Meet the Orchestra
Amelia Baker is a 16-year-old violist who started playing at the age of 10. She currently attends Klein Forest High School as a junior and is under the orchestral direction of Mamie Morlacci and Carlos Quiroz, with Carlos Lara as her private teacher. She has attended the AFA Summer Symphony Orchestra Camp, SHSU Summer Orchestra Camp, and others during various summers. She has been selected to play in the Region IX Sr. Philharmonic orchestra for 2019, as well as the Region IX Jr. Symphony and Jr. Philharmonic orchestras in previous years. She has also competed in Solo and Ensemble and made excellent ratings for solos at the district level, along with making excellent ratings for her ensemble at the district, region, and state level. When she’s not in orchestra, she is marching with her AFJROTC unit at school, managing the Criminal Justice Club, or studying crime scenes for her Forensic Science class.
Abigail Brooks, 17, is a junior homeschool student. She is a bubbly girl and her joy of music is contagious. Her first instrument was the violin in the first grade. Upon starting middle school, she fell in love with the double bass and has been playing it since. She has earned highest marks at the Houston Concert Band’s Solo and Ensemble competition for three years. She has made the Region 27 orchestra the last three years and has placed first chair two years in a row. At the Virtuosi Concerto Competition she placed fourth and tied for fifth place. With her love of the bass, Abigail helped start an all bass ensemble that was blessed to work with Eric Larson of the Houston Symphony. During the summers Abigail continues to learn and work on her bass skills. This summer she attended the Bradetich Foundation Double Bass Master Camp at North Texas and worked with Jeff Bradetich (UNT) and Jack Unzicker (UT-Arlington). The year before she attended AFA’s summer camp and worked with Andy Moritz. She is very excited about playing with Virtuosi for her third season and sharing her love of music with the world! Thank you to Gabriel Katz, her private instructor, for playing a key role in helping Abigail grow and succeed.
Katherine Butler, 17, has been studying violin for 13 years and is in her fourth season with Virtuosi. She is a junior at HSPVA and is co-concertmaster of the Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Bradley Smith. She has also attended the Sewanee Summer Music Festival for the past three years. She has been in the first violin section of the 2017–2019 Region 23 Symphony Orchestras, performing as concertmaster in 2018 and assistant concertmaster in 2019. Katherine 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. She appeared as soloist with Virtuosi of Houston as the 2018 concerto competition winner in March 2018, with the Houston Symphony in May 2018, and with the Sewanee Summer Music Festival Orchestra as a concerto competition winner in July 2019. Her current teacher is Katrina Bobbs-Savitski. Past teachers include Dr. Kirsten Yon, Florence Muller, Eileen Chen, and Juliette Javaheri. In her free time, she enjoys composing and arranging music, playing chamber music with her string quartet, and listening to classical music.
Claire Cabral, age 14, is a ninth grader at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She started cello when she was five years old. Claire has participated in Parker Elementary’s Performing Strings, AFA Summer Music Festival, Meyerland Middle School’s Sinfonia Orchestra, and the National Cello Institute in Claremont, California. Claire made Region 23 Symphony Orchestra throughout middle school. This is her third season with Virtuosi of Houston. She has studied under Lisa Vosdogonas, Daphnee Johnson, and her orchestra directors have included Benjamin Grube, Marcus Altamirano, and Timothy Maynard. Her interests include reading and baking.
Sara E. Conner is a 17 year old senior at Cypress Woods High School, where she is Concert Master of the Chamber Orchestra, directed by Dr. Kristin Isaacson. This is her fourth season as a member of Virtuosi of Houston. She began playing violin at the age of 10, studying under Ms. Caroline Ewan. As a Virtuosi of Houston member, she has played with the University of Chichester at the historic Chichester Cathedral in England, featuring The Planets, composed by Gustav Holst; played at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., honoring Senator Orin Hatch; encouraged young musicians with the Touch of Music program and was active in numerous chamber music events. Sara played at the Clazz International Music Festival in Arcidosso, Italy, studied at David Kim Orchestral Institute, Baylor University Summer Music Camp and Texas All-State Strings Music Camp. Sara also plays the piano, is active in her church and enjoys volunteering at various opportunities within her community.
