is open to exceptional violin, viola, cello and double bass players coming from historically underrepresented populations in classical music. The program is highly competitive, and each class of Fellows is selected through a rigorous series of auditions. Every year, hundreds of candidates audition for CCM faculty members for admission to the Conservatory. From that pool a select group is then invited back to Cincinnati for Diversity Fellowship auditions with CSO musicians. The program saw its largest finalist group ever during the 2019-20 audition cycle, with 21 applicants invited to the final round of physically distanced auditions on March 14, 2020.

The Diversity 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) graduate degree program at CCM. The program also includes private lessons, mock auditions, professional development and audition travel assistance, career development workshops and mentorship from CSO musicians.

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.

The program also partners with the Chautauqua Institution which offers Fellows a summer residency with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and professional development opportunities during its nine-week summer season.

Twelve musicians have graduated from the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship to date. The third class of Diversity Fellows, which is comprised of Camellia Aftahi (double bass), Yan Izquierdo (violin), Arman Nasrinpay (violin) and Alexis Shambley (violin), recently completed the program at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season. Alumni have gone on to work with orchestras such as the Dallas, National, and Nashville Symphony Orchestras, as well as continuing as freelance artists and educators across the country.

Meet The Fellows

Maalik Glover

Maalik Glover

Maalik Glover

Master of Music (MM) student, Violin

A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Maalik Glover has studied the violin since the age of 11. Glover’s first significant accomplishment was his acceptance into the Talent Development Program, an initiative launched by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra that targets gifted African-American and Latino music students to further develop their future careers as accomplished classical musicians. This program allowed him to meet and study with his first teacher, Justin Bruns (associate concertmaster of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra), during his adolescence. In 2015, Glover graduated with a Fine Arts Diploma Seal from Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Arts.

Glover has performed in Italy, Canada and throughout the U.S. He made his first professional orchestra debut in October 2017 when he subbed with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra under the baton of George Del Gobbo. Glover has also spent two summers performing with the Pacific Region International Summer Music Academy in Powell River, British Columbia. While there, he received intense orchestral training from Dennis Kim and Richard Roberts, concertmasters of Pacific Symphony and Montreal Symphony Orchestra, respectively.

In May 2019, Glover graduated summa cum laude from Columbus State University’s Schwob School of Music. During his time here, he studied with Boris Abramov, principal second violinist of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. While attending the Schwob School of Music, Glover received recognition at competitions such as being awarded an honorable mention in the Schwob School of Music Concerto Competition and was a finalist in Lagrange Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition.


Amy Nickler

Amy Nickler

Amy Nickler

Artist Diploma (AD) student, Double Bass

Born and raised in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Amy Nickler began playing the violin at age six. Six years later she switched to the double bass and has loved it ever since.

In recent years, Nickler has participated as a fellow in several festivals and orchestras such as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, The Orchestra NOW, Oslo Kammerakademi, Norfolk Chamber Music Festival and Miami Music Festival. In July 2016, Nickler was a winner of the Concerto Competition honoring Ida Haendel with the opportunity to perform as a soloist in the New World Center with the Miami Music Festival Orchestra. Aside from performing, Nickler enjoys her time as a teaching artist for the Nat King Cole Generation Hope, Inc. and the Volta Music Foundation in Havana, Cuba.

Nickler received her Bachelor of Music at Lynn Conservatory in 2017 with Professor Timothy Cobb and she received her Master of Music at Yale School of Music with Professor Donald Palma in 2019.


Maximiliano Oppeltz-Carroz

Maximiliano Oppeltz-Carroz

Maximiliano Oppeltz-Carroz

Artist Diploma (AD) student, Cello

Max Oppeltz-Carroz started playing the cello at the age of four as a student of El Sistema in Caracas, Venezuela. As a part of the world-renowned music program, Oppeltz-Carroz played in the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, the Chacao Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Caracas Municipal Orchestra. He studied with Cesar Noguera, Marek Gajzler and German Marcano. He also participated in numerous master classes with cellists such as Natalia Gutman and Phillip Muller.

In 2014, Oppeltz-Carroz moved to the U.S. to study at the Juilliard School with Professor Richard Aaron. As an undergraduate student, Oppeltz-Carroz participated in several lessons and master classes with cellist Franz Helmerson and studied chamber music with musicians such as Roger Tapping, Sam Rhoades, Sylvia Rosenberg and Jerome Lowenthal. In 2016, Oppeltz-Carroz was fortunate to attend the Music Academy of the West, the highlights of which were taking lessons with Lynn Harrel and performing alongside faculty Warren Jones and Kathleen Winkler.

In 2018, Oppeltz-Carroz moved to Denver to study at the Lamont School of Music as a Newman Graduate Fellow under Matthew Zalkind. While in Denver, he was fortunate to perform alongside faculty both at the University of Denver Lamont School of Music and at the Denver Chamber Music Festival.

Oppeltz-Carroz is extremely grateful to be playing on a 1880 French cello from the Caussin School, generously loaned by the Virtu Foundation.


Javier Otalora

Javier Otalora

Javier Otalora

Artist Diploma (AD) student, Viola

Javier Otalora was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida, and began playing violin at age six. In 2018, he graduated from Oberlin Conservatory of Music where he studied violin with Gregory Fulkerson and Sibbi Bernhardsson and viola with Kirsten Docter and Peter Slowik. Otalora is also a recent graduate of the University of Michigan where he received his Master of Music in viola performance with Caroline Coade on a full scholarship.

