10 Young Conductors receive 2019 Career Assistance Awards from The Solti Foundation U.S.

Foundation has awarded 78 Assistance Awards since 2004

The Solti Foundation released its 2019 Career Assistance Awards today, raising the number of Career Assistance Awards the organization has granted since turning its focus to exclusively assisting young American conductors in 2004 to 78. Penny Van Horn, Board Chair of The Solti Foundation U.S. and Elizabeth Buccheri, Artistic and Awards Committee Chair, announced the names of the ten recipients of the 2019 Solti Foundation Career Assistance Awards. The young conductors work throughout the United States, and abroad, and hold posts in California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and abroad in Brazil and Canada.

“The future of classical music is indeed bright,” stated Ms. Van Horn. “Each year, the Foundation receives applications from all over, demonstrating the need for an organization such as ours. It is exciting to learn of new talent and to watch the growth of some former award recipients.

“This year’s award recipients include first time recipients and some young conductors whom we have supported in the past, and who have proven themselves to be deserving of additional support in their musical journeys. We congratulate each of the 2019 awardees.”

Ms. Van Horn revealed Conner Gray Covington, Associate Conductor, Utah Symphony; Aram Demirjian, Music Director of Knoxville Symphony Orchestra; Joshua Hong, Music Director of the Campanile Orchestra; Stilian Kirov, Music Director of the Bakersfield Symphony (CA), Illinois Philharmonic and New Jersey’s Symphony in C; Benjamin Manis, Resident Conductor of the Houston Grand Opera beginning September 2019; Lee Mills, Resident Conductor of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, and Associate Conductor of the Seattle Symphony beginning September 2019; Gemma New, Music Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Resident Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and Principal Guest Conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, beginning 2019-2020 season; Stefano Sarzani, former Associate Conductor of the Des Moines Metro Opera, Stephanie Rhodes Russell, recently appointed Associate Conductor of the Grand Teton Music Festival; and Kensho Watanabe, Assistant Conductor of The Philadelphia, as the 2019 Award recipients.

About The 2019 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award Recipients

Conner Gray Covington

Currently in his second season with the Utah Symphony as Associate Conductor. Conner Gray Covington previously served as the Rita E. Hauser Conducting Fellow at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and as Assistant Conductor of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Memphis Youth Symphony Program. He made his Carnegie Hall debut with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra sharing the podium with Ludovic Morlot. Upcoming guest engagements include Portland Symphony (ME) and NOVA Chamber Music Series. Covington has guested with the symphonies of St. Louis, Kansas City, Virginia and Monterey (CA), and the Oregon Mozart Players. He has served as a cover conductor for the Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, the symphonies of Pittsburgh and Atlanta, Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera Company and Oregon’s Britt Festival Orchestra. Awards and honors include 2019, 2017 and 2014 Career Assistance Awards from the Solti Foundation U.S.; being invited as one of three conductors to participate in the 2015 Pacific Music Festival Conducting Academy in Sapporo, Japan; and being featured as a conductor in the 2016 Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview presented by the League of American Orchestras. In 2014 he was selected by members of the Vienna Philharmonic to attend the Salzburg Festival as a recipient of the Ansbacher Fellowship for Young Conductors.


Aram Demirjian

Music Director of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Aram Demirjian previously served as Associate Conductor of the Kansas City Symphony. A frequent guest conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra, he has also guested with the Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, New England Conservatory, Omaha, San Antonio, St. Louis and symphonies, the Minnesota, Sarasota and Breckenridge Music Festival orchestras, and the Louisiana, Boise and Fresno philharmonics. Internationally, he has conducted the Orquesta Sinfónico de Minería, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne and Orchéstre Métropolitain de Montréal. Regularly engaged as cover conductor with The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Demirjian is the recipient of 2019 and 2017 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Awards, and the 2011 Robert J. Harth Conducting Prize from the Aspen Music Festival, where he was a three-time Conducting Fellow in the Aspen Conducting Academy. In 2018, he served as a Solti Fellow with the Lyric Opera of Chicago for Massenet’s Cendrillon under Sir Andrew Davis. Demirjian was the only American among seven conductors selected by Maestro Bernard Haitink as an active participant in the 2016 Haitink Masterclass at the Lucerne Easter Festival. Demirjian holds a joint Bachelor of Arts in Music and Government from Harvard University and a Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting from New England Conservatory.


