9th Season Guest Artists
Critically acclaimed for “transporting the listeners to extraordinary heights” and “into a world beyond time and space,” pianist Craig Ketter is known for playing with powerhouse sonority combined with long-lined, dulcet lyricism. Mr. Ketter has performed as soloist with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, the North Carolina Symphony, the Sacramento Philharmonic, the Oakland East Bay Symphony, the Mobile Symphony, the South Orange Symphony, the Raleigh Symphony, the Garden State Philharmonic, the Durham Symphony, the Rocky Ridge Music Festival Orchestra, and the American Festival for the Arts Orchestra. His solo concerts have taken him to Mexico, Argentina, Barbados, France, Germany, Japan, and across the United States and Canada.
Complementing his solo performances with collaborative ventures, Mr. Ketter regularly joins forces with international singers and chamber groups. Venues include NPR’s Performance Today series, CBS Sunday Morning, Sirius Satellite Radio, Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, La Huaca de Atlapa in Panama City, the Tanglewood Music Festival, the Savannah Music Festival, Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockport, Maine, “Music in the Mountains” in Colorado, and The Marilyn Horne Foundation. Musicians he has collaborated with include flutists Eugenia Zukerman and Carol Wincenc, clarinetists Stephen Williamson, Ricardo Morales, and Jon Manasse, cellists Robert deMaine and Eric Bartlett, violinists Kelly Hall-Tompkins, Roy Malan, and Paul Huang, and singers Renee Fleming, Deborah Voigt, Margaret Jane Wray, Samuel Ramey, Paul Plishka, Nathan Gunn, Ben Heppner, Cliff Forbis, Francisco Casanova, and Robert White. He has also performed with the esteemed actress Claire Bloom.
Craig Ketter began piano studies at the age of seven, giving his first solo recital at the age of ten. Shortly thereafter, he began to win top prizes in numerous competitions including the Young Keyboard Artists Association International Piano Competition, the North Carolina
Symphony Young Artists Competition, and the Kingsville International Piano Competition. He later won first prizes in the Bartok-Kabalevsky-Prokofiev International Piano Competition, the Richardson Awards National Piano Competition, and the South Orange Symphony of New Jersey Young Artists Competition. He was also awarded the Saunderson Award at the Coleman Chamber Music Competition in Los Angeles, California with the Meliora Winds. Craig Ketter received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the Eastman School of Music under the tutelage of Nelita True and Barry Snyder, where he also taught as Mr. Snyder’s assistant. He continued post-graduate studies with Yoheved Kaplinsky of the Juilliard School. Complementing his performing with teaching, Mr. Ketter has presented master classes throughout the United States and Argentina, and has served as a guest professor and adjudicator in several institutions and venues. He has been a faculty member of the Rocky Ridge Music Festival in Colorado and has served as Chair of the Piano Faculty at the American Festival for the Arts in Houston, Texas. He is currently on the faculty of New Jersey City University. Mr. Ketter currently resides in Fair Lawn, New Jersey with his wife, Canadian soprano Valerie Gonzalez, and his two sons, Isaac and Daniel.
Elana Gleason, hailed by the New York Post for "flaunt[ing] pinpoint finesse on high B’s and C’s” and by Opera News for singing with a “particularly beautiful soprano,” is a versatile artist making her mark on the regional opera scene. This past season, her performances included the title character in Manon, Agnes Sorel in Maid of Orleans with New Orleans Opera, Violetta in La Traviata with Mobile Opera, Krystyna Zywulska in the university premiere of Two Remain, and the soprano soloist in Opera Louisiane’s Opening Night gala.
In the previous season, Elana had the pleasure of debuting the role of Joan of Arc in Maid of Orleans, performing Judit in Bluebeard’s Castle, creating the role of Elizabeth in the university premiere of Kevin Puts’ Elizabeth Cree, singing Tatyana in Eugene Onegin, and accompanying Lisette Oropesa as a soloist in her concert “Starry Night”.
Other highlights include Marguerite in Faust, Mrs. Nordstrom in A Little Night Music, Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, Micaela in Carmen, the title role in The Merry Widow, Violetta in La Traviata, Nedda in Pagliacci, and the title role in Tosca. She has made professional appearances with New Orleans Opera, Marigny Opera, the Lake Charles Symphony, the Natchez Festival of Music, Mississippi Opera, Opera Louisiane, The Clayton Piano Festival, La Piccola Opera, dell'Arte Opera Ensemble, Dicapo Opera, the Staten Island Philharmonic, the Allentown Symphony, and the Bard Summerscape Festival.