Otalora was an Orchestral Fellow at the Aspen Music Festival in 2019 and has attended summer festivals such as the Meadowmount School, the Red Rocks Chamber Festival, the Dali Chamber Festival and Spoleto Festival USA. Otalora is a passionate orchestra, chamber and contemporary music player. He has performed with musicians and groups such as the Lansing Symphony, the Aspen Conducting Orchestra, the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, the University of Michigan’s Contemporary Directions Ensemble and Sibbi Bernhardsson from the Pacifica Quartet.

Otalora is also involved in music education, having taught violin and viola in Panama for two consecutive years through Oberlin’s “Panama Project.” In addition, he has taught violin, viola and chamber music at the Oberlin Community Music School and was also a strings teacher at Mitchell Elementary School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In 2017, Otalora received the Martin L. King Career Grant which allowed him to return to Panama that summer and run his own chamber camp at the University of Panama. In his free time, Otalora  enjoys eating pizza with friends, reading about airplanes, and fixing computers and printers.


About the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

With a rich tradition that dates back 125 years, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is considered one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles. Led by Louis Langrée, the Orchestra’s distinguished roster of past music directors includes Frank van der Stucken, Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ysaÿe, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Goossens, Max Rudolf, Thomas Schippers, Michael Gielen, Jesús López Cobos, and Paavo Järvi. Matthias Pintscher will be the Orchestra’s Creative Partner beginning with the 2020-21 season, and past Creative Directors include Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Lang Lanag, Philip Glass, Branford Marsalis and Jennifer Higdon. The Orchestra also performs as the Cincinnati Pops, founded by Erich Kunzel in 1977. John Morris Russell has led the Pops since 2010 and Damon Gupton is Principal Guest Conductor.

Since its beginnings, the CSO been a proponent of the music of its time, performing the American premieres of works by important composers including Claude Debussy, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Maurice Ravel and Béla Bartók, and commissioning many works that have since become mainstays of the classical repertoire, including two iconic works by Aaron Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man and Lincoln Portrait. The Orchestra continues to commission works, amplifying new voices from a diverse array of backgrounds.

With groundbreaking initiatives including CSO Proof, CSO Look Around, LUMENOCITY and the MusicNOW Festival collaboration, the Orchestra champions innovation. As an ambassador for Cincinnati, the region, and for the U.S., the CSO has toured extensively, most recently to Asia and Europe in 2017. The CSO was the first American orchestra to be featured on a national radio broadcast and continues to reach millions of listeners across the country and around the world through the airwaves, digital streaming and commercial recordings on the CSO’s own Fanfare Cincinnati label.

The Orchestra also performs, records and tours as the Cincinnati Pops and elevates Cincinnati’s vibrant arts scene by serving as the official orchestra for the Cincinnati May Festival, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet.

Committed to inclusion and relevance and to enhancing and expanding music education for the children of Greater Cincinnati, the Orchestra works to bring music education, in its many different forms, to as broad a public as possible. Education and outreach programs currently serve more than 80,000 individuals annually. The groundbreaking CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship, a nationally recognized program in partnership with the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, provides  Masters degree-level education and professional development and performance opportunities for extraordinary young musicians from  historically underrepresented populations in classical music.

About CCM

Nationally ranked and internationally renowned, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) is a preeminent institution for the performing and media arts. The school’s educational roots date back to 1867, and a solid, visionary instruction has been at its core since that time.

CCM offers nine degree types (BA, BM, BFA, MFA, MM, MA, AD, DMA, PhD) in nearly 120 possible majors. The synergy created by housing CCM within a comprehensive public university gives the college its unique character and defines its objective: to educate and inspire the whole artist and scholar for positions on the world stage.

CCM works to bring out the best in its students, faculty and staff by valuing their unique backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. CCM’s student population hails from 43 different US states and 32 different countries. The school’s roster of eminent faculty members regularly receives distinguished honors for creative and scholarly work, and its alumni have achieved notable success.

For more information about CCM, please visit us online at ccm.uc.edu.


Featured image at top: CCM graduate students Jordan Curry and Magdiell Antequera perform with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as CSO/CCM Diversity Fellows. Photo/Mark Lyons.

CCM News

CCM Arts Administration Student wins Gena Branscombe Project Award

In its inaugural year, the Gena Branscombe Project has awarded its 2020 scholarships to four women, including UC College-Conservatory of Music Arts Administration student Sydney Pepper. The scholarships support the winners in their continuing pursuit of undergraduate and graduate studies and shine “a light on exceptional emerging, talented, women in music.”

CCM Arts Administration student Sydney Pepper. Photo/Provided.

CCM Arts Administration student Sydney Pepper. Photo/Provided.

Named after influential composer and advocate of contemporary American music Gena Branscombe (1881-1977), the Project awarded Pepper the 2020 Emerging Arts Administrator scholarship. It also awarded the 2020 Emerging Composer scholarship to Catherine Willingham, the 2020 Emerging Conductor scholarship to Genevieve Welch and gave a 2020 Emerging Conductor Honorable Mention award to Michaela Gleason. Read more about the award winners in the online announcement.

Pepper will begin her second year in CCM’s MA/MBA Arts Administration program in August. Her experience in Cincinnati spans from working in CCM Preparatory and Community Engagement to the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. She was originally scheduled to serve as a development intern for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis this summer, but COVID-19 cancelled those plans. Instead, Pepper is doing development work for both the Portland Bach Experience in Maine and for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

“The [CCM] Arts Admin program has transformed and expanded my love of the field,” says Pepper, who previously attended Clark University to pursue a vocal performance degree. “A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined the amount of knowledge that I would have gained throughout this year, but I am so very grateful. Not only am I grateful for all of the learning opportunities, but I could never express enough my gratitude to Professors Jean Hamilton and Rebecca Bromels as well as my cohort, all of whom have made a year full of uncertainty and challenges so, so much easier.”

