Core Orchestra Members, 2015
John Cramer, violin 1
Johnny Chang, violin 1
Jane Kimmes, violin 1
Christine Elston, violin 1
Kris Kelly, violin 2
Jolene Armstrong, violin 2
David M. Bynog, viola
H. P. Scott Card, cello
Patrick Moore, cello
Wendy Isaac Bergin, flute
Kim Knudsen, flute and piccolo
Maiko Sasaki, clarinet
James Roberson, bassoon
Suzanne Jackson, bassoon
Chris Shelburne, horn
Greg Davis, horn
George Chase, trumpet
Tom Tillotson, trumpet
Matt Dickson, trombone
Sandra Cersonsky, timpani and percussion
Violin I, Concertmaster
John Angelo Cramer is a professional violinist living in the Houston metropolitan area. Since 2010, John has been the concertmaster of the orchestra at Opera in the Heights. John started playing the violin at age six, attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Illinois State University. Throughout John’s professional career, he has performed as soloist, chamber musician, orchestra player and concertmaster for various performing arts organizations in the U.S. and abroad. John spent four seasons as the Associate Concertmaster of the Stadttheater Symphony Orchestra in Giessen, Germany and was associate concertmaster at the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder in 1984. Since returning to Houston, John has performed with the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, the Houston Ballet Orchestra, and the Houston Pops. In 2011 John traveled to Amman, Jordan to teach violin and chamber music at the Royal Music Conservatory in a US State department sponsored cultural ambassador program. John is a featured artist for Nihil Records and in 2014 released his first
solo CD album.
Violin I, Assistant Concertmaster
Mr. Chang has been one of the most active and sought after musicians in the Houston area for more than 20 years. He has earned his Bachelor in Music from the University of Costa Rica, Artist Diploma from Saint Louis Conservatory of Music, and Master in Music from Shepherd School of Music, Rice University. Mr. Chang has performed with many professional symphony orchestras and chamber music ensembles in U.S.A. as well as in Costa Rica. Currently, he serves as Assistant Concertmaster of Opera in the Heights Orchestra, Principal Violinist for the Theater Under The Stars Orchestra, First Violinist of Houston Latin Philharmonic, and Substitute Violinist for the Houston Ballet Orchestra. Mr. Chang is also the Adjunct Violin Professor of Houston Community College and Faculty for the AFA Summer Music Festival. He loves to perform chamber music regularly with Trio Oriens, Meridian Ensemble, and Houston Tango Quartet.
Violinist Jane C. Kimmes has been a member of the Opera in the Heights Orchestra since 2000 and filled the Concertmaster position from 2000-2006. She was a full time contracted violinist in the Houston Symphony Orchestra (substituting in the first and second violins) under Christoph Eschenbach for many years, and a member of the Houston Ballet and the Houston Grand Opera Orchestras. Jane has a Master of Music Degree in Violin Performance from the University of Iowa, Iowa City and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Music Education from the University of Wisconsin, Superior. Ms. Kimmes held the positions of Assistant Concertmaster of the Vera Cruz Symphony, Mexico and Assistant Concertmaster of the Xalapa Chamber Orchestra, Mexico and has played for the Cincinnati Ballet. Jane maintains a violin studio in Northwest Houston.
