Meet the Orchestra
Amelia Baker is a 17-year-old violist who began playing at the age of 10. She is a senior at Klein Forest High School under the orchestral direction of Mamie Morlacci and Carlos Quiroz. She studies privately with Carlos Lara. She has attended multiple summer endeavors including the American Festival for the Arts (AFA) Summer Symphony Orchestra Camp and Sam Houston State University Summer Orchestra Camp. She earned a spot in the 2019 Region IX Philharmonic orchestra and also Region IX Symphony and Philharmonic orchestras during middle school years. She has competed in the Texas UIL Solo and Ensemble Contest, earning excellent ratings for solo performance at the district level along with earning excellent ratings for her ensemble at the district, region, and state level. When not rehearsing with her high school orchestra or Virtuosi of Houston, she is busy commanding her Air Force Junior ROTC (AFJRROTC) color guard unit at school and participating in her school’s law enforcement practicum.
Felipe Benitez, 15, is a sophomore violinist at Klein Forest High School under the orchestral direction of Mamie Morlacci and Carlos Quiroz. He began playing the violin at the age of 11½, and currently studies with Eugeniu Cheremoush. Felipe has earned a position in the Region IX Orchestra as a first violin consistently since the 8th grade. He has also received superior ratings every year at the Texas UIL Solo and Ensemble Contest for his solo performances. Felipe has participated in the AFA Summer Music Festival, and enjoys playing in the Champion Forest Baptist Church Orchestra. His non-music hobbies include weightlifting and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Felipe aspires to attend a university where he can double major in both violin performance and computer science.
Abigail Brooks, 18, is a senior double bassist and homeschool student who currently studies with Gabriel Katz. She is known for her warm, outgoing disposition and her contagious joy for music. She fell in love with the double bass in middle school and has been playing it ever since. She has earned a position in the Region 27 orchestra for the last four years, ranking first for three consecutive years. She has been a two-time prize winner at the Virtuosi of Houston Concerto Competition. Abigail was a founding member of a Virtuosi of Houston all-bass ensemble coached by Eric Larson of the Houston Symphony. She has attended the Bradetich Foundation Double Bass Masterclass Camp at the University of North Texas, and the AFA Summer Music Festival. She has studied with Jeff Bradetich (UNT), Jack Unzicker (UT-Arlington), and Andy Moritz. She is ecstatic about playing with Virtuosi for her fourth and final season, and currently serves as Principal Bass. After graduating this year she hopes to have left a meaningful footprint on the bass section at Virtuosi.
Katherine Butler, 18, has studied violin for 14 years and is in her fifth season with Virtuosi. Her current teacher is Katrina Bobbs-Savitski. She is a senior at HSPVA and is co-concertmaster of the Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Bradley Smith. In recent summers, she has attended the Online Solo Strings Intensive, Interlochen Arts Camp (to which she received a full scholarship), and Sewanee Summer Music Festival. She has been in the first violin section of the 2017-2020 Region 23 Symphony Orchestras, performing as concertmaster in 2018 and 2020, and assistant concertmaster in 2019. She was also a first violinist in the 2018 TMEA All-State Philharmonic, assistant concertmaster of the 2019 All-State Symphony, and a first violinist in the 2020 All-State Symphony. As a competition winner, she appeared as a soloist with the Houston Symphony, Virtuosi of Houston, and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival Orchestra. Her solo debut with the Energy Corridor of Houston Orchestra has been postponed due to COVID-19. She has also received recognition from the National Young Arts Foundation as a 2019 merit winner. Past and summer festival teachers include Paul Kantor, Ara Sarkissian, Dr. Gregory Lee, Dr. Kirsten Yon, Florence Muller, Eileen Chen, and Juliette Javaheri. In her free time, she enjoys arranging music, mixing audio, and playing chamber music.
Ethan Bydalek is an 18-year-old cellist who has played cello for 4 years. Ethan recently graduated from Cypress Falls High school, where he was under the orchestral direction of Dr. John Ricarte and Ms. Ruby Ortiz. During his time at Cypress Falls, he competed in UIL Solo & Ensemble and received Superior (1) ratings for all of his performances. Ethan is currently taking a gap year to focus on music and to prepare for college. He is currently a member of the Houston Youth Symphony. In the past, Ethan attended the Texas All-State Strings Camp, SFA Summer Strings Camp, and the AFA Chamber Music Academy. He is currently studying cello under Maki Kubota, a member of the Houston Symphony. Past private teachers include Max Geissler, Kacee Dugas, and Yi-fan Chen. When he isn’t involved in music, Ethan enjoys walking at the park and going out with his family.
