A fierce advocate of the music of our time, Brandon Bell used the 2014 Presser Graduate Music Award to fund Plugged In, a commissioning project that resulted in five new works for solo percussion and interactive technologies. He has also performed electronic works at numerous conventions and festivals, including PASIC, Electric LaTex, Null Point, Root Signals, Houston Fringe Festival, and ICMC. In addition, Bell produced and performed in the Houston premieres of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit, and Michael Gordon’s Timber. A native of Buffalo, New York, Bell received a Master of Music degree from Rice University, and a Bachelor of Music degree from the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University. He spends his summers in Aspen, Colorado, where he is the percussion manager of the Aspen Music Festival and School. www.bbpercussion.com
Yvonne Chen, Piano
Taiwanese-American pianist Yvonne Chen enjoys presenting unique programs such as her 2014 "Exploration of Harpsichord Music from the 20th Century", 2015's "MADNESS", a solo recital featuring Rzewski's de profundis for speaking pianist, and a 2016 program of music inspired by and featured in Murakami novels. Her piano quartet toured Leipzig in May 2015 to perform concerts of American works and collaborate with members of the Hochschule for Music and Theatre "Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy", and explores the duo repertoire with projects such as Living Music and DC/Philly tour with cellist, Mitchell Lyon.
A graduate of the Juilliard School, she is currently working on her doctorate at Rice University and the Benjamin Armistead Teaching Fellow at the Shepherd School of Music. In her spare time, she maintains a private teaching studio, enjoys trying out new Houston restaurants, and cuddles with her French Bulldog, Sir Reginald. www.pianistyvonnechen.com
photo credit: RICHIE HAWLEY
John Church, Trombone
John Church is a native to Portland, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. He began his trombone and musical career in the sixth grade, then a year later began taking private lessons with Michael Oft. Once in high school, John joined the Metropolitan Youth Symphony and subsequently joined the Portland Youth Philharmonic. After graduating high school in 2011, he began his undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon, where he graduated in 2015. John would then start his professional work as an orchestral trombonist, subbing with multiple orchestras in Oregon, including: Oregon Symphony, Eugene Symphony, Portland Opera, Astoria Music Festival, Newport Symphony, Mozart Players, and Salem Chamber Orchestra. After his time as an undergraduate, John decided to further his studies as a Master’s student at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. Within his first year, he performed with the Shepherd Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and won his first professional job with the Portland Opera as their principal trombonist. John will graduate from the Shepherd School in the Spring of 2018, and will continue along the path as an orchestral trombonist.
Douglas DeVries, Flute
Flutist Douglas DeVries completed his Graduate Studies at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where he studied with Leone Buyse. A winner of From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke $10,000 Young Artist Award, Mr. DeVries has performed around the world in solo recitals, concerto performances, with orchestras and chamber ensembles. Highlights include performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic during their summer season at the Hollywood Bowl, a tour to Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms, and recitals at The Juilliard School and at Central Presbyterian Church in New York City.
Mr. DeVries has enjoyed an active teaching schedule privately, at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, and in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. He has also served on faculty of the Fine Arts Summer Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. He received his Bachelor of Music from The Juilliard School in New York City. In his free time, he enjoys running, swimming and biking. For his goal to participate in a triathlon, he is preparing for his first marathon.
Daniel Egan, trumpet
Daniel Egan is a native of Verona, New Jersey, and a recent graduate of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, studying with Professors Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer. Mr. Egan received his undergraduate degree at Indiana University as a student of John Rommel. Professionally, he has performed with numerous orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, National Symphony, Houston Symphony, Alabama Symphony, and the Jacksonville Symphony. He was a fellow with the National Repertory Orchestra in the summer of 2013. He is an active member of Loop38, a Houston-based new music collective. An enthusiastic teacher, Daniel was the trumpet faculty member at the Luzerne Music Center in Lake Luzerne, NY. He maintains an active studio in the greater Houston area and in his spare time enjoys playing jazz, reading, and exercising.
Thomas Frey, clarinet
An orchestral and solo clarinetist, Thomas Frey is pursuing a Bachelors of Music Degree at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music with Professor Richie Hawley. Before his studies at Rice, Thomas attended Interlochen and placed in multiple statewide orchestral competitions in Texas, playing under the batons of Dr. Mallory Thompson, Kevin Noe, and others. Since attending Rice, he remains an active member of Hear and Now, the Shepherd School’s Contemporary Music Ensemble, and is currently commissioning several works by local composers. An advocate for globalizing music, Thomas spent this past summer studying traditional Korean music in Seoul, South Korea, and collaborated with Korean, Taiwanese, and Turkish composers. He has performed with the Fort Worth Symphony and the Cleburne Opera, as well as other regional orchestras, and his previous mentors include Andy Crisanti, David Warren, Victoria Luperi, Greg Raden, Burt Hara, and Alexander Fiterstein. In his free time, Thomas enjoys powerlifting, cooking, and shooting pool.
photo credit: NATALIE GAYNOR
Austin Lewellen, Double Bass
A former trombonist, Austin Lewellen found his calling when the bass player in his high school jazz band was arrested for possession. Well-versed in both orchestral and contemporary music, Austin has held fellowships at the National Orchestral Institute in Maryland, the Internationale Ensemble Modern Akademie in Austria, and the Lucerne Festival Academy in Switzerland. An alumnus of the Oberlin Conservatory, he is now a graduate student of Paul Ellison at the Shepherd School of Music.