Ava Cossé began playing violin at 2 ½ years old. She currently studies violin with Mrs. Medea Guldedava, piano with Alyssa Fitch, and is a seventh grader at Beverly Hills Intermediate in the Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Sandra Shaffer and Ana Payne. Ava is a member of the Bay Area Youth Symphony and participates in the AFA summer music festival. She has received superior ratings at Solo and Ensemble festivals, and a gold cup award for consistent superior ratings at piano competitions. Ava was recently the second place winner at the BAYS Concerto Competition, and has also earned positions in the TMEA Region 19 Orchestra. Ava is a three time Music Doing Good Scholarship winner. She is also an Honor Roll student, and when she is 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 16 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. Individually, he has consistently qualified for the high school All-Region band and orchestra twice each, placing first chair in both in his sophomore year, and 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 current and past private teachers are 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.
Jordan Elizabeth “Lizzie” Doughty is an 18-year-old violist and a senior at William B. Travis Highschool. She began playing viola at the age of 11. In the 2018, she started playing violin and recently started playing electric bass guitar. From June to July of 2018, she participated in AFA (American Festival of the Arts) and in July of 2019, attended the Josef Gingold Chamber Music Festival in Miami, Florida. She performed at the Virtuosi of Houston studio as a part of Lauren Haley’s student recital. She made the philharmonic region orchestra in 2018 and 2019 and received a one at state solo and ensemble twice. She is currently working with Lauren Haley as a private teacher. She plays in the Travis Symphony Orchestra directed by Sabrina Behrens. Lizzie is fluent in ASL, has a dog named Scout and also loves to draw and paint.
Nathan Dumrongthai is a fourteen-year-old freshman currently studying in the Village High School. He began playing the cello at the age of 9, where he took lessons with Mr. Apichai Leamthong in Thailand. In the summer of 2016, he attended the Encore Music Projects music summer camp at the Wells Cathedral School. In 2017, he moved to Malaysia where he joined the Selangor Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2019, he moved to America and now is studying cello with Dr. Daniel Saenz. Other than the cello, he also plays the piano in which he had been playing ever since he was 5. Nathan loves music and hopes to pursue a music career in the future.
Ricardo Flores is an 18 year old cellist. Ricardo has been playing the cello for 8 years and wants to Major in Cello Performance in college. He joined Virtuosi of Houston Chamber Orchestra 4 years ago and is also a cellist with the Houston Youth Symphony. He has performed all over Houston with quartets from Virtuosi and has even traveled to England and Washington D.C. with this orchestra. Ricardo has performed Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in the Virtuosi of Houston Concerto Competition as well as Saint Saens‘ Cello Concerto No. 1 winning second and fourth places in Competition. Additionally, Ricardo has competed in UIL solo and ensemble and has received a rating of 1 (superior) every year since 7th grade. He has played in the Region 27 middle school and high school orchestra for 7 years. He is also a private lesson teacher for the district of CFISD. When he is not practicing cello, he enjoys playing other instruments, spending time with his friends in and out of Virtuosi, and teaching cello lessons at middle schools in his area.
Travis is a 16-year-old homeschooled student who plays violin. He is starting his 6th season with Virtuosi of Houston, and was a part of last year’s trip to Washington D.C. to perform at the Kennedy Center. He has five siblings, two older brothers, who were both concert master of Virtuosi, a younger sister who is starting her second season with Virtuosi, and two younger brothers who also play violin. Travis has also been a part of TMEA All-Region orchestras since 6th grade. He is an exceptional track and XC runner, competing in Junior Olympics all across the U.S. from coast to coast.