Ava Cosse’, 13, began playing violin at 2 ½ years of age, and also plays piano. She currently studies violin with Mrs. Medea Guldedava, and piano with Alyssa Fitch. Ava is an eighth grader at Beverly Hills Intermediate School in Houston, where she plays in the Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Sandra Shaffer and Ana Payne. Along with Virtuosi of Houston, Ava is also a member of the Bay Area Youth Symphony. She has also participated in the American Festival of the Arts (AFA) Summer Music Festival. She has received superior ratings at Texas UIL Solo and Ensemble contests, and won a gold cup award for consistently superior ratings at piano competitions. Ava recently won 2nd Prize at the BAYS Concerto Competition, and has also earned positions in the TMEA Region 19 Orchestra. She is an Honor Roll student, and when she’s not practicing Ava enjoys spending time with her family, composing, arts and craft activities, playing sports with friends, and playing with her dog, Fermata.
Jared Diks is 17 years old, and has been playing the French horn since he was 11. He attends Stephen F. Austin High School and is in the eleventh grade. In 2018, he had the honor of performing at the Midwest clinic in Chicago with the Austin High School full orchestra. He has consistently qualified for the high school All-Region band and orchestra three times each, placing first chair in both of these endeavors his sophomore year. He went on to qualify for and participate in the 2019 All-State band, where he earned the title of highest ranked sophomore in Texas. His private teachers have included Michael Woodard, Matthew Baldridge, and Jamie Leff. Directing his school band are Ryan Demkovich and Logan Nagai, with Ann Victor directing his orchestra. He enjoys playing hockey and hanging out with his friends.
Nathan Dumrongthai, 15, is a 10th grader studying at the Village High School. He began playing the cello at the age of 9, studying with Apichai Leamthong in Thailand. He has also played the piano since 5 years of age. In 2016, he attended his first music camp, Encore Music Projects, at the Wells Cathedral School in Wells, Somerset, England. In 2017, he moved from Thailand to Malaysia where he began playing in the Selangor Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2019, he moved to the United States and is currently studying with Dr. Daniel Saenz at the Paganini School of Music in Katy, Texas. Nathan is returning for his 2nd season with Virtuosi of Houston. In addition to playing cello and piano, Nathan enjoys composing music of his own.
Sarah Gabay is a junior at Memorial High School. She has been playing the French Horn since the sixth grade. Her achievements in playing the French horn include All District Band in 7th grade and All Region Band in 8th, 9th and 10th grades. She ranked number one in the region in 2017. She also was selected to be in All Region Orchestra in the 8th grade as well as the 10th grade. She earned top rankings for both her solos and ensembles during her 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th grades while also being invited to compete in the Texas State Solo and Ensemble Contest last summer where she received a silver medal for her solo. Sarah was a featured soloist in her 10th grade All Region Band performance.
Tarryn Goldner, 17, started playing the bassoon at 12 years of age. He also plays the contrabassoon and drum set. Tarryn is a senior at Clear Falls High School in League City under the band direction of Mr. Brian Moreno. He studies privately with Ms. Haley Houk. He played for the Houston Youth Symphony for 4 years and episodically plays with the Clear Lake Area Symphony. Tarryn has attended the Bocal Majority Double Reed Camp, Stars and Stripes Band Camp, Baylor Band Camp, LSU’s Double Reed Day, Sam Houston State’s Double Reed Day, and Camp Electric. Tarryn has made region band every year since 7th grade and the TMEA All-State Band/Orchestra his 9th, 10th, and 11th grade year. Tarryn is a member of the National Honor Society, and is his school band’s vice president and Drum Major. He enjoys playing drum set for his church worship team, as well as video editing, arranging music, playing in spike ball tournaments, all things Marvel-related, scuba diving, and amusement parks. Tarryn aspires to study music performance at NYU and play bassoon in a Symphony Orchestra.
