February 5, 2020

NWS welcomes alumni back for annual gala

Alumni forr 2020 Gala

NWS is proud to welcome 12 of its distinguished alumni back to Miami Beach for the 32nd Anniversary Gala: Making a Difference on Saturday, February 8. The alumni—whose time at NWS ranges from its very first season to the most recent—will share the stage with Michael Tilson Thomas and current Fellows in a special performance for gala attendees.

Freelance, New York City
NWS 1998-2002

Phil Payton

Violinist and violist Philip Payton spends his days on the Great White Way, performing in productions like Disney’s Frozen on Broadway, Hello, Dolly! (as concertmaster), West Side Story, Kinky Boots, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera, Harry Connick Jr. in Concert on Broadway, Spring Awakening, Next to Normal and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess featuring Audra McDonald. Philip’s performance experience in NYC also extends far beyond the Broadway lights, from classical work with the American Ballet Theater, New Jersey Symphony and Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival (founded by NWS alumnus Timothy Christie), to accompanying Billy Joel at Shea Stadium and the Foo Fighters on The Tonight Show, and playing as concertmaster for Jay-Z’s Carnegie Hall debut. His outreach activities include teaching at several local music and arts programs, such as the Gray Charter School in Newark, New Jersey. While life moves at an exciting, break-neck speed in the Big Apple, Philip says his NWS years hold his best memories. “NWS prepared me musically for everything I encounter in my career. NWS not only provided invaluable musical experiences, but also unique friends that I will have for life…and it was fun as hell!”

First Violin, Los Angeles Philharmonic
NWS 2015-16

Rebecca Reale

Rebecca Reale joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2017 at the invitation of Gustavo Dudamel and has since embedded herself into her new community as both an artist and advocate. In addition to her busy performing schedule, Rebecca frequently mentors members of YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles) and performs in PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) housing units. “Performing for people outside the concert hall, especially for people who have never had the opportunity to hear live classical music, is such a unique and fulfilling experience. They are normally the most curious, attentive and appreciative audiences that I play for!” Though she only spent one season as an NWS Fellow before winning her first job with the Houston Symphony, Rebecca credits NWS for her exposure to a variety of repertoire and finding her musical voice as an independent artist. “During my season at NWS, I felt like anything was possible. There were so many performance, learning and growth opportunities. It is one thing to have a wonderful variety of amazing conductors and coaches come share their knowledge and wisdom, but it is a completely different and humbling thing to realize that you are also capable of spreading your own knowledge and wisdom. NWS gives you all of the tools and resources that you need to successfully make the leap into a professional career.”

Viola, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
NWS 1990-92

Steve Fryxell

Steven Fryxell joined NWS in its early years—when Lincoln Road was a stretch of boarded shops and MTT had not yet joined the San Francisco Symphony. But, even then, he recognized what a special place NWS was for musicians and MTT’s incredible vision for the future. “Everyone was motivated and worked hard, but it was really fun too. It didn’t seem like something that would fade. MTT was dedicated and you knew more great things were on the horizon for him. I knew the orchestra served as a halfway house of sorts between school and professional orchestras, and that’s exactly what I was looking for.” Thirty years later, he became an even more integral part of the NWS Legacy when his son, cellist Ben, joined NWS as the institution’s first ‘grandchild Fellow.’ Ben remembers hearing about Steve’s time at NWS and knew it was such an important step in his father’s career, which led Steve to the Cincinnati Symphony. To Ben, the choice to come to Miami Beach was easy. “I knew at NWS I would have the freedom to develop my career in different ways and it would be one of the best decisions I could make.”

Associate Principal Cello, Kansas City Symphony
NWS 2006-08

As part of the Kansas City Symphony, Susie Yang is surrounded by other NWS alumni—currently the largest alumni population than any other organization—who bring the same passion for music-making, leadership and dedication to their craft that she says is a hallmark of NWS. Since her appointment in 2010, Susie has served on the KCS board as the head of the Artistic Leadership Committee and continues her leadership in the community on the advisory board of String Sprouts KC, which provides free music lessons to diverse communities and schools. She has also joined forces with other alumni to create meaningful artistic and community programs, like 2CellosKC, her duo with alumna Meredith McCook that commissions works by local composers for their community performances. “New World Symphony made me well-equipped to become the musician and performer that I am today. It prepared me not only musically, but professionally. Michael Tilson Thomas was an inspiration and he challenged me musically, emotionally and mentally. I learned how to work and live with 80-plus other musicians, who were on the same journey as me. I learned how to manage my time, engage with my community, connect with the audience and donors, and play all different kinds of music. It holds a special place in my life.”

