An educational institution is only as good as its teachers.
COMMA's faculty are professors, artists, composers, dancers,
They teach at Stanford,
St. Mary’s College,
San Francisco Conservatory...
We give you...
Eugene Brancoveanu is a graduate of the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz and the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg. He is also a recent winner of the National Young Opera Singer Competition in Leipzig, the International Music Award in Loenberg, and the International Opera contest “Ferruccio Tagliavini”. Recent engagements for Mr. Brancoveanu include Lancelot in Camelot with Virginia Opera; “Songs of a Wayfarer” in a return to Peninsula Symphony Orchestra; was baritone soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra; directed La bohème and sang Marcello for Livermore Valley Opera; and sang in recital at Brookings Harbor Friends of Music.
In recent seasons he sang the title role in Shostakovich’s rarely performed opera, Orango, with Los Angeles Philharmonic, Peter Sellars directing and Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting; sang as soloist in Carmina Burana with the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra; in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with Marin Symphony, under Alasdair Neale; continued his extensive recital career, performing with Brookings Harbor Friends of Music, and Davis Symphony in opera arias; was featured in the broadcast of Michael-Tilson Thomas’ The Tomashevskys, seen nationally on PBS stations; sang Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” with Sun Valley Symphony; and as soloist in Carmina Burana with San Francisco Choral Society.
Recent successes include his appearance with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New World Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, in Michael-Tilson Thomas’ The Tomashevskys, conducted by the composer, a work which he premiered at Carnegie Hall, has reprised with the New World Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and at the Tanglewood Music Center under Seiji Ozawa. He recently returned to the Santa Cruz County Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, sang as soloist in Carmina Burana with Spokane Symphony Orchestra, sang as Marcello in La bohème with Virginia Opera, Gonzalvo in Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten with Los Angeles Opera, the title role in Don Giovanni with Berkeley Opera, Yeletzky in Pique Dame with the Israeli Opera, soloist in Carmina Burana with Santa Cruz County Symphony and with Peninsula Symphony Orchestra, in recital with California’s San Francisco Performances concert series, returned to San Francisco Opera as Belcore in L’elisir d’amore, sang Karnak in Lalo’s Le Roi d’ys with the American Symphony Orchestra, Count in Le nozze di Figaro with Livermore Valley Opera, and as soloist in Elijah with University of California/Davis.
Other highlights include his New York City Opera debut as Pandolfe in Cendrillon, the role of The Pilot in Portman’s The Little Prince for San Francisco Opera, soloist in Brahms’ Requiem with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, and in a concert of Bernstein repertoire with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. He made his debut with San Francisco Opera in 2005-06 as Second Prisoner in Fidelio. Also that season he sang the role of Boris in Shostakovich’s Moskau, Tscherkomuschki at Staatstheater Stuttgart. He held a prestigious appointment as an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera for two seasons, directly following his critically acclaimed summer 2004 performances of Tarquinius in The Rape of Lucretia with the company’s Merola Opera Program. With San Francisco Opera he has performed Christian in Un ballo in maschera, Marullo in Rigoletto, Moralès in Carmen, Frank in Die Fledermaus, Fiorello in Il barbiere di Siviglia, and the Innkeeper and the Captain in Manon Lescaut.
Originating the role of Marcello in Baz Luhrmann’s Broadway production of La Bohème, the honorary Tony Award winner is also a recipient of a 2004 LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award for his performances of this production in Los Angeles. Other career highlights include performing the role of Nicomedes in the rarely heard Lou Harrison opera, Young Caesar, for Ensemble Paralèlle; a recital as part of the prestigious Schwabacher Debut Recital Series; the title role in Le nozze di Figaro with the International Music Festival in Gut-Immlings, Germany; and the title role in Philip Glass’s Orphée with the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg. Mr. Brancoveanu’s numerous performances with the Romanian State Opera include the Count in Le nozze di Figaro, the title role in Don Giovanni, Silvio in I Pagliacci, Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Escamillo in Carmen, and Uberto in La serva pedrona.