Pepper’s first experience as an arts administrator was with the Portland Bach Experience, where she began as an intern and worked her way to Festival Manager. In her senior year at Clark University, she served as the Marketing and Box Office Coordinator for Music Worcester, Inc. and as the President of the Clark University Choirs. Under her supervision, the Clark University Choirs performed a 21st century revival of lost composer Gena Branscombe’s Pilgrims of Destiny.

About the Gena Branscombe Project

The Gena Branscombe Project is dedicated to the revival and performance of the music of American composer and conductor Gena Branscombe. Founded by Branscombe experts and family members, the project seeks to continue the spirit of Branscombe’s lifelong example of inspiring women in music, by awarding three yearly scholarships in her honor. All proceeds of the revived music go to support the yearly scholarships. The project is run by Kathleen Shimeta, Daniel P. Ryan and Regan Siglin.

About Gena Branscombe

The legacy of Gena Branscombe (1881-1977) is that of composer, conductor and leader of women in music. Composing over 150 arts songs, chamber music, piano pieces and choral works, they were available from 23 different publishers. As a conductor she led MacDowell choruses, the Chicago Women’s Symphony, college choirs, women’s club choruses and her own Branscombe Choral. These groups under her direction performed music by American composers and in particular, American women composers. Holding national office Branscombe was a member of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, National League of American Pen Women, National Federation of Music Clubs, Society of American Women Composers, Altrusa International and more. At meetings on the state and local levels she encouraged women to be active in their communities’ music organizations and to perform at their own meetings. She organized and presented programs of American music for club members to use as guidelines for programming. Branscombe was a wife, mother of four, pianist, composer, conductor and leader of women whose legacy inspires the Gena Branscombe Project scholarships.

CCM News Student Salutes
A photo of the entrance to the CCM Atrium on UC's campus. Photo/UC Creative + Brand.

CCM Alumna Karen Zhang Wins Prestigious MTNA Teacher Fellowship

CCM alumna Karen Zhang (BM Piano Performance, ’16; MM Piano Performance, ’18) is the 2020 recipient of the Music Teachers National Association’s MarySue Harris Studio Teacher Fellowship. This $3,000 grant, funded by the MarySue Harris Endowment Fund, is presented annually to a recently graduated independent studio music teacher who demonstrates commitment to the music teaching profession and outstanding studio development.

Karen ZhangDuring her time at CCM, Zhang studied with CCM Professor of Piano Eugene Pridonoff and Associate Professor of Piano Soyeon Kate Lee. Zhang was a winner of CCM’s Van Cliburn Scholarship Competition and the Glenn Miller Society Scholarship Competition, as well as the first-place winner of the $9,400 prize at Three Arts Scholarship Competition. She also participated in the 2017 Pianofest, held in Hampton, New York. As a CCM master’s degree student, she was a graduate assistant in secondary piano.

After graduation, Zhang and her husband Jaesung Kim founded their Cincinnati-based piano studio, Musical Moments. Her students have been winners of numerous competitions, including the University of Kentucky’s Nathaniel Patch Piano Competition, OhioMTA Auditions Festival and the 88 Tri-State Piano Concerto Competition. Many of her students have also been recognized with Distinction-level certificates from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. Zhang has been invited to teach and perform in numerous pre-colleges and venues in Asia, including those in Seoul, Chengdu, Chongqing, Taishan and Beijing.

Zhang has also taught through the City Gospel Mission’s Whiz Kids Music Program, an after-school program that gives music classes and lessons to students in the Cincinnati area whose schools do not offer music classes. CCM Preparatory and Community Engagement connects collegiate students with teaching and mentoring opportunities through the CCM AfterSchool program, which has partnered with Whiz Kids, Cincinnati Public Schools and other education and community organizations.

About MTNA and MarySue Harris

MTNA is a nonprofit organization of some 20,000 independent and collegiate music teachers committed to furthering the art of music through teaching, performance, composition and scholarly research. Founded in 1876, MTNA is the oldest professional music teachers’ association in the United States.

MarySue Harris, a long-time MTNA member from Nebraska, has devoted her teaching career to nurturing young music students. Her commitment to pedagogy and the beginning music teacher led to her establishment of the MarySue Harris Endowment Fund.


Story by CCM Graduate Student Alexandra Doyle

Featured image at top: Memorial Hall, which is part of the CCM Village on UC’s campus. Photo/UC Creative + Brand.

CCM Alumni Applause CCM News

Watch CCM Wind Symphony’s Performance of Omar Thomas’ “A Mother of a Revolution”

In November 2019, the UC College-Conservatory of Music Wind Symphony presented a special concert to commemorate the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Uprising. Exclusively featuring works by LGBTQ+ composers, the performance showcased Omar Thomas’ A Mother of a Revolutionwhich is available to watch online.

A Mother of a Revolution celebrates the bravery of trans women, particularly Marsha “Pay it No Mind” Johnson, a pioneering leader of the LGBTQ+ rights movement and Stonewall Uprising. The Stonewall Uprising began in the early hours of June 28, 1969, when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, an LGBTQ+ bar and, today, a National Historic Landmark. This raid sparked a series of riots and protests that served as a significant catalyst for the country’s modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. Pride Month, celebrated each year in the month of June, honors the Stonewall Uprising as well as the impact that LGBTQ+ individuals have had on history locally, nationally and internationally.