Mary Kathryn Gibson, a thirteen year old homeschooled student, started playing the violin at age four. This will be her second season in Virtuosi of Houston. She was once named the Symphony League of Beaumont Outstanding Young Performer in their annual string competition. Mary Kathryn was also to be named part of the 2017–2018 and 2018–2019 Region 19 All-Region Orchestra. Also, two of Mary Kathryn’s five musical siblings, Daniel and Jonas Gibson, were former Virtuosi of Houston concertmasters. She also lost her brother, Jonas Gibson, in January of 2014. Also an avid and competitive runner, Mary Kathryn has ran with track teams on both AAU and USA Track teams—qualifying for regional, state, and national meets and has broken state, national and even world records and has placed at many Junior Olympics. Mary Kathryn also won the ten and under division twice at Foot Locker Nationals in Charlotte, North Carolina. She also broke a World Record when she was just ten years old on January 5, 2017, two days before her eleventh birthday, she broke the 10 year old Girl’s two mile World Record. The World Record was 11:49.40 and she ran 11:49.11. That was one of the happiest days of her life. Mary Kathryn broke this record in Staten island, New York.
Tarryn Goldner is 16 years old and started playing the bassoon at 12 years old. He also plays the contrabassoon and drum set as well. Tarryn is a junior at Clear Falls High School and studies under his band director, Mr. Brian Moreno, as well as his private lesson teacher, Ms. Robyn Watson. He was in the Houston Youth Symphony for 4 years and 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 has made the TMEA All-State Band/Orchestra his 9th and 10th grade year.
He is currently 8th in the state on bassoon. Tarryn is a member of the National Honor Society. He is also a Drum Major as well as his school band vice president. Tarryn enjoys playing drum set for his church worship team. He also enjoys video editing, all things Marvel-related, scuba diving, and amusement parks.
Elizabeth Grahn is a senior at Klein Collins High School and has been playing trumpet for six years. This is her third year with Virtuosi. She has been a member of the All-Region Band several times and has been receiving superior ratings at the Texas State Solo and Ensemble Contest the past three years. At school, Elizabeth is a member of the marching band, Wind Ensemble band, full orchestra, and musical pit, all under the direction of Carlos Lara and Chris Rugila. During her freshman year, Elizabeth performed with the Wind Ensemble at Disney World via invitation, and her sophomore year she performed with her school’s full orchestra and band at the Music For All National Festival in Indianapolis. Elizabeth is currently taking lessons with Mr. Jim Austin, former principal player for the Houston Symphony. After graduation, Elizabeth will be pursuing a career in music education and trumpet performance.
Sarah Hall, 14, is a freshman at Cypress Ranch High School in her third year with Virtuosi. Sarah began playing the violin at age six with Chaiwat Rodsuwan, studied under Caroline Ewan for five years during which she transitioned to viola, and is now working with Ivo-Jan van der Werff. She is currently principal violist in her school’s symphony orchestra under the direction of Elizabeth Ledford and Sarah Grant and placed principal violist in region this year. Outside of school orchestra, Sarah has been involved in other string opportunities such as AFA’s chamber music academy and summer festival, Houston Youth Symphony, and Csehy Summer School of Music. In eighth grade, Sarah also began studying bassoon with Rachel Roberman, achieving region placement, and plays euphonium with the high school marching band under the direction of Alex Denton, Kyle Siegrist, Zachary Fink, and Timothy Greene. Other instruments she has played include cello, clarinet, bass clarinet, and trumpet. Sarah is also an avid composer and hopes to one day be a professional conductor.
Hannah Han, an 11-year-old, is a 6th grade student at the Westchester Academy for International Studies. She began studying violin at the age of 3 at the Peabody Preparatory. At the Shepherd School of Music Preparatory Program of Rice University, she has studied violin with Ms. Sylvia Ouellette for five years and is now a student of Ms. Rodica Gonzalez, a member of the Houston Symphony since 2018. She has performed more than twenty recitals (solo and chamber ensembles) at Rice University. She has participated in the AFA summer Music Festival for 2017– 2018 as first violin in the Symphonia and Camerata Orchestra. She was the fifth place winner in the 20th annual Virtuosi of Houston Immanuel and Helen B. Olshan Concerto Competition and the finalist for 22nd Symphony North of Houston Young Artist Concerto Competition. This is her second season with the Virtuosi of Houston. She also played piano for two years and loves singing songs. In addition to music, she is a passionate fencer and earned 10 medals from regional and national fencing competitions. She likes reading, swimming, rock-climbing, ice-skating, science, math, and playing with her friends and family.