Bass, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
NWS 2007-09, 2010-12

Brendan Kane

Before landing in New York in 2014 for a job with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Brendan Kane performed as Principal Bass of the Minas Gerais Philharmonic in Brazil and Assistant Principal Bass with the Vancouver Symphony. He now pairs his global experiences with lessons learned at NWS to create fulfilling roles beyond the opera pit. Brendan serves as Principal Bass/Mentor for the Montclair Orchestra in New Jersey, which combines professional musicians from Lincoln Center (MET Orchestra and New York Philharmonic) with local conservatory students. At the Tsinandali Festival in Georgia, he serves as Bass Coach for the Pan-Caucasian Youth Orchestra, bringing together conservatory students from the Caucasus region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Russia) to promote peace and tolerance through music. “NWS prepared me for my career by providing a canvas with all the tools I needed to get exactly where I had always dreamed. Being an NWS Fellow means that you are on the cutting edge of what is possible in looking to the future of classical music. Spending time in the incredible laboratory that is the New World Center instills in the Fellows the skills, but also the confidence, to strike out into the classical music world in leadership and forward-thinking roles, to control the direction we need to take in order to keep the art form alive.”

Freelance, Nashville
NWS 2012-14

Henrik Heide

Henrik Heide always had his eye on NWS and made it his goal to become a Fellow while pursuing degrees at Rice University and The Juilliard School. “Seeing how NWS launched the careers of so many musicians I admired made me certain that it would be an ideal springboard for my own professional journey.” Once at NWS, Henrik was immersed in NWS’s curriculum, which trains Fellows to be 21st-century musicians, mastering their craft while exploring artistic risks and defining their entrepreneurial spirit. And while many seek careers as orchestral musicians, it is by no means the only path. Just ask Henrik, who elected to leave his role as Associate Principal Flute of the Cincinnati Symphony after five seasons to explore a more eclectic freelance career that incorporated his love for other types of music and other passions like singing and songwriting. “MTT’s support and guidance during my years as an NWS Fellow helped give me the courage to make this major career and life change. In addition to providing unparalleled orchestral leadership, MTT also served as a role model for thinking outside the box and expanding what is possible in a musical career. I feel fortunate that, while orchestrally focused, NWS encourages Fellows to follow their own path, whatever that may be.”

Principal Oboe, The Florida Orchestra
NWS 2014-15

John Upton

John Upton had only been a Fellow a few months before being named The Florida Orchestra’s new Principal Oboe, but that did not stop him from absorbing as much of the NWS experience as possible. “Being surrounded by musicians that had the same passion and drive for orchestral playing certainly carried me much farther than I ever could have traveled on my own. Toward the end of the season, MTT gave me a simple, but profound piece of advice. He told me to claim my space, explaining that for my whole career up until that point I always had mentors to follow. Now that I was going to be a full-time principal player, he encouraged me to be open and gave me permission to trust myself. It was the first time that I thought, ‘I have something to say as a musician. I have the power to impact the audience through my music and I can’t waste that opportunity.’” Working with Fellows now, John feels a reverberating fire and drive that he says permeates NWS. “It is a truly unique environment where everyone is working day and night to become the best musician possible. The improvement can be minuscule and take hours or months of practice, but that is the kind of dedication that the Fellows have.”

Principal Clarinet, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
Principal Clarinet, Santa Fe Opera
NWS 1988-93

Todd Levy

As a Fellow during NWS’s first season and a frequent visiting faculty member, Todd Levy has had a unique view of NWS’s growth over three decades. “I have been coming back to coach and perform over the years and it is always the most meaningful of my activities. To be able to give back and help the next generation try to fulfill their dreams—as I was able to do with the help of NWS—is incredibly meaningful. And witnessing the evolution of NWS, its facilities and curriculum is amazing to watch and be a part of!” As Principal Clarinet of two major ensembles, a four-time Grammy Award-winner, active chamber musician, recording artist and faculty member at two universities, Todd says he’s reflecting on the lessons he learned at NWS daily. “These lessons inform my desire to continue to push myself and my students to learn more, do better and find more expression, more spontaneity, more emotion. The philosophy that MTT leaves all of us with is our torch to carry in our own careers, and I certainly have felt that his guidance continues to be my role model on a daily basis in my playing and teaching. I consider our 35-year friendship and mentorship to be one of my life’s most incredible blessings.”