Christine Brain Elston, violin, has played with Opera in the Heights since 2006. A native Californian, she grew up in San Francisco’s east bay area suburb of Pleasant Hill. The daughter of amateur church and community choristers, she was surrounded by music, where singing was akin to breathing. She began studying piano and added violin at the age of eight. During high school, she took up the viola, charting her chamber music career in her first string quartet. As assistant principal viola in the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, she participated in the prestigious Herbert von Karajan International Festival of Youth Orchestras Competition in Berlin (1974), and there was invited to play in the International Youth Orchestra with Maestro von Karajan himself on piano. She continued her violin studies with Ronald Copes at the University of California-Santa Barbara, and later received a full graduate fellowship to theUniversity of Houston to play in the Dror String Quartet and earn her master’s degree. While at UH, she studied violin with Fredell Lack, and viola and chamber music with Lawrence Wheeler. A versatile musician, Mrs. Elston soon began playing violin in the orchestras of Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera – a chapter of her career that lasted upwards of 25 years. She also played viola in the Tallis String Quartet, violin in the Picasso Quartet, and implemented the string program at St. John’s School, where she conducted the K-12 string ensembles from 1986-2001. She played violin in the Texas Chamber Orchestra, and served as concertmaster of the Victoria Bach Festival Orchestra in the early ‘80s. Beginning in 1986, she was for 10 years the contractor and concertmaster for the newly-minted Houston Oratorio Society (now Houston Masterworks Chorus). Mrs. Elston sang soprano in the Christ the King Bach Society, as well as the First Presbyterian Chancel Choir, and serves to this day as concertmaster for FPC’s annual Messiah Sing-Along, even stepping in at the very last moment one year recently for an ailing alto soloist. She has enjoyed singing our National Anthem at her son’s Challenger baseball games, and currently sings soprano in the Westbury Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir. Mrs. Elston gradually resigned her professional freelance positions to devote herself full-time to the care and home education of her son, who has cerebral palsy. Her passions in that realm include curricula modifications, keeping abreast of new technology for expressive communication and academic possibilities for nonverbal and physically challenged students, and reading Shakespeare with her son. When not gallivanting around the country on some travel adventure, she and her husband and son reside in Houston with their two goofy, thunder-phobic, elderly lab-mix dogs
Violin II, Principal
Ms. Kelly was born and raised in the Puget Sound area of Washington State. Her formative years were spent in Seattle, where she studied with Seattle Symphony violinist, Maybeth Pressley, and later, Assistant Concertmaster, Serge Kardalian, a student of Ivan Galamian. Her focus and great love was always the performance of chamber music and the symphonic and opera literature. She has played professionally since college, first as a member of the Charlotte Symphony (1975-77), then as Concertmaster of the Houston Ballet Orchestra (1979-1990) and as a full-time substitute for the Houston Symphony under Christoph Eschenbach and Houston Grand Opera (1990-2001). Kris has been Principal Second Violin for Opera in the Heights since 2006. She is married, has two children, and her other passions are hiking, gardening and ballroom dancing.
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Jolene Armstrong graduated cum laude from Cal. State Northridge with a bachelor’s degree in violin performance, and attended the International Menuhin Music Academy in Gstaad, Switzerland on a full scholarship. She performed in the Camerata Lysy, touring Europe with Yehudi Menuhin. Ms. Armstrong received a Master of Music degree in viola performance from the University of Houston. She has performed as a soloist with the Henderson Symphony (Nevada) and Camerata Lysy (Switzerland), and performed as a member of the South Dakota Symphony as principal second violin, and in the Dakota String Quartet. She also performed as a member of the Las Vegas Symphony (Nevada) and the Santa Barbara Symphony (California). She has taught violin and viola at San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, and currently specializes in remodeling and restoring old homes in Houston’s East End, using reclaimed materials and doing much of the cosmetic and carpentry work herself. She is also involved in Halo House, an organization providing low cost housing to blood cancer patients getting treatment at MD Anderson.
David M. Bynog
An active freelance violist in the Houston area, David has served as principal violist of Opera in the Heights, the Woodlands Symphony, and the Baytown Symphony. A librarian by profession, David has taught graduate musicology courses at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, and the Moores School of Music, University of Houston, and has published widely in the music and library literature. David served as Editor of the Journal of the American Viola Society (JAVS) from 2008 to 2014 and currently serves as Associate Editor of the journal.
Scott Card is Principal Cellist with The Opera in the Heights and is starting his 29th year of private studio teaching. In addition to active freelancing, he maintains a private cello studio in the Conroe, Klein and Humble school districts. Mr. Card has been on the faculty of Lamar University in Texas, Oklahoma City University in Oklahoma and Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina. He has been principal cellist of The Woodlands Symphony Orchestra and assistant principal of The Victoria Symphony. Prior to moving to the Houston area, he was a member of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic cello section.
