Congratulations to the GCTYO Principal Orchestra musicians who advanced to the Final Round of the 2023 Concerto Competition! Read about each finalist and the adjudicators below.
2023 Concerto Competition Finalists
Who won in 2023?? Scroll down to find out!
Principal cellist Sophia Vellotti, 17, has been studying music for eight years in school and outside of school. Sophia has been focused on an intensive music performance path and has attended many music festivals, events, and ensemble performances. A member since fifth grade, GCTYO has been an important factor in her love for performance. At GCTYO, Sophia has played pieces such as Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, and multiple world premieres. Sophia has played a variety of concertos, including most recently the Haydn Concerto in C major and Dvorak Concerto in B minor, as well as chamber works and more recently her own compositions. Outside of performance, she taught for several years at Assumption Catholic School as part of the GCTYO volunteer-teaching outreach program. Currently, Sophia runs her own cello teaching business, primarily for beginner and intermediate level students. She attends private lessons at the Hartt School with Cleveland School of Music graduate Andrea Mills. After finishing her senior year of high school, Sophia plans on acquiring a bachelor’s degree in cello performance and further emerging as a successful member of the music world.
Michael Sigal, age 16, has been studying violin with Teri Einfeldt for 10 years at the Hartt School of Music. Michael is a junior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, where he plays in the school and chamber orchestras. Michael has been a violinist with the Apollo Quartet and has participated in several youth orchestra programs. In 2021 and 2022, he performed with the CMEA Western Regional Orchestra and CMEA All State Orchestra and was accepted into the 2021 All-Nationals Festival. Michael has also participated in summer programs, including Kinhaven and Music Adventure in Italy. Michael joined GCTYO in 2022. In his school, Michael is the concertmaster of the FLHS Chamber Orchestra, a member of Tri-M (Music Honor Society) and a singer in the FLHS Chamber Choir. Outside of music, he is the editor-in-chief of the FLHS Prospect Newspaper and enjoys writing in his free time.
Mark Jalkut is a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. At age 9, Mark began playing the viola, starting private lessons a year later. During the past year, Mark has studied under Aekyung Kim, the Assistant Principal Violist of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.
Mark Jalkut is a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. At age 9, Mark began playing the viola, starting private lessons a year later. During the past year, Mark has studied under Aekyung Kim, the Assistant Principal Violist of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Mark joined GCTYO in his freshman year and has also participated in the GCTYO Advanced Chamber ensemble. He travelled to Spain and Portugal last summer with his GCTYO friends and family. Mark has earned a spot in the Connecticut Music Educators Association All-State Festival every year since his sophomore year. He enjoyed his Chamber Music experiences at the Philadelphia International Music Festival in 2019 and 2021. He also has performed with multiple quartets under Asya Meshberg in her summer and year-round programs. Mark is his school’s Tri-M Orchestra Representative and plans to pursue a major in Music Education in college next year.
Kyra Brown is a sophomore at New Milford High School. It’s their second year participating in both GCTYO and the Concerto Competition. They began studying cello at the age of 7 and quickly joined the local community youth orchestra. An active member of the Decatur (Alabama) Youth Symphony and Chamber Ensemble, Kyra served as a mentor for other children beginning cello as part of a peer coaching program. They participated in “Cellobration” at the University of Alabama and they were a 2020 finalist in the junior division of the Tennessee Cello Workshop in Knoxville, TN. Kyra joined GCTYO last year, performing with Principal Orchestra and Advanced Chamber Ensemble. Kyra is also an accomplished pianist, composer, and vocalist. They have won recognition from the Alabama Music Teacher Association in both piano and piano composition and from the National Federation of Music Clubs in composition. They also participated in the All-State vocal festival in the Middle School Treble Choir and as Outstanding Accompanist for the entire festival. Kyra continues to enjoy composing for piano and ensembles, including choral ensembles. They also took part in the 2022 All State mixed choir. Kyra would like to thank their accompanist and piano teacher, Ray Pierpont, and their cello teacher, Mary Costanza, for their encouragement and support.
Cristian Rodriguez, age 17, has been studying violin for 12 years. Cristian is in his senior year at Masuk High School in Monroe. He has also been in GCTYO since the fifth grade and is currently studying AP Music Theory online through VHS. Cristian is currently president of Tri-M and co-president of orchestra in Masuk High School…
Cristian Rodriguez, age 17, has been studying violin for 12 years. Cristian is in his senior year at Masuk High School in Monroe. He has also been in GCTYO since the fifth grade and is currently studying AP Music Theory online through VHS. Cristian is currently president of Tri-M and co-president of orchestra in Masuk High School, and he enjoys planning and executing events and fundraisers for his orchestra and music department. In the future he wants to pursue a degree in Music Education and hopes to work as an orchestra director at a high school level.