CCM Wind Symphony music director and conductor Kevin Michael Holzman looks to find relevant anniversaries of important events to share with students and the community, which inspired him to program the concert of all LGBTQ+ works. Other works featured in the concert included Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Higdon’s Mysterium, Clay Mettens’ Un-Masqued and Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man.

“The contributions to music (and all of the fine arts) from LGBTQ+ artists are truly incredible; despite this fact, they are so rarely recognized explicitly,” says Holzman, CCM Interim Division Head of Ensembles and Conducting. “Many of these artists suffered tremendously and were treated as outcasts socially and professionally, particularly in the years prior to the turn of the millennium. An equal or greater number never felt safe coming out due to discrimination.”

The LGBTQ+ rights movement has seen significant success in recent years. Major milestones include when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in 2015 and ruled that existing federal law forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status in a landmark case on June 15, 2020. Despite these victories, hate and prejudice towards the LGBTQ+ community remain prevalent in many parts of the U.S. and world.

CCM Wind Symphony’s performance was sponsored by the CCM Harmony Fund, which supports artistic works that fight hate and prejudice through the performing arts. This Fund was created based on the belief that the arts inspire imaginative thinking, encourage conversations, present contrasting attitudes and help us examine our own viewpoints. For the month of June, Eat Well Celebrations and Feasts in Newport, Kentucky, is selling pride cupcakes and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the CCM Harmony Fund.

Kevin Michael Holzman and Omar Thomas in front of CCM's booth at the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference in Chicago in December 2019.

Kevin Michael Holzman and Omar Thomas in front of CCM’s booth at the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference in Chicago in December 2019.

“I think it’s our job as music directors to recognize the powerful voice we have to amplify composers and musicians, particularly those who have been historically underrepresented,” Holzman says. “Our students at CCM represent so many diverse backgrounds and cultures, and it’s my responsibility to make sure they feel seen and heard. The first step, in my opinion, is to program works by composers with whom they identify. I also think it’s important that our audiences also feel seen and heard, and can relate to not only the music we perform but to the artists they see on stage and the composers on the program.”

Holzman has pledged that he will continue to program more works by female composers, Black composers and composers coming from other underrepresented populations in the future. Concert programming is just the start, though, and Holzman has formed a working group of graduate students to identify other ways to partner with the Black community and Cincinnati Public Schools.

Holzman first met A Mother of a Revolution composer Omar Thomas two years ago, when he programed Thomas’ Of Our New Day Begun on his first concert as Director of Wind Studies at CCM. Of Our New Day Begun honors the nine people who were murdered in a tragic mass shooting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (commonly referred to as “Mother Emanuel”) in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015.

“I knew I had to get to know the composer who wrote the work to be able to do it justice, and it turned into a great friendship,” Holzman says. “I’ll be a champion of Omar’s music and voice forever.”

Read about UC and CCM’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and a just community.

About Omar Thomas

Described as “elegant, beautiful, sophisticated, intense and crystal clear in emotional intent,” the music of Omar Thomas continues to move listeners everywhere it is performed. Born to Guyanese parents in Brooklyn, New York in 1984, Thomas moved to Boston in 2006 to pursue a Master of Music in Jazz Composition at the New England Conservatory of Music after studying Music Education at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is the protégé of lauded composers and educators Ken Schaphorst and Frank Carlberg, and has studied under multiple Grammy-winning composer and bandleader Maria Schneider.

Hailed by Herbie Hancock as showing “great promise as a new voice in the further development of jazz in the future,” educator, arranger and award-winning composer Thomas has created music extensively in the contemporary jazz ensemble idiom. It was while completing his Master of Music degree that he was appointed the position of Assistant Professor of Harmony at Berklee College of Music at the surprisingly young age of 23. He was awarded the ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award in 2008, and invited by the ASCAP Association to perform his music in their highly exclusive JaZzCap Showcase, held in New York City. In 2012, Thomas was named the Boston Music Award’s “Jazz Artist of the Year.” Following his Berklee tenure, he served on faculty of the Music Theory department at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Composition at the University of Texas at Austin.

Thomas’ music has been performed in concert halls the world over. He has been commissioned to create works in both jazz and classical styles. His work has been performed by such diverse groups as the Eastman New Jazz Ensemble, the San Francisco and Boston Gay Mens’ Choruses, and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, in addition to a number of the country’s top collegiate music ensembles. Thomas has had a number of celebrated singers perform over his arrangements, including Stephanie Mills, Yolanda Adams, Nona Hendryx, BeBe Winans, Kenny Lattimore, Marsha Ambrosius, Sheila E., Raul Midon, Leela James, Dionne Warwick and Chaka Khan. His work is featured on Dianne Reeves’s Grammy Award-winning album, “Beautiful Life.”

Thomas’ first album, “I AM,” debuted at No. 1 on iTunes Jazz Charts and peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Traditional Jazz Albums Chart. His second release, ” We Will Know: An LGBT Civil Rights Piece in Four Movements,” has been hailed by Grammy Award-wining drummer, composer and producer Terri Lyne Carrington as being a “thought provoking, multi-layered masterpiece” which has “put him in the esteemed category of great artists.” “We Will Know” was awarded two OUTMusic Awards, including “Album of the Year.” For this work, Thomas was named the 2014 Lavender Rhino Award recipient by the History Project, acknowledging his work as an up-and-coming activist in the Boston LGBTQ community. Says Terri Lyne: “Omar Thomas will prove to be one of the more important composer/arrangers of his time.”