Dr. Jennifer Ellis
Jennifer R. Ellis (D.M.A. University of Michigan, M.M. Cleveland Institute of Music, B.M. Oberlin) has performed over fifty premieres. The first ever harpist to be a One Beat Fellow, a cultural diplomacy program through the U.S. State Department, she was also the first harpist accepted to the Bang on a Can, Fresh Inc., and Splice summer festivals. A UM Engaged Pedagogy Initiative Fellow, she received the Alice Chalifoux Prize, Rackham Centennial and Graduate fellowships, and AT&T Foundation scholarships. She holds prizes in the Ann Arbor Society for Musical Arts, Coeur d’Alene Young Artists, LMC of Seattle, and Inez Stafford competitions. She has played with Britten Pears, Spark Festival, American Wind Symphony Orchestra, National Orchestra Institute, Piccolo Spoleto Festival, Edgefest Fringe Festival, and Texas Music Festival. She performed the premiere recording of Steve Horowitz’s Entertainment Tonight and has written articles for The American Harp Journal and Harp Column Magazine. An in-demand clinician, she averages a dozen university workshops or masterclasses per season. She performs with the new music harp and saxophone group Admiral Launch Duo, four-time residents of Avaloch Music Institute. She teaches at the Diablo Valley Arts Academy, is a 2017-2018 UC Davis artist-in-residence residence, and is a featured artist at the 2017 Festival of New American Music at CSU Sacramento. Her teachers include Joan Holland, Yolanda Kondonassis, Alice Giles, and Jessica Siegel.
Dr. Ellis is dedicated to innovative music pedagogy and has taught a combination of harp, eurhythmics and music theory privately as well as at institutions including Harps Etc., Avon School of Music, Oberlin Secondary Instrument Program, Cleveland School for the Arts, and Young Artist’s Harp Seminar. She has given masterclasses at Interlochen and Michigan State University and she was the 2013 guest instructor for the University of Michigan MPULSE Harp Institute. She is a flexible clinician and gave over a dozen university workshops or guest lectures in the 2015-2016 season. She founded a eurhythmics program for University of Michigan music students that has expanded to include five levels of study. She specializes in inclusive teaching practices and her commitment to teaching has led her to help train other teachers through teaching eurhythmics pedagogy and leading practice teaching facilitations and training workshops for University of Michigan Graduate Student Instructors. She ran sessions on the art of one-on-one teaching for the UM GSI orientation this past September and will be teaching workshops later this fall on using eurhythmics in the private lesson for the American String Teachers Association in San Francisco and at San Francisco Conservatory. She has helped to train music educators on using tools from eurhythmics in classroom teaching through workshops for NafME at UMass Amherst and University of Michigan. She served as the harp department assistant at both Oberlin and CIM and has published in The American Harp Journal and Harp Column Magazine. Dr. Ellis studied harp with Yolanda Kondonassis, Jessica Siegel, and Alice Giles and earned her D.M.A. in Harp Performance with a Certificate of Musicology and CRLT Graduate Teacher Certificate with Joan Holland and Charles Garrett at the University of Michigan.
Chris Garrecht-Williams studied creative writing at Columbia University and has had his work published in Five Dials, Spinning Jenny, The Chattahoochee Review, Forklift: Ohio, and elsewhere. He has taught creative writing to high school students in various programs across the country and has also taught at Columbia, Rutgers, and Temple universities. He is currently a lecturer at San José State.