Mr. Card has been the recipient of an Aspen Music Center Fellowship, in addition to being a part of the American-Russian Youth Orchestra and Chautauqua music festivals. He was a Teaching Fellow at the University of North Texas for three years.
Mr. Card received a Masters of Music from the University of North Texas and a Bachelors of Music from Ohio State University. His major teachers include Carter Enyeart, Alan Harris, William Conable and Jeffrey Solow.
Cellist Patrick Moore is a musician of diverse interests who performs as a chamber player, soloist, and orchestral musician. As an orchestral musician, he is the principal cellist with the Cypress Symphony and the Houston Latin American Philharmonic and is also the assistant principal cellist with the Opera in the Heights. Patrick also enjoys performing chamber music with the Axiom Quartet. He also performs contemporary music with the Aperio New Music Ensemble. In addition, he is adjunct faculty at the University of St.Thomas. Patrick Moore received a Bachelors degree from Roosevelt University, and a Masters degree from Rice University.
Wendy Isaac Bergin
Wendy Isaac Bergin, a Louisiana native, is Associate Professor of Music at Prairie View A&M University and principal flutist of Houston’s Opera in the Heights. A graduate of McNeese State University and the University of Houston, she has also been an Affiliate Artist at the University of Houston, Central Campus, and served on the faculties of the University of Houston-Downtown, Blinn College and Lee College. During the three years she lived in Sweden, she made solo and chamber music recordings for the Swedish National Radio. She has also performed as a recorder player with Houston Grand Opera, the Victoria Bach Festival, and Ars Lyrica Houston. Her first novel, The Piper’s Story: A Tale of War, Music and the Supernatural, was published in March of 2013 by Clay Bridges Press.
Flute & Piccolo
Kim Knudsen began her flute studies in Spring Branch with Norma Burrows. She then attended Indiana University and the University of Illinois where she received a Bachelor of Music in Flute Performance and Teacher’s Certification. Upon returning to Houston, Kim taught elementary music for nine years in the Alief ISD and junior high band for four years in Katy. During this time, she began playing with Opera in Heights and also free-lancing in the Houston area. She has just completed her 18th season with Opera in the Heights and enjoys a private studio of students in the Memorial area.
A native of Japan, Dr. Maiko Sasaki has been working since the 1990’s toward interactive performances as a solo clarinetist. Her inspiring musicianship has delighted audiences on both sides of the Pacific. For her ongoing creative initiatives, she has been featured at the Kennedy Center and has been awarded the Presser Music Award–which is given to an artist demonstrating excellence and outstanding promise for a distinguished career in the field of music. Dr. Sasaki’s latest album “The Greener Grass,” released in 2015, features her original transcriptions for clarinet. In the album, she showcases the beauty of the clarinet as a solo instrument. She successfully transcribed many beloved master pieces, such as Debussy & Franck Violin Sonatas, without compromising the charm of the original compositions. For her unique contribution to the body of clarinet literature, she was invited to perform at the International Clarinet Association’s ClarinetFest 2015 in Madrid, Spain. In addition to the solo career, Dr. Sasaki is active in the orchestral and contemporary music scenes. As a resident of Houston, TX, USA, She is a member of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra – one of the country’s most innovative classical ensembles – and the Opera in the Heights Orchestra. Her lyrical performance in the opera has been described as “The clarinet solo in Act Two was exquisite and full of the overwhelming emotion vivid throughout the libretto and score, adding, almost inconceivably, to Violetta’s heartbreaking plea “Love me as much as I love you!” – Sydney Boyd, a critic in Houston. Dr. Sasaki also finds her interests in working with contemporary composers. She has premiered numerous works by Japanese composer Kunihiro Kato, whose recordings, Suite Nostalgia, Two Clarinet Sonatas, and Adieu Todoroki are available through the Office Makina label. She also appears on the recording of Society of Composers, Inc. “Musings” published by Capstone Records which features the work of Karim Al-Zand. She has appeared in Musiqa – one of the country’s leading contemporary music ensembles who was awarded the 2013 CMA/ASCAP adventurous Programming Award. Dr. Sasaki received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, and Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.