Learn more about Omar Thomas on his professional website.


Feature image at top: CCM Wind Symphony in rehearsal. Design/Mikki Graff. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services.

CCM News CCMONSTAGE Faculty Fanfare

Hope After Hate: E-Media Professor Shares Father’s Holocaust Experience

CCM E-Media Professor and Emmy Award-winning journalist Hagit Limor shares her father’s Holocaust survival story with lessons to inspire action against hatred and bigotry today

The spring 2020 edition of UC Magazine features a cover story about the ground-breaking “Hope After Hate” project launched by CCM E-Media Professor Hagit Limor. The story is available to read online.

Inspired by her father’s story of struggle and survival during the Holocaust, Limor set out to create “Hope After Hate: Moniek’s Legacy” to share his experience through immersive theatre and virtual reality. In October 2019, Limor’s Media Topics class of 15 students traveled to Poland and Germany to retrace her father’s journey. They will use the photos, videos and research collected during the trip to create an immersive play and virtual reality experience for the “Hope After Hate” project.

“Hope After Hate” will be an innovative, new kind of theatre — part play, part video and part virtual reality. Projections of historical settings will surround the audience during the immersive play, creating a virtual set in which they sit and interact with the actor portraying Moniek Limor. The “Hope After Hate” team is also creating a separate 15-minute virtual reality experience that will immerse users in Moniek’s story with goggles and hand sensors.

Viewers will be transported into the attic where he hid with his family as a child, into the Hasag-Pelcery labor camp where he was enslaved for more than a year as an adolescent, into the cattle-car train that transported him to the Buchenwald concentration camp when he was 14 and into the camp itself, where he was an inmate for four months. The project explores how people struggle to hold on to their humanity when surrounded by hate and fear. It also shares historical lessons in an effort to turn bystanders into upstanders who will speak out against hatred and bigotry today.

“Hope After Hate” unites students, faculty and staff from across UC, including undergraduate and graduate students majoring in E-Media, Acting, International Affairs, Political Science, Geography and History. CCM Acting Professor Susan Felder is adapting Limor’s memoir of her father’s experience into a script for the immersive play. Additionally, the “Hope After Hate” team is collaborating with CCM Lighting Design and Technology Professor Sharon Huizinga on how to create projections for the play. UC’s Center for Simulations and Virtual Environments Research (UCSIM) is building the VR experience with the 360-degree photos and videos that students captured while on the trip.

Read UC Magazine’s cover story on “Hope After Hate” to learn more about the project. Readers can also view photo galleries of images taken during the study abroad trip and watch a student-created documentary on the project.


“Hope After Hate” is sponsored by Cincinnati’s Holocaust and Humanity Center, and has already received support from private donors as well as Cincinnati’s Jewish Innovation Funds and the CCM Harmony Fund. This support offset travel expenses during the study abroad trip and funded some production expenses. However, the class is still actively collecting donations for projectors needed for the play and virtual reality equipment. Visit hopeafterhate.com for updates on the project and to learn how to get involved. 

CCM News CCMONSTAGE Faculty Fanfare Student Salutes
Long Beach Opera’s production of The Central Park Five. Photo credit: Long Beach Opera

CCM alumnus Leslie B. Dunner conducts Pulitzer Prize-winning opera ‘The Central Park Five’

Long Beach Opera’s production of The Central Park Five. Photo credit: Long Beach Opera

Anthony Davis’ opera won the prestigious prize after Dunner led the world premiere in June 2019

CCM graduate Leslie B. Dunner (DMA Orchestral Conducting, ’82) conducted the premiere of Anthony Davis’ The Central Park Five last June with California’s Long Beach Opera. In May, the opera won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Composed by Davis with a libretto by Richard Wesley, the opera was described by the jury of the prestigious award as, “a courageous operatic work, marked by powerful vocal writing and sensitive orchestration, that skillfully transforms a notorious example of contemporary injustice into something empathetic and hopeful.”

The Central Park Five’s musical style combines elements of jazz, hip-hop, blues and other historically African-American genres. The opera centers on the five African American and Latino teenagers who were unjustly convicted of a Central Park assault in the 1980s, but were exonerated through DNA evidence 13 years later.

CCM audiences may remember Dunner from his recent appearance on campus. In October 2019, Dunner returned to CCM to conduct the Philharmonia in its “CSI Halloween: Post-Mortem” performance. While on campus, Dunner connected with CCM conducting students over dinner and worked with them in studio class as well as in rehearsals to prepare for the performance.

An award-winning conductor with a glowing international reputation, Dunner is the Music Director of the South Shore Opera Company in Chicago and serves as the conductor of the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra, the World Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Interlochen Arts Camp.

Dunner began rehearsals for The Central Park Five shortly after his teaching and conducting work at the Interlochen Arts Academy ended for the 2018-19 school year. In an interview for Interlochen’s website, Dunner commented on the importance of telling the stories and struggles of black Americans through the lens of opera.

“Anthony Davis said something very interesting,” Dunner tells Interlochen. “He had an interview where he was asked what he thought was relevant with opera. Because the interviewer said, ‘Opera was becoming a dead medium.’ And Anthony replied, ‘No. It’s not a dead medium. It’s a dead medium for your stories. It’s not a dead medium for our stories because our stories have not been told in opera.’”

For Dunner, the story of the Central Park Five is very personal. “I grew up in the area where all of this took place,” Dunner tells Interlochen. “I lived eight blocks away. I used to go to that part of Central Park as a kid. All of what went on during that time I have been through.”