Brian Li, age 15, is a sophomore honors student at The Williams School in New London. Brian comes from a musical family. His older siblings are current and former GCTYO members. Brian is in his third year of Principal Orchestra after joining GCTYO seven years ago as a 4th grader. Brian began his cello studies at age 7 with his mother…
Brian Li, age 15, is a sophomore honors student at The Williams School in New London. Brian comes from a musical family. His older siblings are current and former GCTYO members. Brian is in his third year of Principal Orchestra after joining GCTYO seven years ago as a 4th grader. Brian began his cello studies at age 7 with his mother, private music teacher Katie Callaghan. In 2020, he began 18 months of online studies with Juilliard-trained cellist Bernard Tamosaitis of White Plains, NY. Brian currently studies with Allison Eldredge, an internationally-renowned soloist, Avery Fisher Career Grant winner and faculty member of Harvard University and New England Conservatory. Brian has also participated in Young Talent Chamber Music with Ms. Eldredge. Other chamber music studies have included a Haydn quartet workshop with the Manhattan String Quartet. This year he is engaged in two of the Philadelphia International Music Festival Soloist Performance Programs (PIMF-SPS), during the summer at Valley Forge, PA and in the winter in Miami, FL. He studies at PIMF-SPS with John Koen, former Principal Cellist and current member of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Outside of music, Brian enjoys playing lacrosse, swimming, and soccer for The Williams School. He is on the Harvard Model Congress team at Williams. He swims for the Nutmeg Aquatics Club in East Lyme and plays for the Shoreline Sharks Lacrosse Club. He has been a Top 16 swimmer in Connecticut for 4 years. He enjoys sailing and traveling with his family.
Alexander Parent, age 16, has been studying cello for 8 years, predominantly under the excellent direction of Adam Grabois. Alex, a junior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, CT has enjoyed performing with the school chamber orchestras, securing principal cellist this year. He has been a dedicated member of the Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestras (GCTYO) since fourth grade, performing with the Principal Orchestra for the past 4 years. Alex has earned a seat in the CMEA Western Regional High School Festival Orchestra 3 years in a row. Alex is also an active member of Tri-M Honor Society and Orchestra Club. He has participated in a wide variety of quartets through the GCTYO chamber program in collaboration with Orchestra Lumos, the Asya Meshberg Chamber Music Institute, the Amici Chamber Program, and the New England Music Camp Chamber Music Intensive. Additionally, he teaches cello to elementary students in Fairfield. Outside of music, Alex is the captain and goalkeeper of the Ludlowe varsity soccer team, a varsity member of the Fairfield ski team, and a Junior Deacon at Greenfield Hills Congregational Church. In early February, his Eagle Scout project at the Multicultural Magnet and High Horizons School rehabilitating their orchestra room, will be completed. Alex plans to pursue both a music and science major in college.
Music Director and Alumnus of the Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestras (GCTYO), Christopher James Hisey, has conducted concerts throughout the United States, Europe, Mexico and China.
Music Director and Alumnus of the Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestras (GCTYO), Christopher James Hisey, has conducted concerts throughout the United States, Europe, Mexico and China. Maestro Hisey has conducted with such notable musicians as Sir James Galway, Tim Janis, Jackie Evancho, James Dunham, Chris Finckel, and Deborah Wong.
In addition to his duties with GCTYO, Maestro Hisey serves as Music Director of the American Chamber Orchestra and is Co-founder and Music Director of the Connecticut Philharmonic. He has also served as Music Director of the Civic Orchestra of New Haven, Connecticut Valley Chamber Orchestra, Troupers Light Opera Company, and Perrysburg Symphony Chorale, and as Associate Conductor of the Perrysburg Symphony, Bowling Green Philharmonia and Opera Theater Orchestras.