Grew up in Houston
Studied bassoon with Paul Tucci at U of Houston, Eric Arbiter at Rice University and George Goslee at The Cleveland Institute of Music where he received 2 degrees including the prestigious Artist Diploma, the first bassoonist to do so. Former 2nd bassoonist Texas Opera Theater, Co-Principal Bassoonist Canton Symphony, Co-Principal of The Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra. Has performed with The Cleveland Orchestra, St Louis Symphony, Pittsburgh Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Houston Symphony. For 7 years lived in Seoul, South Korea as Professor of Bassoon at Seoul National University and INHA University and Principal Bassoonist with The Korean Symphony and then The New Seoul Philharmonic. Currently, Principal Bassoonist of Opera In The Heights, The Corpus Christi Symphony and 3rd and Contra Bassoonist with The Houston Ballet. Artist in Residence with Humble ISD and Spring ISD.
A native of upstate New York, George Chase attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, PA, and attended graduate school at Rice University. While in school, he performed with the Albany Symphony, Philadelphia Opera, Harrisburg Symphony, St. Cecilia Chamber Orchestra, and he performed with the Berkshire Opera during the summers. After his graduation from Rice, he joined the Symphony Orchestra of the State of Mexico in Toluca, Mexico as associate principal trumpet. Upon his return to the United States, Mr. Chase began performing with area groups such as the Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony, Bach Society, and Theater Under the Stars, and taught at Houston Baptist University and the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston. He is a member of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO) and the ROCO Brass Quintet, Opera in the Heights, and Jazz Forever. Mr. Chase serves on the ROCO board, the Curtis Institute Alumni Council, and the advisory board of the Houston Youth Symphony. He has served as vice president as well as on the board of AFM Local 65-699. He lives in the Woodland Heights with his wife and 9 year old daughter.
Suzanne Jackson, Bassoonist, joined Opera in the Heights in 2006. A graduate of the University of Alabama, she served as principal bassoonist with the Tuscaloosa Area Orchestra and the Huntsville (Alabama) Symphony. During her tenure with HSO she performed with Benny Goodman, Bob Hope, Beverly Sills, Victor Borge, Canadian Brass, and Alicia de la Rocha. While still in the Alabama area she also performed with the Montgomery Symphony (AL), Hattiesburg Symphony (MS), Meridian Symphony (MS), and the Birmingham Opera Orchestra (AL). After moving to Texas to pursue a teaching career she joined the Baytown Symphony, played principal clarinet with the Baytown Community Band, tenor sax with the Lee College jazz band, and has performed with the Clear Lake Symphony, Lone Star Symphonic Band, Houston Symphonic Band, and Corpus Christi Ballet Orchestra. In 2009 Ms. Jackson performed at the Kekukamea Center for the Education, Training and Social Support of People with Special Needs, Kalamata, Greece to raise funds for a music department for the school. In addition to teaching public school music, Ms. Jackson maintains an active private bassoon studio in the Katy area and is the Founder/Director of the Katy Bassoon Consortium. She has two dogs, two cats, two parrots, and a hive of bees who came to stay.
A native New Yorker, trombonist Matthew Dickson currently resides in the Houston area where he is an active freelance musician and educator. As a soloist, Matthew has performed with the Orquestra de Mineria in Mexico City, where he was the principal trombonist, and with the Texas Music Festival as winner of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Concerto Competition. Other distinctions include being a prize winner at the 2003 Eastern Trombone workshop National Solo Competition. He has toured throughout the world as a member of the pit orchestras for Broadway hits such as Crazy for You, Kiss of the Spider Woman, State Fair, FAME, and 42nd Street and frequently performs with Broadway America and Theater Under the Stars on Tenor and Bass Trombone, Euphonium and Tuba. He has been a member of Opera in the Heights since 2003, as tenor and bass trombonist, and two of Houston’s premier party Bands, Infinite Groove and The Royal Dukes. He has performed with the Houston Symphony, and the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera Orchestras. He was principal trombonist of the Santo Domingo Music Festival from 2004-2010, and performed on bass trumpet with the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Matthew holds degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music, Yale University, and received his DMA from the University of Houston.