From the Central Park Five to today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement, stories of cultural, racial and socio-economic injustices regularly make headlines across the country. “The cycle is still being perpetuated,” Dunner tells Interlochen. “What happened to them should not be happening anymore. Yet it is still happening. That is the relevance. That’s why this was important.”

One month after Dunner led the world premiere of The Central Park Five at Long Beach Opera, another opera focused on wrongful convictions premiered at Cincinnati Opera. The stories of six people who were wrongfully imprisoned and then freed were told in Blind Injustice, a collaboration with CCM, UC’s Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) and the Young Professionals Choral Collective. Based on casework by the OIP and the book “Blind Injustice” by UC law professor and OIP Director Mark Godsey, the highly acclaimed opera was directed by CCM Professor of Opera Robin Guarino and featured several current and former CCM students in the cast.

Efforts to share diverse stories through the performing arts is not limited to tales of wrongful convictions and struggle. In February, Dunner conducted the Toledo Symphony in a program that highlighted classical musicians of color. Selections included excerpts from Nkeiru Okoye’s opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom, Duke Ellington’s The River Suite, André Previn’s Honey and Rue and William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1, among other pieces. As Music Director and Interim Artistic Director of Chicago’s South Shore Opera, Dunner furthers the company’s mission to provide greater opportunities for professional artists of color, especially local black artists, in performances of classic and contemporary operas.

“We are just now coming to the foreground,” Dunner tells Interlochen. “So we are using this medium to tell our stories, and we are modifying the medium so that it’s relevant to our population, and that’s what’s interesting, and that’s what’s exciting, and that’s what I want to be a part of.”

Read Dunner’s full interview on Interlochen’s website.

Learn more about Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, The Central Park Five.

CCM Alumni Applause CCM News Faculty Fanfare Student Salutes
A photo of the entrance to the CCM Atrium on UC's campus. Photo/UC Creative + Brand.

CCM Acting Faculty, Alumni and Students Embrace Local and National Digital Theatre

A photo of the entrance to the CCM Atrium on UC's campus. Photo/UC Creative + Brand.

Cincinnati Playhouse and the One-Minute Play Festival share creative monologues and short-plays featuring CCM Acting faculty, alumni and students

The pandemic isn’t stopping theatre artists from connecting and sharing their work. Although they can’t gather on stage or perform in front of an in-person audience right now, actors and directors are creating digital spaces to share theatre online.

CCM Acting Professor Brant Russell recently participated in two digital theatre efforts through Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s Monologues of Hope series and the national One-Minute Play Festival (1MPF).

“A bunch of us have refused to allow the lack of sanctioned or safe traditional theatre methods to hamper our practice. We can’t gather, we can’t even be near each other, but the need to make work still exists, and the audiences for it are there,” Russell says. “Zoom/digital theatre is a burgeoning practice, and I’m proud CCM is in the mix.”

The Playhouse’s series commissioned 10 local playwrights to write monologues on the theme of hope during the pandemic. Each monologue is performed by a local actor and shared on the Playhouse’s website and social media accounts. So far, the Monologues of Hope Series has shared nine new works, including Russell’s Play for Our Time and Hope Deconstructed by CCM Acting alumna Torie Wiggins (BFA, ’02).

In Play for Our Time, Russell travels back in time to the Yellow Fever outbreak of 1878 to get some advice from Cincinnati Chief Health Administrator Dr. Thomas C. Minor, portrayed by actor Barry Mulholland. The 19th-century doctor is a bit uncomfortable with Russell’s “rectangle device” (smart phone), but he manages to share some timely words of wisdom.

Wiggins’ Hope Deconstructed features actor Ernaisja Curry in a comedic monologue that examines how “we’ve been getting hope all wrong” by associating it with negativity. “Hope should be hopeful. It should sound hopeful; it should look hopeful. It should start in the eyes like smizing, then the rest of the face follows suit, then the tone of voice, then the positive words with a burst of energy,” the actor exclaims in the monologue.

Hope and creativity fuel these digital theatre projects and various online performances across the country. It is evident in the commitment of these teachers, students, actors, directors and theatre companies who are determined to stay connected and share their work in new ways.

“Theatre develops and strengthens community,” says CCM Acting student Anastasia Jacques. “Digital theatre and live performances over Zoom have made me feel so connected to people very far away.”

Jacques participated in the One Minute Play Festival’s (1MPF) Coronavirus Plays Project, which presented 625 plays via Zoom over 11 days. Russell directed 62 of the one-minute plays, which ranged in topic from “old married couples dealing with quarantine to pigeons deciding on whom they should poop,” he says.

Dominic D’Andrea is the Founder and Producing Artistic Director of the 1MPF, which is the country’s largest and longest consistently running community-engaged theatre project. Russell directed 1MPF plays when it came to Chicago in 2011 and wrote/directed for the IMPF when it came to Cincinnati in 2015. He cast CCM students for the project and passed his directing duties to a CCM Acting student the next year. A CCM Acting student has been directing for the Cincinnati 1MPF each year ever since, and Russell continues to write plays for it.

“We produce about 1,000 plays a year in 15-20 cities and communities, in real life. We just moved what we do online, so it wasn’t that hard for us,” D’Andrea says of the 1MPF Coronavirus Plays Project. “In this case we did a partnership with The Dramatists Guild of America and, for the first time ever, did an open call. We had about 1,300 emails and 625 useable plays from that. We offered the work up to our partnering orgs and alumni directors to stage some of it. So we built a little online coalition.”

