Young Artists Orchestra

Young Artists Orchestra Series
Venue / Time
Guilford College - Dana Auditorium
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Friday, July 14
Selections from Romeo and Juliet, op.64

     EMF Conducting Fellows

Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat Major, Hob.I:105

Allegro con spirito

          Randall Ellis, oboe
          George Sakakeeny, bassoon
          Nigel Armstrong, violin
          Neal Cary, cello

Tod und Verklärung. op.24, TrV 158 (Death and Transfiguration)

George Sakakeeny has appeared as a soloist with orchestras throughout North and South America, Europe, and the Far East, including engagements in Vienna at the historic Musikverein, at Severance Hall with members of the Cleveland Orchestra, and a nationally televised concert in Japan under the baton of Seiji Ozawa. Three major works for bassoon and orchestra have been commissioned for him. Libby Larsen’s full moon in the city (2013), Peter Schickele’s Bassoon Concerto (1998), and Viennese composer Alexander Blechinger’s Faggottkonzert (1997.) As a soloist, he has recorded Blechinger’s Faggottkonzert for the Harmonia Classica label as well as his latest solo CD, “full moon in the city” on the Oberlin Music label which features four previously unrecorded works for solo bassoon and orchestra.

Sakakeeny is Professor of Bassoon at the Eastman School, and formerly held the same position at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. He also holds the titles visiting professor for graduate studies at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela, and guest professor of the Central Conservatory of Music of Beijing, China. He is principal bassoonist of the Eastern Music Festival and a faculty member at the Round Top Festival Institute each summer. In the past, he held the principal bassoon positions of the New Japan Philharmonic, the Handel & Haydn Society of Boston, the Opera Company of Boston, Boston Musica Viva, the Promusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus, and CityMusic Cleveland. He has also served as principal bassoonist of the Grand Teton Music Festival, the New Hampshire Music Festival, the Peninsula Festival, and performed extensively with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops Orchestras.

Many of Professor Sakakeeny’s former students have gone on to hold positions in symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, and universities throughout North and South America and the Far East. He has three times been invited to teach master classes at International Double Reed Society conferences and is regularly invited to serve as a jury member for international and national competitions. For seven years he served in an ongoing capacity as wind coach and bassoon teacher in the Venezuelan National Youth Orchestra System, known as “El Sistema.” His contributions included teaching master classes to orchestra members, leading wind sectionals, and providing training to the bassoon teachers of El Sistema through his position as guest professor of the Latin American Bassoon Academy.

He has given numerous solo recitals and taught master classes at leading institutions such as the Paris Conservatory, the Juilliard School, the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy in Kiev, Rice University, and the Tokyo University of the Fine Arts. He has also performed longer-term teaching residencies at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, Shanghai Conservatory of Music, the New World Symphony, Seoul National University, and the Conservatoire National Supérieur Musique et Danse of Lyon, France.

A veteran chamber music performer, he has appeared on four continents with various ensembles, including the Oberlin Reed Trio, Boston Musica Viva, the bassoon quartet Men Who Don't Bite, and the Boston Wind Octet. As a chamber music artist, he is featured on numerous recordings, most notably the International Double Reed Society’s 25th anniversary CD in a performance of the Villa-Lobos Duo for oboe and bassoon with oboist Alex Klein. He is the author of the iBook Making Reeds Start to Finish with George Sakakeeny. He can be found on the world wide web at

Born in New Zealand as the son of a professional opera singer, Grant Cooper sang and acted in his first opera at age four and studied piano and music theory prior to college.


After completing his degree in pure mathematics at the University of Auckland, he traveled to the United States for further studies in music. His initial opportunities as a conductor grew from his colleagues’ invitations to lead them in larger chamber ensemble performances.   


Since then, his many guest conducting engagements have included the Houston Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, The Florida Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony, New Mexico Philharmonic, Buffalo Philharmonic, Rochester Philharmonic, Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Auckland Philharmonia, and Syracuse Opera, among many others.


Recently, he made successful debut appearances with the Kennedy Center Orchestra and, on the international stage, with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Malaysian Philharmonic.


Prior to accepting his position as artistic director and conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra in 2001, Cooper served as resident conductor of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra for ten seasons. He also serves as artistic director of the annual Bach and Beyond festival in Fredonia, New York and as resident conductor of the Eastern Music Festival.


A commissioned composer, Cooper’s concert works include A Song of Longing, Though…, for soprano and orchestra, which has received numerous performances in recent seasons, and his ballet, On the Appalachian Trail, which was premiered in 2010 at Chautauqua. He recently completed a commission to write original film scores for two Charlie Chaplin movies and composed a chamber work on commission from the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, which was premiered there in May 2012. Cooper is especially passionate about creating works designed to introduce young audiences to the orchestra and has created a substantial body of works for this purpose.


Cooper has recorded for Delos International, Atoll, Ode, Mark, and Kiwi Pacific recordings, and has the unique distinction of having CD recordings of himself as conductor, performer, and composer, all currently available in the catalog.

Cooper’s dedication to serving the West Virginia arts community was recognized in the spring of 2012 with his receiving the Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service in the Arts and with Fairmont State University’s conferring the degree of Doctor of Letters in 2017.