Music Theory & Musicianship
The works of Michael Gilbertson have been described as “elegant” and “particularly beautiful” by The New York Times, “vivid, tightly woven” and “delectably subtle” by the Baltimore Sun, and “genuinely moving” by the Washington Post. Gilbertson is the BMI Composer in Residence with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and is a professor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He holds degrees from The Juilliard School, where he studied composition with Samuel Adler, John Corigliano, Christopher Rouse, and from Yale, where he studied with Aaron Jay Kernis, Martin Bresnick, David Lang, Ezra Laderman, Hannah Lash, and Christopher Theofanidis. Gilbertson’s works have been programmed by the Minnesota Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Washington National Opera, Albany Symphony, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Grand Rapids Symphony, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, Symphony in C, New England Philharmonic, Cheyenne Symphony, Juilliard Orchestra, Yale Philharmonia, Sioux City Symphony, Dubuque Symphony, Michigan Philharmonic, Lafayette Symphony, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble , and professional choirs including Musica Sacra, The Crossing, and The Esoterics. In March, 2016, he was MusicalAmerica Magazine’s featured Artist of the Month.
Gilbertson’s music has earned five Morton Gould Awards from ASCAP, a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a BMI Student Composer Award, and the 2007-08 Palmer-Dixon Prize, awarded by the Juilliard composition faculty for the best student work of the year. His piano trio Fold by Fold received the Israel Prize from the Society for New Music. Gilbertson’s music can be heard in the 2006 documentary Rehearsing a Dream, which was nominated for an Academy Award. His published music includes choral works with Boosey & Hawkes and G. Schirmer, and orchestral works with Theodore Presser.
Gilbertson’s opera Breaking, a collaboration with playwright Caroline McGraw, was commissioned by the Washington National Opera and premiered at The Kennedy Center in November, 2013. He has twice composed and conducted ballets for the New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute, working with choreographers David Morse and Daniel Baker. His fifth ballet, a collaboration with choreographer Norbert De La Cruz, was premiered by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in July, 2013. Gilbertson’s other upcoming projects include commissions for Sybarite5 and the Verona Quartet. He served as Red Cedar Chamber Music’s Composer-in-Residence from 2011 to 2014, and has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with his hometown orchestra, the Dubuque Symphony, which has performed 7 of his works since 2003.
In 2009, Michael founded an annual music festival, ChamberFest Dubuque, which brings young classical artists to his hometown of Dubuque, Iowa for concerts and educational outreach. The festival is a fundraiser for the Northeast Iowa School of Music, where Michael taught composition and music history during their summer session from 2008 to 2012. He has also taught at The Walden School, The Educational Center for the Arts, and as an instructor and lecturer at Yale. Michael currently teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Hilary Hecht graduated from UC Davis with a Bachelor of Arts degree in vocal performance and musical theory. She teaches private voice and piano lessons. Hilary is the alto section leader of the Pacific Masterworks Chorus and serves as an assistant conductor. She has sung with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Lamplighters Musical Theatre, Artists' Vocal Ensemble, and the Oakland chamber chorus Sacred & Profane, as well as a multitude of church choirs around the Bay Area. Growing up singing in the Piedmont East Bay Childrens' Choirs and the University Chorus and Early Music Ensemble at UC Davis has provided Hilary with an in-depth base of knowledge of choral music and singing. Hilary is a passionate and vivacious teacher who believes in the power of music to transform individuals, no matter their background, age, or ethnicity, into stronger, more capable human beings and has a knack for guiding pupils along this path with her fun-loving, dedicated approach.