Arturo Gonzalez, 14, has been playing the cello since the age of 11. He is in the 8th grade at Knox Junior High in the Woodlands, Texas, under the orchestra direction of Shelby Nichols. He studies privately with Linda McGregor. Arturo has been a participant in the American Festival of the Arts (AFA) program, the Woodlands Area Youth Symphony, and the Conroe ISD Honor Orchestra. He is in his first season with the Virtuosi of Houston. He has earned a top positions in the Region IX Middle School Region Orchestra and 2nd chair in the Conroe ISD Honor Orchestra. He has won multiple Gold medals for his performance at the Texas UIL Solo and Ensemble Contest. He is in the National Honor Society, and his hobby is programming. Arturo has attended several Microsoft programming summer camps, and recently completed the Duke TIP Video Game Programming course. He has three guppy fish and fifty shrimp.
Sarah Hall, 15, is a sophomore at Cypress Ranch High School in her fourth year with Virtuosi. Sarah began playing the violin at age six with Chaiwat Rodsuwan, then studied under Caroline Ewan for five years, during which time she transitioned to viola. She now studies with Ivo-Jan van der Werff, viola faculty at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. She is currently principal violist in her school’s chamber orchestra under the direction of Elizabeth Ledford, and earned placement as principal violist in her region orchestra last year. Outside of school orchestra, Sarah has been involved in other string opportunities such as the American Festival of the Arts (AFA) Chamber Music Academy and summer festival, Houston Youth Symphony, and Sewanee Summer Music Festival. In eighth grade, Sarah also began studying bassoon with Rachel Roberman, achieving region placement, and additionally now plays euphonium with the high school marching band under the direction of Alex Denton, Zachary Fink, Timothy Greene, and Benjamin Adams. Other instruments she has played include cello, clarinet, bass clarinet, and trumpet.
Hannah Han is a 12 year old, 7th grade student at the Westchester Academy for International Studies. She began studying violin at the age of 3 at Peabody Preparatory. At the Shepherd School of Music Preparatory Program of Rice University, studied violin with Mrs. Sylvia Ouellette for five years and became a student of Mrs. Rodica Gonzalez – a member of the Houston Symphony – in 2018. She has performed more than twenty recitals (solo and chamber ensembles) at Rice University, and participated in the AFA summer Music Festival for 2017- 2018 in the first violin section of the Symphonia and Camerata Orchestra. She won fifth place in 2019 and placed first during early 2020 in the annual Virtuosi of Houston Immanuel and Helen B. Olshan Concerto Competition. Hannah was also a finalist for the 22nd Symphony North of Houston Young Artist Concerto Competition. This is her third season with the Virtuosi of Houston. She also played piano for two years and loves to sing. In addition to music, Hannah is a passionate fencer and has received 12 medals from regional and national fencing competitions. She also enjoys many other hobbies, ranging from other performing arts and athletic activities, to academics.
Graydon Harrison, 17, is a senior at Porter High School in Porter, Texas. He has played bassoon since he was 12 years old, as well as violin, piano, and clarinet. Harrison has achieved state-level recognition several times throughout his high school career, including TMEA All- State three consecutive years beginning his freshman year. Graydon placed first in Texas for 5A Bassoons this past year. He has also advanced to the UIL State Solo and Ensemble contest three years in a row, qualifying for 4 ensembles this past year, as well as the UIL State Marching Contest for two years, in 2017 and 2019. For the last 2 years he has enjoyed serving as drum major of the Porter High School Spartan Marching Band. Outside of music, Harrison enjoys cooking, baking, gardening, and any activity where he can express himself creatively.
Sarah Hart, 17, is a junior at Cy Fair High School, where she is a member of the Chamber Orchestra, led by Kevin Ray. She began playing the viola at age 11, and has been studying with Dr. Nina Bledsoe Knight since the summer of 2016. She has been a part of the TMEA Region 27 Symphony Orchestra every year since 2017, and has earned 1s on her solo and ensemble performances at UIL competitions since 2017. She has attended the Texas All-State Strings Camp each summer since 2018, as well as the University of Saint Thomas Viola Day in 2017 and 2019. At school, she is an Orchestra officer and a member of Tri-M Music Honor Society and Spanish National Honor Society. She is also a member of Second Baptist Church. In her free time, Sarah enjoys reading, cycling, and spending time with her dogs, Mars, Venus, and Chewie.