Brant Russell directs CCM Acting students, alumni and other actors through Zoom in the 1MPF's Coronavirus Plays Project. Photo/1MPF

Brant Russell directs CCM Acting students, alumni and other actors through Zoom in the 1MPF’s Coronavirus Plays Project. Photo/1MPF

Russell and D’Andrea have known each other for around 15 years, dating back to when they met at the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab. When D’Andrea launched 1MPF’s Coronavirus Plays Project, he enlisted Russell to direct 62 of them.

D’Andrea estimates that a couple thousand audience members watched the plays through Zoom, and the project involved about 14 directors, 120 actors and 625 writers from 14 different countries.

Russell’s casts included Jacques as well as CCM Acting alumni Ella Eggold (BFA, ’19), Gabriella DiVincenzo (BFA, ’19) and Paige Jordan (BFA, ’20).

Jacques played various roles during the 1MPF project including a loving spouse, a poetic farmer and — her favorite — a doting New Jersey mother. This was the first digital theatre project she has worked on, but it won’t be the last. Jacques is planning to be a guest speaker on “Reliving Childhood,” a YouTube channel launched by CCM Acting students Carlee Coulehan, Sierra Coachman and Noah Buyak. “Reliving Childhood” centers around re-watching TV shows from the students’ youth, and the idea was brought to life when students were separated during quarantine.

“We are taught that live theatre is magical because the audience and the actors are in the same room breathing the same air, but I think it is important to recognize that storytelling is the best medicine — period,” Jacques says. “If we can’t breathe the same air at least we can see each other’s faces and see each other’s hearts.”


Featured image at top: The entrance to the CCM Atrium on UC’s campus. Photo/UC Creative + Brand.

CCM Alumni Applause CCM News CCM Video Faculty Fanfare Student Salutes
CSO musicians on stage during the CSO's "Live from Music Hall" concert stream.

CCM faculty featured in CSO’s grand return to Music Hall

CSO musicians on stage during the CSO's "Live from Music Hall" concert stream.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s “Live from Music Hall” performance is available to stream online

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra mounted its first live performance in Music Hall since the outbreak of COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the remainder of its season. The Live from Music Hall performance, initially streamed on Saturday, May 16, is available to watch online.

The performance featured the launch of the CSO’s Fanfare Project, which commissions new music from more than a dozen composers to “inspire and uplift and to help us make sense of this moment in our shared history through the universal language of music.” CCM Professor and CSO Principal Oboe Dwight Parry gave the world premiere of the Fanfare Project’s first composition vitres (fragment…) by CSO Creative Partner Matthias Pintscher in the opening of the live-streamed concert.

CSO pianist and CCM Professor Michael Chertock with CSO principal cello and CCM Professor Ilya Finkelshteyn.

CSO pianist and CCM Professor Michael Chertock with CSO principal cello and CCM Professor Ilya Finkelshteyn.

Following the world premiere, four CSO musicians took the stage to perform Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor — while maintaining social distances and wearing face masks. The performance featured CCM professors Michael Chertock, piano, and Ilya Finkelshteyn, cello; as well as CSO concertmaster Stefani Matsuo and principal viola Christian Colberg.

“The event was one step forward to the time when theaters will reopen, and we won’t be afraid to share a live communal experience,” wrote arts reporter Janelle Gelfand in her review for the Cincinnati Business Courier. “It was a message of hope that eventually our arts and culture will re-emerge.”

Watch the full performance online.


Images captured from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s concert video.

CCM News CCM Video Faculty Fanfare
CCM Village at night

CCM E-Media professor and student help UC Emeriti Center launch new website

CCM Village at night

The University of Cincinnati Emeriti Association and Center, headed by College-Conservatory of Music E-Media Professor Peter DePietro, unveiled a new website in April that showcases the work of recent graduate Jonathan Kilberg (BFA E-Media, ’20). As the center’s multimedia intern, Kilberg’s work included web design/development, user experience design, videography and audio production — a grouping of disciplines that are unique to CCM’s E-Media program.

Assistant Professor of E-Media Peter DePietro.

Peter DePietro.

DePietro is the first non-interim executive director of the Emeriti Center, which advocates for the interests of emeriti, provides intellectual and social opportunities and strengthens ties between emeriti and the university, local, national and international communities. The new website includes videos from the Center’s YouTube channel as well as helpful resources for the university’s retired faculty members.

Since having a major role in the Center, DePietro has worked on creating connections between UC and community leaders as well as connecting deans from different colleges across campus. He is also focused on growth and expanding membership. At CCM he continues to educate his students through experience-based learning, which is why he recruited a student to help build the Center’s new website. DePietro enlisted the help of Kilberg because he believes that engaging students in practical learning is important.

“It was an amazing opportunity to be able to work for the Center,” Kilberg says. “I jumped at the opportunity. Every single member is supportive and kind and sociable. It was amazing to meet all these people from campus life and beyond campus life.”

Creating the UC Emeriti website was no small feat. The task required both Kilberg and DePietro to take classes and tests in order to train on the university’s web content management system and to meet the standards of UC’s Digital Communications office. In addition to the website, Kilberg and DePietro created a YouTube channel with original video content. The crown jewel of the YouTube channel is the EmeriTALKS series which Kilberg noted as one of the best parts of working on this project. The EmeriTALKS videos include a joint-venture between the Center and CCM, featuring the leadership of Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park, and another featuring former UC President Nancy Zimpher.