Joshua Hong

Music Director of the Campanile Orchestra, Joshua Hong is currently pursuing a second degree in orchestral conducting under Larry Rachleff at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. Prior posts include Music Director of the Baltimore-based Occasional Symphony, Assistant Conductor of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and Assistant Conductor of the Peabody Opera Theatre. Recent highlights include his guest conducting debut leading the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra in a subscription concert and serving as cover conductor for Music Director Designate Stéphane Denève at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and for Music Director Robert Spano at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Hong also served as Assistant Conductor to Patrick Summers in Shepherd School Opera’s production of Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. Awards and honors include a 2019 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award and serving as a conducting fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and School under Federico Cortese and Robert Spano. As a founding member of the Atlas Quartet, he is a winner of Peabody Conservatory’s Yale Gordon Chamber Fellowship, and was a semi-finalist in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. Joshua Hong holds a Bachelor of Music degree in violin performance from the Juilliard School, where he studied under Masao Kawasaki, and a Master of Music degree in orchestral conducting from Peabody Conservatory, where he studied under Gustav Meier and Markand Thakar.


Stilian Kirov

Stilian Kirov is Music Director of California’s Bakersfield Symphony, New Jersey’s Symphony in C and the Illinois Philharmonic. Previous posts include Associate Conductor of the Seattle Symphony and Associate Conductor of the Memphis Symphony. During the 2013/2014 season, he was engaged as an assistant conductor to Bernard Haitink with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Upcoming and recent engagements include Brazil’s Minas Gerais Phiharmonic, Omaha Symphony, Chautauqua Symphony and the Sofia Philharmonic, among others. He also appears regularly as guest conductor with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Guesting engagements include the symphonies of West Virginia, Kalamazoo, South Bend, Breckenridge’s National Repertory Orchestra and the Tucson Symphony in North America, and internationally, Paris’ Orchestre Colonne, the Ukraine’s Leopolis Chamber Orchestra, Athen’s Orchestra of Colors, St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Orchestra, Thüringen Philharmonic Orchestra and the Victoria Symphonyin British Columbia, among others. Among his numerous awards are 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Awards, First Prize, the 2017 “Debut Berlin” Concert Competition, serving as a 2013 Tanglewood Conducting Fellow, France’s 2010 ADAMI Conducting Prize and an Emmy for the Memphis Symphony’s Soundtrack Project, to name a few. Mr. Kirov is a graduate of The Juilliard School in orchestral conducting, where he was a student of James DePreist. Mr. Kirov holds a master’s degree in conducting from the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, where he studied with Dominique Rouits.


Benjamin Manis

Appointed Resident Conductor of the Houston Grand Opera beginning September 2019, Benjamin Manis currently studies with Larry Rachleff at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. Recent performances at Rice include Holst’s The Planets, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, and the Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante. Upcoming engagements include a return to the Aspen Music Festival for the third consecutive summer in 2019, where he was the winner of the Robert J. Harth and Robert Spano prizes in 2018 and 2017. Before moving to Houston, Mr. Manis studied cello and conducting at the Colburn School, where he conducted outreach concerts in public schools across Los Angeles and performed Lutoslawski’s Cello Concerto as soloist with conductor Robert Spano. Mr. Manis will graduate from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music in May 2019. He has attended the Pierre Monteux School and the International Conducting Workshop and Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria.


Lee Mills

Resident Conductor of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, Lee Mills has been appointed Associate Conductor of the Seattle Symphony beginning September 2019. Prior to being named Resident Conductor, he served as Assistant Conductor of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra. Guesting engagements have included the National Symphony Orchestra (DC), the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Awards and honors include 2019, 2017 and 2014 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Awards, serving as a conducting fellow at Aspen’s American Academy of Conducting during 2012 and 2013, and the 2011 BSO-Peabody Institute Conducting Fellowship, which he received at the invitation of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop. In 2017, he was selected as a semifinalist in both the International Conducting Competition Sir Georg Solti and the Opera Royal de Wallonie-Liege International Opera Conducting Competition. Mr. Mills graduated cum laude from Whitman College, where he began his conducting studies with Robert Bode, and received his Graduate Performance Diploma and Artist’s Diploma in Orchestral Conducting at the Peabody Institute under the tutelage of Gustav Meier and Marin Alsop. 