Aside from his work with Loop38, Austin is an active member of Lynn Lane’s Transitory Sound and Movement Collective. When Austin isn’t playing bass, you can probably find him running in the neighborhoods near Rice or grinding coffee at the House of Coffee Beans.
Caitlin Mehrtens, harp
An avid supporter of contemporary art, Caitlin Mehrtens has worked extensively with composers and new music organizations to support and perform new work. Since 2014, Caitlin has been the Outreach Director for “The Syndicate for the New Arts”, which is a non-profit organization based in Cleveland, Ohio, founded to promote local, contemporary art. Caitlin is a co-founder of the duo “Partly Cloudy” with bassist Austin Lewellen, and is an active member of the Transitory Movement and Sound Collective.
She has performed numerous times as a concerto soloist, most recently with the Akademisches Orchester in Leipzig, Germany at the Gewandhaus, and also with the National Repertory Orchestra, the Texas Music Festival Orchestra, the Ocean City Pops Orchestra, the Stars in the Classics Concert Series, and the Orchestra Society of Philadelphia.
A current Masters student at the Shepherd School of Music under Paula Page, Caitlin received her bachelor’s degree from the Oberlin Conservatory under Yolanda Kondonassis, with a major in Harp Performance and a second Independent Major called “Communication through Multi-Cultural Music and Movement”. Caitlin grew up in Thornton, Pennsylvania, and when she's not playing the harp, she can probably be found dancing, enjoying the outdoors, or daydreaming about owning a dog.
Jacob Schafer, Violin
Violinist Jacob Schafer performs widely as a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral player. A Da Camera of Houston Young Artist for the 2017–2018 season, he also frequently plays with other groups around the city, including Rice’s student-run contemporary ensemble Hear & Now. In the summer of 2018 he will be a New Fromm Player at the Tanglewood Music Center. Dedicated to education, Jacob teaches violin at the Campbell Learning Center in Houston and tutors music theory privately. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, he graduated from Yale University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music and in Ethics, Politics, and Economics, and is now pursuing a Master of Music at Rice University, where he studies with Paul Kantor. schaferjacob.wordpress.com
photo by Ben Doyle
Alexandra Smither, soprano
Named one of CBC’s 2017 “30 Hot Musicians Under 30”, soprano Alexandra Smither has been making a name for herself in the worlds of old and new music. She made her triumphant debut with Houston Grand Opera in as Younger Alyce in their production of Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied, in which she “imbued her solo aria “My Darling Jim” with heartbreaking tenderness” (Texas Classical Review). Additionally she has appeared on the operatic stage as Gretel (Hansel und Gretel, Rice University), Mrs. Waters (The Boatswain’s Mate, Opera5), Esmeralda (The Bartered Bride, Music Academy of the West), Lydia (Second Nature, Music Academy of the West).
She swept all top prizes in the prestigious 2017 Eckhardt-Gramatée Competition, including the prize for best performance of the commissioned work. She subsequently toured her prize-winning recital of contemporary works across Canada. As a Soprano Fellow, she made her Tanglewood Music Festival debut alongside Emanuel Ax in June of 2017 for a performance of Schubert’s “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen”. She returns as a Fellow again in 2018; performances will include the premiere of a new piece for soprano and wind dectet by Theo Chandler. Also comfortable in early music, she has sung with acclaimed ensembles Ars Lyrica and Emmanuel Music.
2018 brings performances at the Banff Centre, Melbourne Metropolis Festival, Vancouver’s “Music in the Morning”, a tour of Japan as through Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques, and the inaugural tour of PushBack Collective with bassoonist Ben Roidl-Ward. Ms. Smither has held fellowships at Songfest, Carnegie Hall, the Banff Centre, and Music Academy of the West. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto (BMus 2014) and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University (MMus 2016); as a graduate of the University of Toronto she received the music faculty’s highest graduating award, the Tecumseh Sherman Rogers Memorial Fellowship. She was the co-founder of Rice University’s student contemporary ensemble Hear&Now, and is currently a member of the Houston based new music ensemble Loop38.
Committed to making contemporary music more approachable and accessible, Ms. Smither has given lecture recitals and masterclasses at institutions including the University of Toronto and James Madison University. Additionally, she has given a masterclass on traditional operatic repertoire at the Harvard College Opera Society.
When she is not singing, Ms. Smither enjoys poetry, obsessively exploring restaurant menus, dancing, gin, and dachshunds.
Nathan Watts, cello
Originally from Oaklyn, New Jersey, Nathan Watts is currently living in Houston pursuing a varied freelance career. Mr. Watts is a member of the Houston-based Kinetic The Conductorless Ensemble, a 16 piece string orchestra formed in 2015 dedicated to high energy and innovative live performances. For the 2017/18 Da Camera season, he is a Da Camera Young Artist allowing him to have a variety of performances and school visits across Houston. Mr. Watts has also performed with artists such as Jackie Parker, Joel Smirnoff, Robert Dick, Kathleen Winkler, James Dunham, Cleveland Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, and Vienna Philharmonic members. Participation in music festivals include the Aspen Music Festival, the Tanglewood Music Center, Bowdoin International Music Festival, Orford Summer Academy, the North German Youth Orchestra, the National Summer Cello Institute, and the Pacific Music Festival. Mr. Watts holds a Bachelor of Music from the Cleveland Institute of Music studying with Stephen Geber and a Master of Music with Desmond Hoebig.