Dance & Movement
Dana Lawton is a tenured faculty member at Saint Mary’s College in the Performing Arts Department, a faculty member at Shawl-‐Anderson Dance Center, and Co-Director of the Enchanted Ridge Dance Retreat. A founding member of Bay Area’s acclaimed dance company, Janice Garrett & Dancers (Garrett+Moulton), Dana has had the honor of performing works by Joe Goode (Joe Goode Performance Group), Randee Paufve (Paufve Dance), Nina Haft (Nina Haft & Company), Rebecca Salzer (Rebecca Salzer Dance Theater) and Cathy Davalos (Davalos Dance Company) among others. Lawton was awarded Outstanding Performer in the 2000 Vision Series, for her own solo choreographic performance, and nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award (Izzy) for her performance in Garrett’s Wayfarers in 2002. Awarded Artist-In-Residence at Berkeley’s Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 2006, she founded Dana Lawton Dances as a way to expand her own working process from individual choreographer to director of a full company. Over the past thirteen years Dana has been invited to present work at the Isadora Duncan Awards Ceremony, San Francisco; The Work Gallery, Brooklyn, New York; The Dallas Hub Theater in Dallas, Texas; and a variety of Bay Area festivals including the Women on the Way Festival, COUNTERPulse’s 2nd Sundays Series, Dance Mission’s Harvest Festival, the Vision Series, the Pilot and Flight Series at ODC, Summerfest Dance, the San Francisco International Arts Festival and, most recently, at the Flight Deck’s Artist-In-Residence, a new theater in downtown Oakland, CA. Dana’s artistic leap from individual choreographer to director of a dance company came in 2011 when she embarked on a two year project produce an entire evening of work to a score of original music. This project culminated in Beyond This Moment at the Ashby Stage, Berkeley in October of 2013, which was highly praised in Bay Area publications and sold out well before opening day. DLD was invited to tour to Santa Barbara at the Center Stage Theater in January 2014, which also sold out before the performance dates and received rave reviews from dance critics and audience members. The company has also toured sections of Beyond This Moment at the Royère de Vassivière Festival in Chamberet, France in July of 2014. Dana Lawton Dances “HOME” premiered in April 2015 at the Flight Deck in Oakland, CA. and toured to the Crescent Arts Center in Belfast, N. Ireland in July 2015.
Cate Lycurgus’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Tin House, Gulf Coast Online, and elsewhere. A 2014 Ruth Lilly Fellowship Finalist, she has also received scholarships from Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences and was recently named one of Narrative’s 30 Under 30 Featured Writers. Cate lives south of San Francisco, California, where she conducts interviews for 32 Poems and teaches professional writing.
Frank Murray joined the Performing Arts Department of St. Mary's College in 1988. He has taught a wide range of theater courses, including theater history of all periods, theater theory and literature, acting, Perceiving the Arts, and theater/film courses during January Term. He is particularly interested in both the origins of theatre and 19th, 20th, and 21st century drama. He has directed numerous college productions, including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Trojan Women, She Stoops to Conquer, The Bacchae, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), The Actor's Nightmare, Into the Woods, and Little Shop of Horrors. From 2002-04 and 2011-2014 he served as Chair of the Performing Arts Department, and from 2004-2010 as Dean for Academic Development. On the side, he sings in the baritone section of "Cantare," one of the Bay Area's finest choirs.
Lino Rivera, Ph.D.
Born in the Philippines, Lino Rivera won his first national competition at age eight. He has performed as a solo recitalist, concerto soloist, and accompanist on three continents. He has been featured on several radio and television broadcasts, notably live performances with the Manila Symphony Orchestra and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. Rivera makes it his mission to advocate and premiere contemporary works; to explore and meet the artistic, creative, and technical challenges of piano transcriptions (the subject of his doctoral dissertation); and to discover and perform obscure solo piano repertoire throughout the ages.
Rivera is a celebrated performer for Composers, Inc. an organization based in San Francisco dedicated to promoting works by contemporary American composers. In 2007, he performed many of the Beethoven sonatas in conjunction with renowned music historian Robert Greenberg on a concert lecture series presented at Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, California. He is a frequent soloist at Music Teachers' Association of California conferences, and regularly serves as an adjudicator of piano competitions. Recent solo recitals have taken place in Nuremberg (Germany), Zurich (Switzerland), Kent University, Corpus Christi, Savannah, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Anchorage.