Principal Trumpet, Montreal Symphony
NWS 1991-92

Paul Merkelo

Paul Merkelo may hail from Illinois, but since 1995 has fully embraced his home in Canada after winning the Principal Trumpet position in the Montreal Symphony. He is the first member of his orchestra to be invited to record a debut solo album with the ensemble, has been appointed a Canadian musical ambassador to China, serves on the faculty of McGill University and on the board of directors for the Youth Orchestra of the Americas (Canada) and is a Yamaha Artist. Paul is also the founder of the Paul Merkelo Scholarship, which helps young, gifted brass players across Canada. His commitment to building community and pursing musical excellence took root during his season with NWS, where he said he felt stable and inspired. “Working with conductors such as MTT, Sir Georg Solti, James Conlon and many others motivated me to reach higher levels musically. I became very inspired to pursue a more entrepreneurial approach to playing as a soloist. In fact, creating and finding my voice as a solo artist began at NWS and continues to this day. Coming back to perform alongside the current Fellows is a great honor and responsibility and reminds me of my path. I know how talented and hungry they are to learn and grow from their experience at NWS.”

President and Executive Director,
  Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
NWS 1995-98 (Trumpet)

Mark Niehaus

Mark Niehaus describes his professional path as prototypical when he was named Principal Trumpet of the Milwaukee Symphony immediately following his NWS fellowship. But as most paths do, it diverged. In 2012, after 15 years in the orchestra, Mark was named as the Symphony’s President and Executive Director. In that time, he has transformed the orchestra by securing a new performance hall and growing the institution’s endowment. “NWS provided my first opportunity to have a real relationship with donors. While I was a Fellow, we were just starting to experiment with turning the backstage experience inside out by meeting audience members in the lobby after concerts. NWS provided me with this level of gratitude toward the time and treasure philanthropists pour into organizations. MTT is always telling us ‘we’re in the business of relationships,’ relationships fostered by music and relationships with the community; and he is absolutely right.” Mark returns to NWS almost every season as a visiting faculty member and has frequently joined Fellows on stage for performances. “I am proud of MTT, seeing what he’s built—the hall, the people, the musicians—and knowing because of the relationships built over years it will live well beyond us all. NWS is one of my favorite places on the planet.”

Principal Percussion, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
NWS 2008-09

Joseph Petrasek

Joseph Petrasek left NWS after one season to assume the Associate Principal Percussion position at the Kansas City Symphony and went on to perform with the country’s most acclaimed ensembles, like the symphonies of San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit; the orchestras of Cleveland and Minnesota; and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Now as the Principal Percussionist of both the Atlanta Symphony and Colorado Music Festival, he has his eye back on Miami ahead of his return later this year to join the faculty at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. “Being an NWS Fellow has always been a huge point of pride for me. Fellows are at the apex of talent and energy, and that creates a place where anything is possible. Concerts that happen here cannot be replicated elsewhere. NWS provides the opportunity and inspiration not just to win a professional orchestra audition; it provides the blueprint for exciting music making that is carried into professional life for years to come. Playing alongside today’s generation of NWS Fellows is an enormous honor. Seeing these players at this stage of development, on the precipice of a professional career, is a reminder of the excitement and privilege I felt being here.”

Regular Keyboardist, San Francisco Symphony and
  San Diego Symphony
NWS 2015-19

John Wilson

John Wilson may have only left NWS last May, but he has taken the world by storm with his successful freelance orchestral and chamber music career and international competition appearances. Most recently, he won first prize in the 2019 International Respighi Competition, which resulted in an invitation to perform as soloist with The Chamber Orchestra of New York, and first place in the American Prize Foundation 2019 Competition. Throughout his travels, John enjoys meeting other NWS alumni. “I am so encouraged to meet other NWS Fellows. Even if we weren’t at NWS at the same time, there is a kindred high standard of commitment, and a camaraderie felt from having spent time here.” John’s debut solo CD, which includes works by Copland, Gershwin and MTT, will be released this year thanks to an artistic grant from the Belin Foundation. With his many projects and performances, John says he remains calm under pressure in part to his time at NWS. “I received the most excellent musical guidance and inspiration from Michael Tilson Thomas and visiting solo artists, and I also learned a great deal of repertoire. Learning things at such a fast rate, and being held to such a high artistic level, prepared me very well for the pressures of the outside world.”

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