Maestro Hisey has been a guest and cover conductor of the Greater Bridgeport Symphony and has made appearances with the Ruse Philharmonic and Pleven Philharmonic in Bulgaria, and the St. Petersburg “Klassika” Symphony, formerly the Leningrad State Philharmonic, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
A passionate and sought-after music educator, Maestro Hisey frequently appears as guest adjudicator and clinician at schools and festivals throughout the region. His student orchestras have won top prizes in competition and have been invited to appear at Carnegie Hall, NAFME Eastern Music Festival and other festivals and concerts in the United States and abroad. He has served as Professor of Conducting, Orchestration and Music Director of the Orchestra at Manhattanville College and Professor of Conducting and Music Director of the Orchestra at Fairfield University. Maestro Hisey has been Director of Orchestras and Chamber Music at Greens Farms Academy in Westport, CT for 20 years.
Maestro Hisey holds a bachelor’s degree in Viola Performance from the Eastman School of Music and master’s degree in Conducting from Bowling Green State University. He has been fortunate to study conducting with Emily Freeman Brown, David Effron, Gustav Meier, Donald Portnoy, and Donald Hunsberger.
An avid chamber musician, violist Suzanne Wagor has collaborated with numerous artists, including members of the Tokyo String Quartet, the Nash Ensemble of London, and the Peabody Trio. Suzanne holds a B.M. from the Oberlin Conservatory, and an M.M. from the Juilliard School. She also received a Performance Diploma in Orchestral Training from the Guildhall School of Music, with additional chamber music studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Her principal teachers include William Preucil, Sr., Jeffrey Irvine, Lynne Ramsey, Ian Swensen, Roger Chase, Heidi Castleman, and Misha Amory. Suzanne is particularly at home performing viola piano duos and smaller chamber works, and performs regularly in New York City and Connecticut, as well as internationally, with performances in the Czech Republic, Croatia, Britain, and around the US.
With more than twenty years of teaching experience, Suzanne received her Suzuki training at the School for Strings under the tutelage of Louise Behrend, Allen Lieb, and Ekaterina Gerson, and has served on the faculty of Northern Arizona University, Coe College, The School for Strings, the Special Music School (P.S. 859), The Lucy Moses School, and the New York Youth Symphony Chamber Music Program, the Hudson River School of Music in Dobbs Ferry, and recently served as the Suzuki coordinator at the Music Conservatory of Westchester in White Plains. Suzanne is currently on the faculty at Western Connecticut State University and maintains a vibrant private studio of violin and viola students from ages 3 to adult.
Hafez Taghavi is a violinist and teacher in Connecticut and New York. He attended Western Connecticut State University and earned a Bachelor of Music degree in violin performance. Before entering college, Mr. Taghavi enjoyed a widespread performing career which included concerts at the Kennedy Center…
Hafez Taghavi is a violinist and teacher in Connecticut and New York. He attended Western Connecticut State University and earned a Bachelor of Music degree in violin performance. Before entering college, Mr. Taghavi enjoyed a widespread performing career which included concerts at the Kennedy Center, Strathmore Hall, Constitution Hall, and three cities in Bolivia. While studying at WCSU, Mr. Taghavi was concertmaster of both the Symphony Orchestra and Opera Ensemble for four years. He went on to complete a Master of Music degree at the conservatory at Purchase College. While pursuing both of his music degrees, he received extensive chamber music coaching from the Manhattan String Quartet and has performed chamber music in New York City and internationally. Mr. Taghavi has performed with the Ives Festival Symphony orchestra as Principal 2nd and Associate Concertmaster. As a soloist, he has performed concerti at Yale University with the Civic Orchestra of New Haven, the WCSU Symphony Orchestra, and other local ensembles. After his performance with the WCSU Orchestra, the Danbury News Times described him as a “… promising, talented soloist.” In addition to classical music, Mr. Taghavi actively plays in a wide variety of other genres. This includes performances with the band Lez Zeppelin, country recording artist Ashton Shepherd, Moroccan folk singer Saida Fikri, and a live performance on Connecticut’s i95 rock station. He can also be heard on the soundtrack to the documentary, Enquiring Minds, and on a trailer for the critically acclaimed computer game, World of Warcraft. Mr. Taghavi is currently an adjunct professor of violin and chamber music at WCSU and is Director of Orchestra and Chamber Music at the Canterbury School. He serves as an artist faculty member at the Interharmony International Music Festival in Italy, maintains a private studio in Danbury, CT, and is a member of the Lotus Chamber Music Collective and the Deming Quartet. Mr. Taghavi is active with non-profits and serves as a board member for Families United in Newtown. He plays on a contemporary Italian violin by Laura Vigato and uses an antique French bow by Eugene Sartory.