Martin Rokeach’s music has been performed throughout the United States, Europe and Australia by many orchestras, chamber music ensembles and soloists. In the past year his works have been performed by the Chicago Ensemble, Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble, St. Olaf Trio (MN), Cygnus Ensemble (NY), Wyck Trio (U. K.), Sheridan Ensemble (Chicago), Webster Trio (TX), and Anderson-Fader Guitar Duo (NY). His music has earned honors in eleven composition competitions, most recently those sponsored by the International Clarinet Association, the Chicago Ensemble, and Cygnus Ensemble, and he has been commissioned to write music for the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Music Teachers Association of California, Northeastern University Band, and California Association of Professional Music Teachers. His music has been published by Fallen Leaf Press, RonCorp, ALRY, and Dorn, and recorded on the Albany, North/South, Capstone, Amie, Arizona, Furious Artisans and CRS labels. He has been a featured composer and speaker at New York University and Wichita State University, and concerts devoted exclusively to his music have been held at Washington State University and Western Carolina University. Mr. Rokeach earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from San Francisco State University, and his Ph.D. in composition and theory from Michigan State University. He is a member of the faculty at Saint Mary’s College, where he teaches music theory, history and chamber music.
Martin Rokeach, Ph.D.
Austin Smith grew up on a family dairy farm in northwestern Illinois. He received a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an MA from the University of California-Davis, and an MFA from the University of Virginia. Most recently he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University, where he is currently a Jones Lecturer. He has published four poetry collections: In the Silence of the Migrated Birds; Wheat and Distance; Instructions for How to Put an Old Horse Down; and Almanac, which was chosen by Paul Muldoon for the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets. Austin's poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, Yale Review, Sewanee Review, Ploughshares, New England Review, Poetry East, ZYZZYVA, Pleiades, Virginia Quarterly Review, Asheville Poetry Review, and Cortland Review, amongst others. His stories have appeared or will appear in Harper's, Glimmer Train, Kenyon Review, EPOCH, Sewanee Review, Threepenny Review, Fiction and Narrative Magazine. He was the recipient of the 2015 Narrative Prize for his short story, "The Halverson Brothers". He is currently a Jones Lecturer in Fiction at Stanford University, and lives in San Francisco.
Music Theory & Musicianship
Alex Stein is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area. Alex's works have seen premieres at several international festivals, including the Bowdoin International Music Festival and the International Festival of Contemporary Music in Poznan, Poland. In 2016, he participated in a residency at the musical incubator, Zoo Labs for his musical, The Entrepreneur. In 2014, he received a fellowship from the European American Musical Alliance (EAMA) to study counterpoint and harmony at the Schola Cantorum in Paris. He was a 2013 Artist-in-Residence at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. Among his many activities as a music educator, Alex works as a teaching artist with the San Francisco Opera's ARIA program, helping children create original mini-operas.
Alex holds a Master's Degree in composition from the Mannes College of Music. While at Mannes, he was a winner of the 2008 Jean Schneider Goberman composition competition, the Martinu prize for orchestral composition, and the Composer-in-Residence Chamber Ensemble commission.
Debbie graduated "With Distinction" from the California College of the Arts in Oakland with a BFA in illustration. She has exhibited in many group and solo shows, such as Art Expo in New York and has had paintings in galleries from Yountville to Carmel. Debbie's work is included in private and corporate art collections around the nation. Locally, both Alameda County and the City of Pleasanton own her paintings. Debbie was honored to be selected by Senator Ellen Corbett to produce a painting representing her district to hang at the state capitol building in Sacramento, CA. Debbie's primary medium is pastel, but she also paints in oils and acrylics. Her recent work focuses on the effects of light at sunset and twilight on the city, landscape and ocean. Her influences include such early California artists as Frank Cuprien, Mary DeNeale Morgan and Granville Redmond.
Debbie says, "I believe that art should be beautiful, accessible and evoke an emotional response in the viewer. I strive to create images that are immediately recognizable but are things that are frequently overlooked in the rush of everyday life. I love to capture a moment in time through the use of light and color.” Debbie's work is represented by Studio 7 Fine Arts in Pleasanton.