Mary Brook Hartmann, 14, has been playing cello since the age of 8. She studies with Wendy Smith-Butler, Max Geissler, and collaborative pianist Charlie Tauber. She won First Prize at the 2020 International Music Competition “Grand Prize Virtuoso” in Bonn, Germany, and has won prizes at the Immanuel and Helen P. Olshan Foundation Concerto Competition, the Houston Civic Symphony Young Artist Concerto Competition, and Texas MTNA. She has attended the International Cello Institute, the Eastman Cello Institute, Vivace Cello Festival, and Orford Music Academy. Mary Brook is returning for her 3rd season with Virtuosi of Houston, currently as principal cello. She plays in the Houston Youth Symphony’s top orchestra and earned a spot in the 2020 Texas All-State Orchestra. She studies music theory and composition with composer Grace Ann Lee in the Michael P. Hammond Preparatory Program at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. She is a freshman at the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas, under the music direction of Dr. Bradley Smith.
Ukyo Honjo is a 16-year-old violinist from Hiroshima, Japan, who started playing violin at the age of 11. He also plays the piano, which he started at the age of 6. He currently studies with Martin Dimitrov at the Paganini School of Music, and previously studied with Quan Jiang. He is a junior at James E. Taylor High School under the orchestral direction of Clinton Capshaw. He has attended the American Festival for the Arts (AFA) Chamber Music Academy, the Texas All State Strings Camp, and the University of North Texas Summer String Institute. He was awarded a position in the Region 23 Orchestra his sophomore year, where he served as Principal 2nd Violin. He has received superior ratings at Texas UIL Solo and Ensemble contests every year since his freshman year. Ukyo is excited to begin his first season with Virtuosi of Houston. In addition to music, he enjoys cooking and spending time with his family.
Mani Hourfar, 14, is a freshman pianist at the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) under the direction of Rodolfo Morales. He has been playing piano since the age of 9. He currently studies with Richard Marshall in the Michael P. Hammond Preparatory program of the Shepherd School at Rice University, where he also studies advanced music theory and composition with composer Alex Berko. Mani will debut his first piano composition at the Rice Preparatory World Premier composition concert in December. He is currently working on his ABRSM Grade 8 piano certificate, and is excited at the unique opportunity to expand his skills on the harpsichord through Virtuosi of Houston this season. Passionate about music, Mani has also played violin since the age of 6. His other hobbies include chess, reading, and playing chamber music with his friends. He volunteers as a piano tutor with the organization Teaching To Give, and has been teaching piano for over 2 years.
Emme Jennings is a senior and is excited for her fourth season with Virtuosi. She began violin at age three with Brigette Yawn, studied 7 years with Caroline Ewan, and since 2016 has studied with Rodica Gonzalez of the Houston Symphony. She began piano at age four with Barbara Sollock, studied 9 years with Judith Habermacher, and is currently studying with Mihai Vatca. She auditioned and placed in the Region Orchestra first violin section in 2017 and 2018. In 2020, Emme earned her National Guild of Piano Teachers’ High School Diploma with an International Top Talent ranking. Emme is grateful to Virtuosi for providing opportunities to play for community and charitable events and it has been a joy for her to play and sing in church. Emme is President of her 4-H club and is on the Texas 4-H Air Pistol Team. She is a 2nd degree black belt and instructor with Cho’s Tae Kwon Do. Emme has been blessed to perform with Lone Star College under John Wolfskill and Alan Johnson, in concert with The Piano Guys, and twice in Washington, DC with Virtuosi.
Minjoo Kim, 17, is a senior at Cypress Ridge High School who has been playing the violin for 7 years. This is her second season with Virtuosi of Houston. Her musical journey includes being a member of the Houston Youth Symphony and TMEA Region 27 Orchestra, as well as receiving superior solo ratings in state and regional solo and ensemble competitions. Outside of music, Minjoo is active in many extracurricular activities at her school, such as clubs and honor societies.
James Laase is a 17 year old senior at Shadow Creek High School. He has been playing oboe for 6 years. James has in the past qualified for the regional band and orchestra, earning first chair for both ensembles. Additionally, he has qualified for the 5a All State Symphonic Band and the 6a All State Symphonic Band in his freshman and junior years respectively. On top of being a 3 year member of Virtuosi of Houston, James is a 4-year member of the Houston Youth Symphony. Over the summer of 2019, James had the pleasure to attend the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, in which he was the principal oboe of the World Youth Wind Symphony.