Sarah Hart, 16, is a sophomore at Cy-Fair High School where she is a member of the Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Kevin Ray. Sarah began playing the viola at the age of 11, and has been studying with Nina Bledsoe Knight since the summer of 2016. She has attended the Texas All-State Strings Camp twice, and made the Region 27 Orchestra in 2017 and 2018. She received superior (1) solo ratings at Solo and Ensemble competitions in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and had the opportunity to go to the state competition in 2019, where she received and excellent (2) rating. Sarah is an officer in her school orchestra, and is active in the Tri-M music honor society. When she’s not practicing her viola, Sarah enjoys cooking, reading, learning Spanish, and playing with her dogs, Mars, Venus, and Chewie.
Mary Brook Hartmann, 13, began studying cello at age 8 with Ms. Cindy Fu and with Houston performing cellist Wendy Smith-Butler at age 11. She has served as Assistant Principal Cello of the Stephen F. Austin University middle school summer orchestra, Principal Cello of the American Festival of the Arts Summer Music orchestra, and Principal Cello of the Texas Strings Festival’s Rising Stars division, where she competed and won a spot at the 2019 Rising Stars Concert in Austin, Texas. She has been selected all years for the TMEA Region XIII Middle School Symphony Orchestra, serving as Assistant Principal Cello in 2018. She has attended the junior division of the International Cello Institute as well as the Eastman Cello Institute at the Eastman School of Music in New York. She plays with the Houston Youth Symphony and is excited to return for her second year with Virtuosi of Houston. She attends Fort Settlement Middle School where she plays in the Honor orchestra and serves as String Leader under the mentorship of orchestra directors Mrs. Angela Peugnet and Mr. Roger Vasquez. She hopes to attend a major music conservatory and aspires to a career as a professional cellist.
Steve Hernandez is 17 years old and plays the violin in the Virtuosi of Houston orchestra. Steve started playing the violin when he was 10 years old in his middle school. Along the way, Steve has achieved many things. He has been in Virtuosi of Houston for 3 years and has been in Bay Area Houston Symphony for 2 years prior joining the Virtuosi of Houston. Steve made region orchestra 1st violin for 5 consecutive years and made superior ratings in all of his solo and ensemble competitions for 6 years. Steve has been a member of his high school varsity orchestra for 4 years, where he is currently. When Steve graduates he is going to major in music performance and education. Other than violin, Steve likes to watch Netflix, play video games and read. Steve is a member of Church of Christ and is devoted to being a good Christian.
Samantha Johnson, age 14, has studied the string bass since age 11. She is currently a Freshman at Elkins High School in Fort Bend ISD. Samantha made the 2018 Region 13 Philharmonic Orchestra, while in the 8th grade. Samantha is a member of the Houston Youth Symphony and this is her first year as a member of Virtuosi of Houston. Kelly Comfort was her director at First Colony Middle School and Priscilla McGar is her current director at Elkins High School. Samantha’s private teachers are Roger Vasquez, orchestra director at Fort Settlement Middle School, and Eric Larson, Houston Symphony. She has studied classical ballet since the age of three and is currently a member of the Elkins dance team. She has received Academic Honor Roll since the first grade, and enjoys reading and listening to music.
At the age of seventeen, Jacob has planned out his entire future career path. This violinist started young, finding an interest in choir and piano. Jacob did not pick up the violin until ten, and did not join orchestra until twelve. With a success in making Region, performing at Clear Brook TedX 2019, TSSEC experience, Virtuosi acceptance, and other rewarding musical moments, Jacob looks to earn many more accomplishments in his musical career.Jacob plans to attend a four year university to earn a bachelors in music education, followed by a masters in conducting. He hopes this will lead him to his dream job as an orchestra director. Jacob’s hobbies consist of writing, loving his dogs, and attending music festivals, operas, and any musical performances. As a senior in high school, Jacob’s focus is to prepare for college by preparing audition music, studying music theory, and grasping a better understanding for composition.
James Laase is a 16 year old junior at Shadow Creek High School. He has been playing oboe since the 5th grade, for a total of 5 years. James has in the past qualified for the regional band and orchestra, earning first and second chair respectively. Additionally, during his freshman year of high school, he qualified for the 5a All-State Symphonic Band. On top of being a member of Virtuosi of Houston, James is a 3-year member of the Houston Youth Symphony. During the past summer, 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 also attended a multitude of high-adventure camps such as Camp Orr in Arkansas, and the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. James currently studies under Dr. Anne Leek and Annie Henneke. Other past instructors include Xiadi Liu, Matt Lengus, and David Barford.