Neal Cary has been praised for his “robust tone and high-romantic Neal Cary has been praised for his “robust tone and high-romantic phrasing,” and the “tremendous amount of emotion and heart” he brings to his performances.

He has been principal cellist with the Richmond Symphony since 1988 and has served as principal cellist of the Williamsburg Symphony since 2002. In 1984, he joined the faculty of the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina, and has served as principal cellist every summer since 1988. In August of 2012 and 2016, Neal Cary performed in the All-Star Orchestra - an orchestra comprised of some of the finest musicians in the United States. This orchestra was created for the production of educational television programs and is now included as part of the educational mission of Khan Academy.

Previous to moving to Richmond, Neal Cary was co-principal cellist of the Kansas City Philharmonic, and assistant principal cellist of the Tulsa Philharmonic, the San Antonio Symphony, and the Denver Symphony orchestras. From 1994 -98, he was a member of the adjunct faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University. While a student at Juilliard, he was a chamber music teaching assistant to Earl Carlyss and Claus Adam in 1980 and 1981. While a student at Meadowmount during the summers of 1980 and 1981, he was a chamber music teaching assistant to Joseph Gingold.

In addition to his symphony work, Neal Cary maintains a large private teaching studio and has been a member of the performing artist faculty at the College of William and Mary since 1991. An avid chamber musician, he has had the opportunity to perform with many world-famous musicians at the Eastern Music Festival and has been a member of the Richmond Chamber Players since 1989.

Neal Cary's major teachers have included Pat Ficarra, Robert Newkirk, Channing Robbins, and the world-renowned Leonard Rose. Mr. Cary holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Catholic University, and a Master of Music degree from The Juilliard School of Music.

Notable recital performances include those from memory of the 40 Popper Etudes and all the Bach Suites for Solo Cello. Concerto performances include nearly 50 performances of most of the major cello concertos, unusual works, and a world premiere with orchestras on the East Coast. YouTube videos of Mr. Cary include a live performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto, a performance of the Saint-Saëns Concerto No. 2, and a video lesson on the Saint-Saëns. 

Neal is married to Catherine Cary, a violinist in the Richmond Symphony and at Eastern Music Festival. They have two children – daughter Emma, a cellist, and son Alan, a violinist.

Randall Ellis attended the North Carolina School of the Arts and the State University of New York at Stony Brook where he studied with Ronald Roseman. He is principal oboist of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Little Orchestra Society, and is solo English horn in the New York Pops Orchestra. He is the oboist in Windscape Woodwind Quintet, artists in residence at the Manhattan School of Music. He was principal oboist of the New York Chamber Symphony and received two Grammy nominations, including one for his recording of Howard Hanson’s Pastorale. He has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Florida Orchestra, and the American Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Ellis has appeared as a guest artist with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and has concertized and recorded with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. He has been a soloist with the New England Bach Festival, the International Bach Festival of Madeira, the Philharmonia Virtuosi of New York, and Chamber Music at the 92nd Street Y. Mr. Ellis has freelanced with the Ensemble Wien-Berlin, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the New York Philomusica and the Orchestras of the Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, and the American Ballet Theatre dance companies. Mr. Ellis has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s Sunday Morning, and many times on PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center. His performances have been heard on National Public Radio, European radio, and NHK Radio and TV in Japan. Mr. Ellis has recorded for EMI/Angel, Columbia, Sony, RCA, Vox, Nonesuch, CRI, Pro Arte, Delos, and Deutsche Grammophon. He has performed with Winton Marsalis at Jazz at Lincoln Center and on Broadway in the orchestra for the musical Wicked. He teaches oboe and chamber music at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Nigel Armstrong is emerging as a dynamic and creative artist both within and beyond the realm of classical music. From his musical beginnings as a member of "The Little Fiddlers" in Sonoma, CA to collaborations with tango musicians in Argentina he's enjoyed using the violin in a versatile manner throughout his life.

As soloist Nigel has performed with orchestras such as the Dusseldorf Symphony, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, YOA Orchestra of the Americas, and the Boston Pops, and with conductors including Sir Neville Marriner and Carlos Miguel Prieto. He received the 2nd Prize, the Ole Bull Prize, and the Nordheim Award at the 2010 Menuhin Competition Senior Division in Oslo, Norway, and got the 4th Prize plus the Prize for the Best Performance of the Commissioned Work (STOMP, by John Corigliano) at the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition. As a chamber musician his concerts have taken him across the US and abroad--highlights have included opportunities to share the stage with the Tokyo String Quartet and pianist Jonathan Biss. 
Nigel feels fortunate to have had the chance to explore great orchestral literature throughout his career. Since 2009 he's appeared as concertmaster with the Colburn Orchestra, LA's American Youth Symphony, the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, YOA Orchestra of the Americas, and the New York String Orchestra in their annual Carnegie hall performances. Beginning in the 2016/17 season he serves as concertmaster of the Santa Cruz Symphony.

A graduate of the Colburn School and the Curtis Institute of Music, Nigel's teachers have included Arnold Steinhardt, Robert Lipsett, Zaven Melikian, and Donald Weilerstein, among others. He also recently had the opportunity to live with and learn from the Plum Village community founded by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, where he spent a year working on their organic farm and taking part in their daily life, an experience for which he continues to be grateful.

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