In addition to oboe, James is an avid member of his Boy Scout troop. Within scouting, he has earned the rank of Life Scout and is currently working towards achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. He has attended a multitude of high-adventure camps, including backpacking the Appalachian Trail.
James currently studies under Dr. Anne Leek and Annie Henneke. Other past instructors include Xiaodi Liu, Matt Lengus, and David Barford.
Tina Li, 16, a junior at Carnegie Vanguard High School, has been studying violin since the age of 5. She has earned a position in Region 23 orchestra every year since 6th grade and has won numerous accolades in Texas UIL Solo and Ensemble Contests. Tina is returning for her 6th year as a Virtuosi of Houston member. She has attended the Virtuosi of Houston Small Ensemble Workshop coached by Houston Symphony’s Fidelis quartet, and has been active as a chamber player throughout the city. Outside of the arts, she writes part-time for Buzz Magazine as one of their School Correspondents. Tina has been invited to numerous University research seminars and internships in the fields of economics and political science, including a two- week seminar at Rice University. In 2018, she was accepted by the U.S. Naval Academy to do a week-study of Marine Engineering in Annapolis, Maryland, where she developed interest in international affairs and diplomacy. She won first prize at the month-long Young Leaders Institute of Diplomacy at the Asia Society, and is looking forward to further studies in this area.
Julianna Marenco (Jay), 15, is a bassist in 10th grade at Cypress Ranch High School who is returning for a 3rd season with Virtuosi of Houston. Jay started taking bass lessons at age 10 with Gabriel Katz, studied with Nick Puccia for 3 years, and is now taking lessons with Andrew Moritz. Jay has been selected to be in the Cy Fair Region 27 orchestras for the past 5 years, and has also earned top ratings for both solo and ensemble performances in the Texas UIL competitions. Jay participated in the Virtuosi of Houston’s small group ensemble coached by Houston Symphony bassist Eric Larsen. When not playing the bass, Jay enjoys playing the piano, rock climbing, art, music, movies, chess, baking, and is in Key club. Jay has also started playing the bass guitar and is a founding member of the band Serene. During the pandemic, the Marenco family—which includes Jay’s two older sisters who play viola and cello—adopted two kittens, Henry and Charlie, who keep the family laughing with their antics.
Corinne McLeod, 15, is in the ninth grade at Legacy Academy, where she homeschools with her four younger siblings. Corinne began her study of violin in 2011 under Mrs. Lauren Kossler of the Winston Salem Symphony in North Carolina. She currently studies with Ms. Caroline Ewan of the Cypress Violin Studio. Corinne loves using her skill to play in various symphonies around Hou-ston. She joined the Houston Youth Symphony in 2019 under Dr. Jackson Guillen and currently plays under conductors Carolyn Vandiver and Ann Victor. Corinne attended Texas All State Strings Camp in 2020 and played for cellist Mike Bloch. When she is not playing or practicing, Corinne loves riding and jumping horses with her sister Sadie, playing golf with her siblings, and spending time with her bunnies, Rosie and Ollie. Corinne plans to pursue a career in violin performance.
Patricia Medina is an 18 year-old violist and senior at J. Frank Dobie High School. She has participated in many music endeavors such as the American Festival of the Arts (AFA) and the Virtuosi of Houston chamber development program, performing frequently as a chamber player in the Houston area. She has earned positions in the TMEA Region 19 orchestra for 6 consecutive years, and has participated in the Texas All-State Orchestra. Throughout her musical journey, she has excelled in performance. She was a prize-winner at the 2020 Virtuosi of Houston Concerto Competition, and has received superior ratings of 1 for every performance in the Texas UIL Solo and Ensemble competitions. She studies privately with Suzanne LeFevre, and is grateful for the support of her school orchestra faculty Angela Badon, Tam Doung and Stephen Payne. When she is not playing her instrument, she likes to spend time with her family and her two pets.
Maureen Min, 12, is in the 7th grade at Memorial Middle School. She began playing violin at the age of 6 in the Frostwood Fiddler program. She currently studies with Dr. Mauricio Oliveros, and has previously studied with Padua Canty and Katie Hemphill. She is in the Chamber Orchestra at Memorial Middle School under the direction of Ms. Megan Saavedra and Ms. Bethany Prindle. She has performed in several recitals and participated in the Sewanee Summer Music Festival for music composition with Dr. Jorge Variego in 2020. She played in the Houston Youth Symphony 2018-2020. Last year, Maureen played in the Symphony Orchestra for TMEA Region 27 and received Outstanding Performance at the Texas UIL Solo and Ensemble contest. In addition to violin, she has played piano since age 4, winning multiple awards including 1st place in the HMTA piano contest in February 2016 and the HMTA Winners Contest in May 2016. Maureen also enjoys taking vocal lessons and playing tennis.