Christina Lewellyn, 18, is a senior at Shadow Creek High School located in Houston, Texas. She has been playing bassoon for seven years and piano for 14 years. Christina has been a principal bassoonist in different youth orchestra groups around the United States for the past 4 years and has been featured as a Bassoon soloist in works such as Stravinsky’s Berceuse. She has earned All-State recognition for bassoon through TMEA with also various Area and Region recognitions. In addition to her successes with bassoon, Christina is also an accomplished pianist. Christina has won numerous area and state wide piano competitions. She earned her High School Diploma in Social Music through the National Guild of Piano Teachers in 2017. Outside of musical activities, Christina is an active member of her high school’s tutoring club and National Honor Society. She is also a founding member and the team leader of the Shadow Creek High School Lion Dance Team.
Tina Li, 15, has been studying violin since the age of 5, now under the tutelage of Henry Rubin. She has made Region 23 orchestra every year since 6th grade and has won numerous accolades in UIL Solo and Ensemble. Besides violin, Tina also has a keen eye for other artforms. In 2016, she received an Honorable Mention in the International Photography Contest: Our World. In 2017, she received a gold key from Scholastics for her short story, “The Girl in the White Dress”. Outside of the arts, Tina has been invited to numerous University seminars and internships to carry out research in the fields of economics and political science. In 2018, she was received by the U.S. Naval Academy to do a week-study of Marine Engineering in Annapolis, Maryland. This past summer alone, she attended a two-week seminar at Rice University, studying under Professor Jamie Wagner, a renowned researcher of economics and ethics. She also won first prize at the month-long Young Leaders Institute of Diplomacy at the Asia Society after studying under names such as Dr. Emran El-Badawi, Professor Tom Kolditz, and Director Paula Harris. Last year, she qualified as a semi-finalist in the Harvard University HCER Essay Contest. This upcoming year will be Tina’s 5th year as a Virtuosi of Houston member.
Julianna Marenco, 14, is a bassist in 9th grade at Cypress Ranch High School. This is her second year with Virtuosi of Houston. She started taking bass lessons at age 10 with Gabriel Katz and has been studying with Nick Puccia for 3 years. Julianna has been selected to be in the Cy Fair Region 27 middle school and high school orchestras for the past 4 years. She has also earned top ratings for both solo and ensemble performances in the CFISD UIL competitions. Julianna participated in the Virtuosi of Houston’s small group ensemble coached by bassist Eric Larsen. When she is not playing the bass, Julianna enjoys playing the piano, rock climbing, art, music, movies, chess and baking. She participates in her school’s key club. Julianna has two older sisters who play the viola and cello.
Patricia Medina is a 17 year old violist who began playing at 12 years old. She is a Junior at J. Frank Dobie high school. She has been a part of the AFA Summer camp in 2017, the UH all state camp, and she has also performed in many outside gigs whether it be with Virtuosi or school performances. She has made the Region 19 orchestra since her first year she could audition to today which will be her 5th year making it into Region. She is a 1 year All Stater making it her junior year. Throughout her music journey, she has excelled in solo and ensemble competitions receiving a 1 for every performance she has made. Her first ever private lesson teacher was Tam Doung and now she studies with Suzzane LeFevre. Her main orchestra director is Angela Badon. Patricia is a proud Catholic believer and plays at her church. She also had one lovely dog named Kevin and a cat named Nala. Patricia mainly speaks Spanish and is a proud Mexican.