Ms. Gleason is a recent semi-finalist in both the McCammon Vocal Competition and the James Toland Vocal Arts Competition. She will compete for the finals of McCammon in September of 2020. In 2019, she placed second in Mobile Opera’s Madame Rose Palmai-Tenser competition. She was also the first place winner of the Collegiate Scenes Competition at the National Opera Association in both 2019 and 2020.
Christin Danchi is a collaborative violinist and violist with a passion for exploring connections between music and visual arts, politics, sports, and other disciplines. Her performance interests include solo, chamber and orchestral collaborations. She has performed at a variety of locations including the North Carolina House of Representatives, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Saint Patrick’s National Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, the Antiguo Convento de la Trinidad in Alcalá la Real, Spain, and Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh. She has worked with conductors Manfred Honeck, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Joseph Silverstein, Gerard Schwarz, Paul Polivnick, Barry Douglas, David Effron and Andrés Cárdenes. Christin played baroque violin as part of the UNC Baroque Ensemble and has experience in chamber music from the Baroque to the contemporary.
Christin also enjoys southern and Irish fiddle music, as well as sacred collaborations in her church. She is an active freelance performer in and around her home in Raleigh, North Carolina. Some of her recent appearances include May 2018 solo performances during Masterclass Al-Andalus in Alcalá la Real, Spain, and collaborative work with pianist Jonathan Levin and tenor Curtis Bannister for the Clayton Piano Festival's 2018 Valentines Day Gala Concert in Clayton, North Carolina.During her undergraduate studies, Christin collaborated in a performance of Hanns Eisler’s film composition 14 Arten den Regen zu beschreiben, (14 Ways to Describe Rain) with its original 1929 art film "Rain," by Joris Ivens, as part of the Talking Music Series at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This experience provided inspiration for Fiddling with Film, Christin's project dedicated to commissioning solo violin film scores for silent films. The first premiere in May of 2014 featured a solo violin score entitled "Launch Sequence" by composer Ash Stemke for Georges Méliès’ 1902 film, Le Voyage dans la lune. In May of 2016, "Launch Sequence" was selected to be part
of the Carnegie Mellon University Moon Arts project and will be included in the collaborative MoonArk "museum" that will accompany an Astrobotic rover on its 238,900-mile journey to the moon in 2020. Fiddling with Film's second project culminated in the April 2015 premiere of composer Dayton Kinney's solo violin film score for the 1938 short film, "An Optical Poem," by German avant-garde artist Oskar Fischinger.
Growing up in Raleigh, Christin started playing violin at age four under the instruction of Wilinda Atchley in the Meredith College Suzuki Program. With three siblings who also play violin, there was always something musical happening in the Danchi home. Christin went on to study with Dr. Richard Luby at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she was concertmaster of the UNC Symphony Orchestra for two years and received a bachelor’s degree in music with highest distinction. She also received highest honors for her undergraduate thesis entitled Hanns Eisler’s Deutsche Sinfonie and Adrian Leverkühn’s Lamentation of Doctor Faustus: Taking Back Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which explored issues of music and politics surrounding Germany in the 1930s and 40s. Christin received her master's degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2015 and completed post-graduate studies at CMU with Andrés Cárdenes in May of 2016. She currently works as a Philanthropy Assistant for the North Carolina Symphony.
Christin has a variety of interests outside of music. Her work from 2007 to 2016 as a Legislative and Research Assistant at the North Carolina General Assembly has given her a unique perspective on the relationship between state government and the arts, as well as an inside view of the processes of state government. Christin is also an amateur astronomer and enjoys a clear evening out in the country observing the planets and the stars with her Intelliscope. Having grown up in Tobacco Road, ACC Basketball continues to be an important part of her life from October through April (Go Duke!), while her multiple hybrid tea rose bushes keep her busy the rest of the year. She can also frequently be found baking something to satisfy her insatiable sweet tooth or romping with Riley (her five-year-old Westie).
Pianist/Improviser Joey Chang, obtained his B.M. and M.M. from the Juilliard School, graduating in 2018.