Meena Pak, 13, is an 8th grader at Memorial Middle School. This is her first year with Virtuosi after spending two years with the Houston Youth Symphony. She has been playing violin since she was 5 and began playing the viola in 6th grade. Meena began her studies under Padua Canty and is now studying with Hannah Watson. She has enjoyed earning positions and participating in the TMEA Region Middle School Orchestra and the American Festival of the Arts (AFA) Summer Music Festivals. Outside of orchestra, she enjoys listening to all genres of music, going to the theater, travelling and spending time with friends and family. She is excited and eager to be a part of the Virtuosi family this year.
Mathew Perez, 16, has been playing the clarinet for five years. He started in the sixth grade at age 11, and is now studying at Manvel High School for his third year. He studies privately with Chester Rowell. He made Area for region band his freshman and sophomore years. He has earned superior ratings (1) for multiple consecutive years in the Texas UIL Solo and Ensemble contest. This will be his first season with the Virtuosi of Houston. Outside of music, he loves to do powerlifting with his best friend as well as spin with Manvel High School Band’s color guard.
Aaron Price is a 17-year-old Junior and first chair clarinet at the Ridge Point High School. He began playing the Bb Clarinet in the 6th grade when he was 12. Aaron is a member of the Houston Youth Symphony and takes private lessons from Chester Rowell, Afiliate Artist in Clarinet at Moores School of Music / UH. His High School band directors are Luis Saldana and William Burson, and his orchestra director is Henry Watts. As a Freshman, Aaron achieved a one at State Solo and Ensemble Competition and made the Region Band. This year, 2020, he made the All-State band, and Region Orchestra. He loves traveling and competing in tournaments for tennis, attends Texas A&M’s Tennis Camps in the summer, and he plays on the Varsity team at his school. Aaron enjoys spending time with his friends, and family, and is proud to be a member of Virtusoi of Houston.
Andrea Ramirez, 12, has been playing the violin since age 5 and piano since the age of 9. She studies violin with Mrs. Patricia Karakas, and is a 7th grade student at Spring Branch Middle School (SBMS) under the orchestra direction of Mrs. Cleo Miele. During elementary and middle school she participated in the SBISD Solo and Ensemble competition, where she has been awarded Outstanding Performance medals for five consecutive years. Andrea also earned the position of first violinist in the TMEA Region 27 Symphony Orchestra in both 6th and 7th grades. She has been a member of the SBMS Chamber Orchestra since 6th grade, and currently is concertmaster. She is an honor roll student, and during summers attends Fiddler’s Fair, where she has served as a mentor to elementary players. Andrea’s hobbies include guitar, volleyball, swimming, art, playing video games, and singing along to her favorite pop group 5SOS. Andrea is looking forward to her first season as a member of the Virtuosi of Houston.
Carlos Saavedra is an 18-year-old violinist from Sacramento, California, who currently is a senior at Klein Forest High School. He began playing the violin at the age of 7, and later joined the orchestra in middle school. He is the concertmaster of his school orchestra. He has attended the American Festival of the Arts (AFA) Summer Music Festival, where he was concertmaster for the Symphony and the Chamber Orchestras under the direction of Dr. Clifton Evans, Michelle Blair, and Ingrid Gerling. He has attended the Chloe Trevor Music Academy for two consecutive years and plans to attend a third. He earned top positions in the TMEA Region 9 Orchestra his freshman, sophomore, and senior years. Carlos is returning for his second season with Virtuosi. He began learning piano and guitar two years ago and recently began singing. Carlos is an active member of his school’s varsity tennis team, computer programming team, Spanish National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Business Professionals of America team, and Interact Club.
Devon Sanchez, 17, is from Houston, Texas, and attends Elkins High School in Fort Bend County. A talented flautist and musician, he has been playing flute for over seven years, as well as piano and electric bass guitar. Throughout high school, he has been a consistent member of the Region Band and Orchestra, playing in the Area Band and as 4th chair in the Region Orchestra. For the past two years, he has played in the Houston Youth Symphony, and has also attended the American Festival of the Arts (AFA) Music Festival in 2020. He is proud to have studied under the tutelage of Lilia Gamez and Peggy Russell.