Kai is an oboist and attends Foster High School in Richmond Texas. Prior to the oboe, Kai excelled at the bass clarinet where he achieved TMEA 5A All State Band as a freshman. In addition to TMEA and Marching Band Kai also plays the bassoon, sax and other instruments for both the Foster Jazz Band and orchestra pit for the annual school plays. He finished a solid Houston Youth Symphony season in 2018 where he played both the oboe and english horn. While in HYS he was under the direction of Rice University’s Symphony Conductor Dr. Michael Webster. Kai’s latest achievement was 2019 TMEA 5A All State. Yet this time it was on the oboe. Kai marches for the Foster Falcon HS band under the leadership of Director Erich Sonnier. In addition to leading the Mellophone squad he is also the band’s logistic lead. Kai is privately taught by Dr. Anne Leek of the Houston Symphony, Claire Kostic of Rice University Principal and Mayu Isom of the Houston Ballet Orchestra. Outside of band, he has been on the Foster Varsity Tennis squad since his Freshman year. He also enjoys gulf fishing for redfish and trout in his free time.
Sebastian Penso is 17 years old and began playing flute at the age of 11. He started playing piccolo at Virtuosi, and takes piano lessons. He is currently a junior at Foster High School, where he is Principal Flutist of the Wind Ensemble. He’s also a member of the Houston Youth Orchestra. He has participated in the school musical productions of The Little Mermaid, Evita, and Big Fish, playing the first flute part. He attended the SFA band camp in 2018, where he placed First Chair in the top ensemble, and received the Outstanding Musician Award. He attended SFA band camp the following year, and attended the Baylor Orchestra and Band Camp as well, where he also placed first chair. He has made it into region band since the 8th grade, region orchestra, and area since freshman year, and received the 11th chair at state in 2018. He has also received 1’s in the UIL Solo and Ensemble contest since the 6th grade, and received a 1 at state with his flute trio his sophomore year, and his woodwind trio his junior year. His private lesson teacher is Lauren Kavanaugh and he studies under the direction of Erich Sonnier, Christopher Crummel, and Thomas Piazza. On Sundays he plays flute in the choir at St. Faustina Catholic Church, and teaches a five-year-old boy to play the piano in the afternoons. His first language is Spanish, his second is English, and he’s currently studying French and German, he would like to become a polyglot.
Ricardo Perez, a first year Virtuosi member, is a 17-year-old senior attending Klein Collins High School, where he is in the Wind Ensemble under the direction of Chris Rugila. Ricardo has been playing trumpet for six years. He also plays in the orchestra at Northside Christian Church. Ricardo takes private trumpet lessons from Jim Zawadzki. Each year, Ricardo earns superior ratings at solo and ensemble competitions and has advanced to the state level for the past two years. Ricardo made the All-Region Philharmonic Orchestra in 2017 and 2018. He has also participated in the All-Region Jazz Band in 2018 and recently this year, earning the lead chair in the jazz band, allowing him to advance to area jazz. In addition to his success in orchestra and jazz, Ricardo has also placed in the All-Region band for the past four years. This past year, Ricardo was the lead trumpet player in the Region 9 Wind Ensemble band. Ricardo then advanced to the Area level to audition for the All-State band. In February, Ricardo was privileged and blessed with the opportunity to represent his school by playing alongside some of the best trumpet players in the state of Texas at the TMEA convention, where he played in the All-State Concert Band. Later in the summer, Ricardo attended his very first summer band camp at the University of Houston, where he was the lead trumpet player and received the honorary wind ensemble member.
Andrea is a 12-year-old 7th grade student at Spring Branch Middle School (SBMS). She has been playing the violin since Kindergarten and also has been playing the piano for several years and has performed in several recitals. During elementary school, she participated in the SBISD Solo and Ensemble competition and was awarded Outstanding Performance Medals for four consecutive years. She was awarded an Outstanding Performance Medal for her solo performance in 6th grade and looks forward to this year’s solo competition. Andrea has been a part of the TMEA Region 27 Symphony Orchestra in 6th and 7th grade as a 1st violinist. She has been a member of the SBMS Chamber Orchestra since 6th grade as a 1st violinist and is concertmaster in 7th grade. In her 6th grade performance in the Region 27, she performed Danse Bacchanale, which is one of her favorite pieces. This past summer, Andrea served as a mentor to the elementary kids at Fiddler’s Fair. Andrea is fluent in English and speaks Spanish. Currently at SBMS, Mrs. Cleo Miele is Andrea’s Chamber Orchestra Director and music teacher. Andrea also has been taking private lessons with Mrs. Patricia Karakas for the past 7 years in violin and music in general. This year is going to be Andrea’s first season as a member of the Virtousi of Houston.