As an E-Media student at CCM, Kilberg has enjoyed multiple opportunities to participate in hands on learning experiences. In October 2019, Kilberg traveled to Germany and Poland with CCM E-Media Professor Hagit Limor’s multi-disciplinary Media Topics class. The group of 15 students set out to create “Hope After Hate,” an immersive play and virtual reality experience that shares Limor’s father’s experience during the Holocaust with lessons to inspire action against future acts of hatred.

CCM’s BFA E-Media program encompasses the integrated media arts of film and digital cinema, television and broadcast media news, audio production and new media design. Students are given the opportunity to study in the track of their choosing, including Broadcast and Media Production, Multimedia Production and Film and Television Production. Internships are a key part of the curriculum and take advantage of the professional resources in Cincinnati and other areas across the country. With its emphasis on experiential learning, students acquire the hands-on skills and a digital portfolio necessary to transition successfully into the professional world.

Kilberg plans on going into the film industry and feels that one of the biggest skills E-Media has taught him is how to effectively work with a team. “E-Media pushed me to work with other people, which is so necessary in the field that I want to go in. The program taught me the importance of working as a team.”

“The professors are talented and they work hard at creating community,” Kilberg says. “They also offer great resources and there is support from the alumni of E-Media. Going forward they are going to continue to do an amazing job preparing students.”


Story by CCM Graduate Student Kelly Barefield

Featured image at top: An aerial view of CCM Village. Photo/Jay Yocis

CCM Alumni Applause CCM News Faculty Fanfare Student Salutes
A photo of the entrance to the CCM Atrium on UC's campus. Photo/UC Creative + Brand.

Music at Home: Recent CCM graduates share senior recital performance video

The University of Cincinnati’s transition to remote learning put in-person public performances at the College-Conservatory of Music on pause, including senior recitals that graduating students typically present during the spring semester. However, harpist Anna Dunlap didn’t let that stop her from sharing a piece she planned to perform during her recital online.

Dunlap, who recently graduated with a Master of Music in Harp, planned to perform Marcel Tournier’s La lettre du Jardinier with fellow CCM student Sean McKay, who just graduated with a Master of Music in Trumpet. They were disappointed to lose the opportunity to perform the piece that they had already spent time practicing, so McKay suggested they present it digitally.

“Music, as it always does, provides comfort, joy and an escape from the more difficult times in life,“ says Anna Dunlap (MM Harp, ’20). “The arts are a vitally important part of everyone’s lives, so by sharing our music we are able to stay connected to our audiences, friends and colleagues.”

Dunlap, who studied with CCM Professor Gillian Benet Sella, is thankful that McKay was as excited about the performance video as she was. She was introduced to La lettre du Jardinier by her former teacher Kathleen Bride while she was an undergraduate student at Eastman School of Music.

“I never had the chance to program it there, so I was really happy about finding a friend to perform this piece with me here at CCM,” Dunlap says.

McKay, who studied with CCM Professor Alan Siebert, created the initial click track that the musicians used to record, then recorded the performances and edited the video. He says the recording part only took a couple of hours but that he probably spent around 4 hours editing the audio.

McKay is a self-taught video editor and used his experience as a performer, as well as the advice of experienced friends, for the audio recording and editing. He is using his free time during the pandemic to build a larger digital presence for himself as a freelance musician and educator.

“One of the biggest ‘silver linings’ that has come from this quarantine has been that I am moving in the right direction to expand my digital footprint, and that I have had a few opportunities to make music with friends,” McKay says. “I think that as musicians and students of music, we take for granted the simple and yet highly complex phenomena that is the experience of making music with other people.”

“I think that it is so very important for musicians to stay connected during this time, because each of us has a fire burning inside of us which drives our passion to make music; and when that fire is told to stay inside and stay healthy, that fire needs fuel to stay alive,“ says  Sean McKay (MM Trumpet, ’20). “These types of projects and collaborations with friends are what fuels our inner fire.”

Dunlap is using her time in quarantine to explore old hobbies like drawing and painting and she is staying connected with friends through video chats and virtual game nights. She is also working on new repertoire, updating her website and planning a virtual harp camp with a mentor.

She enjoys seeing the variety of creative ways musicians are continuing to perform and share music during this uncertain time. Dunlap is inspired by the orchestra videos, like the New York Philharmonic’s performance excerpt from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 “Adagietto and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Ravel’s “Le jardin féerique” (The Fairy Garden) from Ma mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Suite).

From Broadway stars to prestigious professional orchestras to student musicians, performing artists across the world are determined to share their work in new ways. Recently on May 16, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra presented “Live from Music Hall,” which featured a performance of Mahler’s Piano Quartet and the world premiere of the first piece for The Fanfare Project by CSO Creative Partner Matthias Pintscher. The performance featured CCM professors Dwight Parry, oboe; Michael Chertock, piano; Ilya Finkelshteyn, cello; and CSO concertmaster Stefani Matsuo and principal viola Christian Colberg.

“Music is a beautiful thing. Music heals. Music sparks creativity and passion. Music helps people in so many ways. Music can change the outcome of a person’s whole day,” McKay says. “My favorite quote about music is from Aldous Huxley: ‘After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ When words fail, music speaks. When people are hurt, music is there to heal and soothe.“


Share your story 

Help us stay connected, even though we are temporarily apart.

The team in Marketing + Communications is always on the hunt for compelling news and feature stories about our amazing campus and its people. Are you a CCM student, alum or faculty/staff member with news to share?

Send us your news tip!

CCM Alumni Applause CCM News CCM Video CCMONSTAGE Faculty Fanfare Student Salutes