Gemma New

New Zealand-born Gemma New is Music Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Resident Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. She was recently appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, a position she will assume in the 2019/20 season. A former Dudamel Conducting Fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, she previously served as Associate Conductor of the New Jersey Symphony. Guest engagements include the symphony orchestras of Atlanta, Detroit, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, North Carolina, Omaha, San Diego, San Francisco, Toronto, Tucson, Winnipeg, the Los Angeles and New York philharmonics and Philadelphia Orchestra in North America, and internationally the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Helsingborgs Symfoniorkester, Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Malmö Symfoniorkester, Filharmonia Szczecin, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, Auckland Philharmonia, and Christchurch Symphony, to name a few. Upcoming guest engagements include Santa Fe Pro Musica, a performance with the musicians of the Mendelssohn Orchestra Academy and Gewandhaus Orchestra at the Mendelssohn Saal of the Leipzig Gewandaus, the San Diego and San Francisco symphony orchestras, Toronto and Sewanee Summer Music Festivals, and the Lake Area Music Festival (MN). Awards include 2019 and 2017 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Awards and conducting fellowships at Aspen Music Festival, Salzburg Festival and Tanglewood. New holds a Master of Music degree in orchestral conducting from the Peabody Institute, and graduated from University of Canterbury in New Zealand with a Bachelor of Music in violin performance.


Stefano Sarzani

Italian-born Stefano Sarzani recently made his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut with La Bohème. He will return as a member of the music staff next year to work on Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Dead Man Walking and Siegfried. He previously served as Associate Conductor of the Des Moines Metro Opera. Upcoming engagements include concerts with Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana (Italy), La Bohème at Opera Idaho, and a collaboration next summer with Central City Opera on Billy Budd and Madama Butterfly (also conducting performances of the latter). Recent guesting engagements include Symphony NH, Maria de Buenos Aires at Des Moines Metro Opera, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi at the University of Memphis. Mr. Sarzani has conducted and collaborated with symphonic and operatic institutions such as Boise Philharmonic Orchestra, National Repertory Orchestra (Colorado), Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, Orchestra Sinfonica di Sanremo (Italy), Den Jyske Opera (Denmark), Opéra National de Lorraine (France), Opera Maine, Atlanta Opera and Sarasota Opera. The recipient of 2019, 2018 and 2016 Career Assistance Awards, and an “Elizabeth Buccheri Opera Residency” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Michigan Opera Theater from The Solti Foundation U.S., Sarzani is a graduate of Indiana University and Conservatorio G. Rossini (Pesaro). He also studied at Monteux School, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.


Stephanie Rhodes Russell

Recently appointed Associate Conductor of the Grand Teton Music Festival. Stephanie Rhodes Russell’s upcoming engagements include her European conducting debut this fall 2019 with Staatsoper Stuttgart’s Junge Oper im Nord and a return to San Francisco Opera to serve as Cover Conductor for Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Recent engagements include Handel’s Alcina for the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, and the Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative. She was commissioned by The Dallas Opera to transliterate Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, and selected to participate in the inaugural 2015 Hart Institute for Women Conductors at The Dallas Opera, subsequently joining the Miami Summer Music Festival to conduct Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Rhodes Russell has served on the music staff of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia, The Dallas Opera, Houston Grand Opera, LA Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Washington National Opera, amongst others. As a Fulbright award recipient, she spent the 2012/13 season in Moscow specializing in Russian repertoire and pronunciation for non-native singers while working as a guest coach at the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia. She is founder and Board Chair of the non-profit Women’s Artistic Leadership Initiative (Women’s ALI). An alum of the Houston Grand Opera Studio and San Francisco’s Merola Opera program, she holds degrees in Collaborative Piano and Piano Performance from Utah State University and the University of Michigan and is expected to complete her doctorate in Orchestral Conducting at the University of Utah this May.