Eduardo Ramos, 15, has been playing the clarinet since the 5th grade. He is currently in the 10th grade at Kerr High School, under the direction of band director Ashley Siegrist and orchestra director Cynthia King. He has played with Region 23’s Wind Ensemble in 8th grade and Symphonic Winds in 9th grade, and is a part of the Houston Youth Symphony’s Sinfonia for the 2019–2020 season. This will be his second year with Kerr High School’s Wind Ensemble and his first year with Virtuosi. He has consistently received ones in solo and ensemble competitions. When he is not practicing, Eduardo finds himself at FBLA or student council meetings at school, or listening to his favorite band music.
Samantha Rodriguez, 17, is a senior at Pasadena High School and began playing violin at age 10. In addition to the violin, she plays piano, guitar, and sings. Samantha has participated in the AFA Summer Music Festival, played with the Pasadena Philharmonic Orchestra, and made the Region 19 Symphony Orchestra for consecutive years. With help and support from her violin teacher, Sandra Shaffer, and her orchestra directors, Michael Bonas and Bradley Jacob, she has achieved many accomplishments and aspires to be an orchestra director. Aside from music, Samantha is a successful student in school. She enjoys spending time with her family, whether it be watching a movie or going fishing. Furthermore, she cares very much for her chihuahua, Summer, and her other pets. This is Samantha’s first year playing with Virtuosi of Houston and she is very excited to be a part of the orchestra.
Carlos Saavedra is a 17-year-old student from Sacramento, California and he currently attends Klein Forest High School as a Junior. He began playing the violin at the age of 7 and later joined orchestra in middle school. He began learning piano and guitar two years ago and recently began singing. He attended the American Festival of the Arts Summer Symphony and was Concert Master for the Symphony and the Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Clifton Evans, Michelle Blair, and Ingrid Gerling. He attended the Chloe Trevor Music Academy two consecutive years since their inaugural year and plans to attend a third. He made Region Freshman and Sophomore year. His Sophomore year he was rank 9 in his region. Unfortunately, he injured his left pinky was not able to audition for region or all-state this year. He is currently studying with former Houston Symphony member, Jane Kimmes. This is his first year in Virtuosi. Carlos is in his school’s varsity tennis team, computer programming team, SNHS, Mu Alpha Theta, BPA team, and Interact Club.
Benjamin, 15, is a Venezuelan cellist, trained in the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela. He began his musical studies at age 7. Since then he has belonged to several local orchestras and participated in numerous concerts and recitals. In 2016, he began his studies at the Simon Bolivar Music Conservatory in Caracas, where his mentors were Maestros Francy Vasquez and Juan J. Romero. In 2017 he was part of the Chacao Youth Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Ulyses Ascanio, as second cello. In April of 2018 he emigrated to the U.S., Courtenay Vandiver Pereira has been his mentor in cello since then. Benjamin is part of the orchestra of Mayde Creek High School, performing in UIL Music Region 23’s Orchestra for two consecutive years and is part of cello’s file in the Houston Youth Symphony Phylharmonia Orchestra since 2018. This year he is also participating in their Music Chamber Program. He is fortunate to be under the direction of the Maestros Franz Krager and Andrzej Grabiec at Virtuosi of Houston since 2018. Benjamin loves music and wants to be a professional musician.
Emily Jihee Sonn, 18, is a Senior at Memorial High School in Houston, Texas. She began learning violin at age 7 in South Korea. After moving to the U.S. at 11, she kept studying with Ella Burgerenko, Michelle Choi and Jiyeon Min. Currently, she is under the instruction of Katrina Bobbs Savitski. Emily has been a member of Honor Orchestra, directed by Danielle Prontka and Matthew Chan. She was a part of the Houston Youth Symphony for four years. She attended the 2016 Texas String Camp, the 2018 Credo Music Camp and Conservatory Audition Workshop, and the 2019 Encore Music Festival. As an active soloist, she won the 2018 Clear Lake Symphony Concerto Competition, 3rd place winner at Fort Bend Youth Concerto, and 1st place on the Virtousi Concerto competition. Also, her solo performances both in district and in state have ranked in outstanding performance for the past two years. In addition, she has played twice as a concert master in region 27 concert and joined 2017–2018 all state orchestra concert. Outside of music, she likes listening to K-pop, watching Korean broadcasting and spending time with family, friends and her cat.