Fernando De los Santos, 17, started playing the trumpet at the age of 12 years. He is a senior at Texas City High School under the direction of Mr. Benjamin Guillotte. He studies privately with Virtuosi alumnus Noah Adams. Fernando has made the TMEA Region band/orchestra nearly every year since 7th grade and has also earned positions in the TMEA 6A All-State Symphonic Band. Fernando has also been to jazz region competitions twice, where he earned the lead trumpet position for the top region jazz band, and advanced in competition to area Jazz for a spot in the All-State Jazz ensembles. He participates in the Texas City Mariachi Band, which has advanced to the UIL State Competition for three years consecutively. He is currently ranked in the top 20 in the state on trumpet. Fernando is a member of the National Honor Society, and is Drum Major for his high school marching band. He is a Houston Rockets basketball fan and loves watching basketball, playing his trumpet, hanging out with friends, and volunteering at his local community center.
Benjamin Serur, 16, is a Venezuelan cellist now living in the U.S. He began his musical studies at age 7, and trained in the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela. In 2016, he studied at the Simon Bolivar Music Conservatory in Caracas, where his mentors were the Maestros Francy Vasquez and Juan J. Romero. In 2017 he served as assistant principal cello of the Chacao Youth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of maestro Ulyses Ascanio. After emigrating to the U.S. in 2018, he has joined several local orchestras and participated in numerous concerts and recitals. He currently studies with Courtenay Vandiver Pereira. He was selected to participate in the 2020 International Cello Institute and was a prize-winner at the Virtuosi of Houston Concerto Competition. Benjamin participates in the orchestra at Mayde Creek High School in Katy ISD, and has earned positions in TMEA’s Region 23 Orchestra for three consecutive years. He plays in Houston Youth Symphony’s top orchestra, Symphony. Benjamin loves music and wants to be a professional musician.
Connor Thurman is a 17 year old senior trumpet player at Friendswood High school. Connor started playing trumpet in 6th grade band, and has made region band and orchestra every year since 7th grade, as well as the TMEA 6A All-State Symphonic Band in 2019. He was a member of HYS last year and a member of BAYS for two years. Connor won the BAYS concerto contest in 2018 and performed Hummel’s trumpet concerto with the orchestra the following year. He attended AFA in the summer of 2019, and would have attended Brevard this past summer. Connor also got to perform a concert in Carnegie Hall with the Honors Performance Series Orchestra in 2017. Connor plays in the Friendswood High School Wind Ensemble under Brett Nelson, and takes lessons from Richard Harris. Outside of playing trumpet, Connor enjoys playing frisbee and spending time outdoors.
Lucas Velasquez, 16, is a junior and cellist at Cypress Ranch High School under the orchestral direction of Elizabeth Ledford. This is his third season with Virtuosi of Houston. He has been playing the cello for 6 years, currently studying with Wendy Butler of the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera Orchestras. He has also played piano for 6 years. Lucas has participated in the 2017 Virtuosi of Houston Small Ensemble summer workshop, and was a member of Region 27 Symphony Orchestra in 2018. His hobbies include karting, playing games, and folding paper airplanes. While he loves music, he has a passion for airplanes, from early propeller to modern jets, studying how each aircraft was built and fulfills its purpose. He dreams of being a future pilot.
Ainsley Willis, 15, is a sophomore at Dobie High School. She has been playing double bass since 5th grade, and is currently a member of the Dobie High School Chamber Varsity Orchestra under the direction of Angela Badon, Stephen Payne, and Tam Duong. She has received superior ratings consistently at the Texas UIL Solo and Ensemble Contest since the 6th grade. Ainsley has earned positions in the TMEA Region 19 Orchestra for the last 4 years. In 8th grade, Ainsley was the Region principal bass, and in 9th grade assistant principal bass. She studies with Becky Merritt, a member of the Pasadena Philharmonic, Galveston Symphony, and Clear Lake Symphony. Ainsley likes to spend time with her cats and dogs, and hang out at home with her family and friends. She loves to travel and took a trip to NYC with her family recently. She hopes to be a forensic scientist.