Kensho Watanabe

Kensho Watanabe is Assistant Conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra since the 2016-17 season. He served as the inaugural conducting fellow of the Curtis Institute of Music from 2013 to 2015 under the mentorship of Yannick Nézet-Séguin. In April 2017, he came to worldwide attention by stepping in last minute for an indisposed Nézet-Séguin to make his critically acclaimed subscription debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra and pianist Daniil Trifonov. Guesting engagements include the Philadelphia Orchestra, Houston Symphony, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Orchestre Métropolitain. Mr. Watanabe has led numerous operas with the Curtis Opera Theatre, most recently Puccini’s La Rondine in 2017 and La Bohème in 2015. He has also served as assistant conductor to Mr. Nézet-Séguin on a new production of Strauss’s Elektra at Montreal Opera. An accomplished violinist, Mr. Watanabe received his Master of Music degree from the Yale School of Music. Mr. Watanabe is a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with Otto-Werner Mueller. He also holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Yale College, where he studied molecular, cellular, and developmental biology.

Ms. Buccheri congratulated the 2019 Career Assistance Award recipients, “The Committee had an extremely challenging time, with the largest number of applications received for consideration this year. Each of you has your own unique path, and the focus and determination and passion with which you each pursue your craft would make Sir Georg proud! Congratulations to all of this year’s award recipients! We are look forward to watching your careers grow and are excited to see what the future brings.”

About The Solti Foundation U.S.

Now in its fifteenth year of assisting outstanding young U.S. conductors to further develop their talent and careers, The Solti Foundation U.S. is the foremost organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to helping young conductors.

Established in 2000 to honor the memory of the legendary conductor Sir Georg Solti by lending significant support to career-ready young American musicians, in 2004, the Foundation concentrated the focus of its award program to solely assist talented young American conductors early in their professional careers (its original mission was of a more general arts nature). Since then, it has awarded over $500,000 in grants to American conductors.

The Foundation endeavors to seek out those musicians who have chosen to follow a path similar to that followed by Sir Georg himself. In keeping with the spirit of Sir Georg’s active approach to his career, young conductors must apply to be considered for the awards.

While dedicated to identifying and assisting young conductors early on, the Foundation is also concerned with the long-term development of its award recipients, continuing to offer support and maintaining a constant interest in their growth and achievements.

The Foundation currently awards the following grants annually:

The Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award. The largest grant currently given to American conductors in the formative years of their careers, the prestigious $30,000 grant is given annually to a single promising American conductor 38 years of age or younger. The Award, also known as The Solti Fellow, includes door-opening introductions, ongoing professional mentoring, and introductions to two of Chicago’s most prestigious performing organizations: Lyric Opera of Chicago and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Recipients include Yaniv Dinur, Roderick Cox, Christopher Allen, Karina Canellakis, Vladimir Kulenovic, Cristian Macelaru, James Feddeck, Case Scaglione, Eric Nielsen, and Anthony Barrese.

The Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award. The amount of the Career Assistance Awards varies.

The Elizabeth Buccheri Opera Residency. Introduced in the 2014-15 season, the program places former award recipients with a distinguished opera house for one-on-one mentoring and coaching of an opera during the company’s professional season. Recipients have worked with numerous stellar opera companies renowned for their artistic excellence across the country, including the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Florentine Opera Company in Milwaukee, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, North Carolina Opera in Raleigh, and the Michigan Opera Theatre. Conductors cannot apply, but are instead selected by the Artistic and Awards Committee.

The Foundation is currently the only American Foundation to grant these kinds of awards each year to young American conductors. Citizens or permanent residents of the United States who are career-ready artists in the field of conducting are eligible to apply.

Applicants for all Solti Foundation U.S. awards must be able to demonstrate that he/she is developing a career as a symphonic/operatic conductor. All applications from The Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award are considered for a Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award. Applications are reviewed by an awards committee comprised of a panel of professionals with broad musical and conducting experience. The Foundation reserves the right to withhold a grant in any given year if the Awards Committee does not find suitable applicants in one or more of the various award categories.