Following his residency as an improviser at the Banff Centre in the summer of 2017, Joey works extensively in collaborative, cross-discipline, freeform improvisation. He has performed free improvisation around NYC in contexts ranging from free jazz to classical piano including The Stone at the New School, Cornelia St. Cafe Underground, The Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Spectrum NYC, and Juilliard’s Paul Hall. He has performed with musicians such as Peter Evans, Michael Formanek, Jim Black, Weasel Walter, Luke Stewart, Immanuel Wilkins, Jasmine Wilson, and Jack Mcguire. As an improvising soloist, he performed improvisation in a classical solo piano concert featuring his mentor, Jerome Lowenthal and Vassily Primakov at the Sparkhill concert series and Bronxville women’s club. He has composed structured improvisation for art installations as well as dance choreography performed at student choreography showcases at Marymount Manhattan College. At Juilliard, he was the organizer and leader of the “Improv You Are Enough!” sessions, a series of informal jam sessions between musicians, dancers, and actors, and continues to network and workshop collaborative improvisation in these settings.
Joey gave his first formal recital at age 10 with a solo concert during the WPPI international piano festival. He garnered awards and recognition from local competitions as well as international competitions, including International Russian Music Piano Competition, New Orleans International Young artist and Schimmel International Junior. Joey was the youngest top-prize winner of the Jacob Flier International Piano Competition in 2009 and made a debut concerto performance under the baton of maestro Vladimir Feltsman. The performance brought a review from the Time-Herald Record for playing “…accompaniments
and cadenzas with precocious agility and focus, letting the bell-like arpeggios ring at his fingertips with precision and ease…”
At Juilliard, Joey was the 2nd-place winner in the 2015 piano concerto competition, 3rd place winner of the 2016 Munz scholarship, and a finalist of the 2016 and 2017 Gina Bachauer scholarship competitions. He was a participant of the Hamamatsu International Piano competition 2015 in Japan and was awarded honorary medals for participation in the USASU Bosendorfer 2017 in Arizona and Maria Canals 2017 in Barcelona. He was a fellow of the Music Academy of the West under the Lee Luria Scholarship as well as a fellow of Pianofest in the Hamptons.
An avid composer, Joey began to compose at 6 and performed his first original work in the Yamaha USA national “Junior Original Composer” concert at age 7. He has since composed music for solo piano, chamber groups, and piano and chamber orchestra premiered at Juilliard’s Double Vision concert series.
A passionate believer in musical advocacy and outreach, Joey is a member of and has participated in educational programs run by organizations like ASTEP and Sing-For-Hope based in New York. In the summer of 2015, Joey spent 6-weeks in Taiwan, including two weeks of living and teaching in the mountains of Taidong in a community of Taiwanese Bunun aboriginal descendants. The project culminated in a concert held in Hsing-Kang, Chiayi in which Joey performed original compositions and improvisations based on his experiences in Taiwan in a collaboration with the Hsing-Kang elementary school orchestra.
Joey began private piano lessons with Dr. Tehling Chiang and studied under Professor Robert Hamilton at Arizona State University at age 13. At Juilliard, Joey was under the mentorship of Jerome Lowenthal, as well as workshopping improvisation with Noam Sivan.
Dexter Ruffin proved his virtuosity at a young age when, at nine years old, he taught himself to play the piano by ear. His remarkable talent was soon discovered, and he was given professional training by Nancy Ping-Robbins of Wilson. Ruffin was hailed as a prodigy by the Wilmington Star-News in 1987, reporting on the thirteen-year-old's preparation of eleven pieces for a major recital at Barton College. Later he was called a “Brilliant performer… a young man [who] has incredible power and talent in his hands,” by Classical Voice of North Carolina. A native of Wilson, Ruffin's early piano studies, with Nancy Ping-Robbins, were underwritten by an anonymous donor. He won the “Student of the Year” award in 2002, presented by the community of Wilson. Ruffin went on to study with Dr. Henry Doskey at ECU and Eric Larsen at the NC School of the Arts, where he received a B.A. in piano performance in 2009. in 2006, he won the North Carolina School of the Arts Concerto Competition performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. In recent years, he has proven to be adept at both the organ and harpsichord.
Mr. Ruffin has studied and performed abroad at Gijon International Piano Festival in Spain and last year was awarded 1st Prize at the Baltimore International Piano Festival. He has been coached by many world renowned musicians including Robert McDonald and Julian Martin of the Juilliard School, Joseph Kalichstein, of Mannes College of Music, Awadagin Pratt, and Claude Frank of Yale.
Returning to his roots, he now serves as Music Minister at St. Timothy's Church (Episcopal) in Wilson. He plans to start pursuing a Doctoral of Musical Arts degree within the next year.