Thy Yen Sophie Tong, 12, is a 7th grader at St. John Paul II Catholic school. Her musical instruments journey started with piano lessons at 5 years old. Two years later, she started violin lessons with Eugene Ceremus. She was a member of the Houston Youth Symphony from Fall 2016 to Spring 2019. She is also a member of Houston Young Artist Concerts 2019–2020 seasons. In addition, she learns pipe organ at Church with Dr. Jeong -Suk Bae and plays clarinet for Band at School; in both places, she is a choir member. Occasionally, she plays violin and sings at nursing homes as a volunteer. Her hobbies include reading, biking, and playing video games.
Gabriel Vaca is a 17-year-old senior from George Ranch High School who began studying clarinet in 6th grade at First Colony Middle School in 2013. Gabriel studies under Chester Rowell, a professor of clarinet at the University of Houston, and has performed with various ensembles while studying under him. He has performed with the George Ranch High School Wind Symphony directed by Daren Jordan, the 6A All-State Symphonic Band conducted by Steven Davis, and region ensembles conducted by the likes of Jeffrey Grogan, Eugene Corporon, and Kevin Sedatole. Gabriel was also accepted by the 2019 IAC World Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Interlochen Clarinet Institute, and currently performs with the Houston Youth Symphony’s Symphony Orchestra. In addition to Bb and A clarinet, Gabriel has also performed on Eb clarinet, Bass clarinet, EWI. Outside of music, Gabriel is also involved in honor societies within his school as well as UIL Academics.
Lucas Velasquez is a 15-year-old sophomore at Cypress Ranch High School, under the direction of Elizabeth Ledford and Sarah Grant. This is his second season with Virtuosi of Houston. He has been playing the cello for 4 years, currently studying with Mrs. Wendy Butler of the Houston Ballet Orchestra. He has also played piano for 8 years. Lucas has participated in the 2017 Virtuosi of Houston summer workshop and was a member of Region 27 Symphony Orchestra for his 8th grade year. His hobbies include karting, playing games, and folding paper airplanes that resembles modern day jets.
Kelly Watkins is 17 years old and has been playing the cello since she was nine, taking lessons from Ms. Daphnee Johnson. She also plays the soprano and baritone ukuleles and bass guitar. She is currently a senior at Bellaire High School and formerly a member of their varsity orchestra. In her free time, she enjoys sailing, hiking, camping, reading, astronomy, and being an active member of Sea Scouts BSA.
Ainsley Willis, 15, is a freshman at Dobie High School. She has been playing bass since 5th grade and is now a member of the Dobie High School Freshman Varsity Orchestra under the direction of Angela Badon, Stephen Payne, and Tam Duong. She has received superior ratings consistently at Solo and Ensemble Festival since the 6th grade. Ainsley has been a Region 19 member the last 3 years. In 8th grade, Ainsley was the Region 1st chair bass. She takes lessons 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 this past Spring. Ainsley volunteers with her church’s Summer Kid’s Club and would like to volunteer at local animal shelters.
Rowan, 15, is a sophomore at Obra Tompkins High School and has been playing the oboe for 6 years. She also studies piano with Lora Taylor. Rowan is the principle oboist in Wind Symphony and Full Orchestra, under the direction of Stephen Bond and Matthew Porter; she is also a member of the marching band. She is in her second year with the Houston Youth Symphony and previously played with the Katy Youth Symphony. Rowan has participated in numerous summer music programs, most notably a merit scholar at Rocky Ridge Junior Artist Seminar studying with Jason Lichtenwalter of the Colorado Symphony. In JH she placed 7th and then 1st in region and as a freshman placed 3rd in All Region, and 10th in 6A Area. She also participated in Region Bands and Orchestras. Rowan is currently taking lessons from Andrew Glenn, Dr. Abby Held and Adam Dinitz of the Houston Symphony.