Founders & Directors
Danielle & Micah Naler
Danielle and Micah both began their musical studies at 4-years-old: Danielle on the piano in Santa Barbara, CA, and Micah on the violin in Dallas, TX. Little did they know, 16 years later, they would be introduced to each other by Anne Epperson in Santa Barbara. Danielle was assigned to perform Brahms F Minor Sonata with Micah on the viola. Rehearsing Brahms in beautiful Santa Barbara was the start of a life together that has been full of music, love, and family for the past 14 years.
Danielle and Micah both had formative experiences in Saturday conservatories in their middle and high school years: Danielle at Santa Barbara Music and Arts Conservatory, and Micah at Seattle Conservatory of Music. After discovering a passion for poetry at her Saturday arts conservatory, Danielle graduated from the College of Creative Studies at UCSB, receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Studies, with an emphasis in Creative Writing. Part of her experience included studying in Rome, Italy, developing a deep appreciation for the art, sculpture, and architecture she studied and encountered there, not to mention opera! After meeting Micah, who was studying viola at UCSB with Helen Callus, the two of them went on to the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, where Danielle received her Master of Music degree in Piano Performance, as a student of Yael Weiss. Micah studied violin with Mark Kaplan and viola with Atar Arad at Indiana University. He later transferred to St. Mary’s College to work on chamber music with Pam Freud-Striplen and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts. While there, he also studied theater and dance, which renewed his passion for inter-art collaboration. In his younger years, Micah participated in Icicle Creek Music Camp, located in the serene mountains of eastern Washington. He was deeply inspired by a “collage” concert the faculty performed, incorporating special lighting techniques and innovative theater elements. Over the years, Micah has built upon that concept by producing concerts that bring art forms together: blending music with lighting, projection, spoken word, dance, and more. After getting married, Danielle and Micah enjoyed traveling in Europe together, further igniting a passion to share the art, history, music, and culture they encountered. They have dreamed of COMMA for years and are thrilled to see their dream of uncovering artistry in young people become a reality.
Danielle and Micah have both performed broadly as soloists and as a duo. Danielle worked extensively in the studios of violinists Nina Bodnar, Mimi Zweig, and Mark Kaplan, and has had opportunities to work with maestros such as Janos Starker, Warren Jones, Eli Eban, and Roberto Diaz. As a graduate assistant of IU's opera program, Danielle coached singers and accompanied rehearsals under acclaimed conductors David Effron and Klauspeter Seibel, among others. In the summer of 2008, Ms. Naler was awarded the Sir Daniel Donahue fellowship for study in the Collaborative Piano program at the Music Academy of the West, under the direction of Jonathan Feldman from the Juilliard School. Winner of concerto competitions and various scholarships, she made her solo debut at the age of 15 with the Santa Barbara Symphony under the baton of Edwin Outwater. Micah studied music at the Seattle Conservatory, under the instruction of Margaret Pressley. After discovering the viola in his teens, Mr. Naler was awarded a full scholarship to attend UCSB. While there, Micah participated in various chamber, orchestral, and opera productions, as well as a new music ensemble. He was privileged to perform in masterclasses for Roberto Diaz and Ronald Copes, among others; he also won the 2005 concerto competition. He has been the section leader of various Bay Area orchestras and chamber groups, appearing on concert stages as a soloist with orchestras, and in other diverse contexts.
Currently, Danielle and Micah can be heard in concert with regional opera companies and choruses, in chamber ensembles, as freelance artists with singers and instrumentalists, and as a violin/piano duo throughout the San Francisco By Area.
Danielle and Micah have extensive teaching experience, offering private piano and violin and viola lessons, as well as classroom theory courses and ensembles. While at Indiana University, Ms. Naler interned under piano pedagogy expert Karen Taylor. Danielle built a large piano studio in Pleasanton, CA, and served as Vice-President of MTAC's Alameda County East Branch. Micah teaches string students privately, blending Suzuki and traditional violin training. He also enjoys coaching his students in chamber settings and string ensembles.