Praised by the New York Concert Review as “much more than a pianist, but a musician with a fine mind and enormously promising creative energy”, Jonathan Levin is quickly establishing a reputation as an enthusiastic and compelling advocate for classical music, creating integrated programs that garner closer connections with audiences through illuminating discussion and example.
Born in North Carolina, Jonathan made his debut with the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra when he was fifteen. Since then, he has become a sought after recitalist and soloist, performing throughout the country in concert halls, museums, universities, schools, libraries and private salons. Jonathan was recently chosen to present a special performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia as a part of the 4th Melody of Generations Festival with the Presidential Symphony Orchestra of the Russian Federation. He has been a laureate of many competitions and prizes including the National Stillman-Kelley Award, 2nd Prize at the 2012 Los Angeles International Liszt Competition and recipient of the Alan Walker Award from the American Liszt Society. Jonathan recently made his solo recital debut at Carnegie’s Weill Hall, presenting his new program entitled "American Portraits."
Jonathan is Artistic Director and Founder of Clayton Piano Festival in Clayton, NC which seeks to create accessible, educational, world-class concerts and music presentations that uniquely enrich the cultural life of the area. The festival, which presented its 5th anniversary season of concerts, public classes, school outreach and other community events in the fall of 2016, aims to bridge the gap between performer and audience, bringing classical piano music to people of all ages and levels of exposure to the arts.
Shelby Stephenson was born in Benson, Johnston County, North Carolina to Maytle and Paul Stephenson in 1938, and lived for fourteen years with his parents and three older siblings Paul, Marshall, and Rose Stephenson in a rural farmhouse known as "Plankhouse." In 1952, the Stephensons moved to a new house, and Shelby graduated from high school in 1956; he earned his Bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1960, his Master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1967, and his Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin in 1974. He met his wife, Linda Letchworth "Nin" Wilson, on a blind date in 1963, and the two married in 1966.
He moved back to North Carolina in the 1970s and went on to become a teacher, serving as the English department chair at Campbell College from 1974 to 1978 before becoming a professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and the editor of Pembroke Magazine from 1978 until retiring in 2010. From 2004 to 2005, he was the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet. He currently lives with his Norwich Terrier named Cricket, while his ailing wife lives in an extended care facility in Smithfield.
In October 2014, Stephenson was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, along with Betty Adcock, Ronald H. Bayes, and Jaki Shelton Green. He was later installed as the state's new poet laureate on February 2, 2015, in a ceremony at the State Capitol with Governor Pat McCrory, Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz, and Wayne Martin, Executive Director of the North Carolina Arts Council.
Stephenson hopes to pursue three projects during his tenure as state laureate: holding writing workshops in assisted living and retirement communities, raising awareness of local archives and family histories, and promoting writings about farming and farm life in North Carolina.
Praised by critics for his “precision and technical brilliance” and “the power and clarity of execution in his performances”, concert pianist Aza Sydykov is also noted worldwide as a conductor, accompanist and vocal coach.
A graduate of Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatory and New York’s Mannes School of Music, Sydykov also serves as President of the Kyrgyz American Foundation in New York City, which sponsors the Eurasia Festival as well as various cultural exchange and educational activities. In North Carolina he is co-founder and Artistic Director of the Wilmington Music Festival.
Born into a musical family in the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan, Sydykov grew up in Moscow where he was taught and mentored by Russian piano legend, Nikolai Arnoldovich Petrov.
He made his professional debut as a piano soloist at age 17 at Moscow’s International House of Music with the National Philharmonic of Russia. He has since performed all over the world - in Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Turkey, Finland, Ukraine and China. In the United States he has appeared as solo pianist at Carnegie Hall and in various other prestigious concert venues across the country.
Sydykov has been the recipient of numerous awards, including First Prize and the Grand Prize of Italy’s Euterpe International Piano and Chamber Music Competition. He is a Fellow of the Vladimir Spivakov International Charity Foundation, the New Names Foundation, and the Nikolai Petrov International Philanthropic Foundation.
In 2011, Sydykov immigrated to the U.S. and continued musical studies at the Mannes School of Music at The New School with Professor Pavlina Dokovska, where he was awarded the New School University’s Presidential Scholarship and a Schoenberg Piano Stipend to pursue a Master of Music degree and a Professional Studies Diploma.
Mr. Sydykov presently lives in New York City where he maintains a private piano studio and a Russian opera training program. He is married to American soprano Nikoleta Rallis Sydykov.