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Conductor and cellist Thomas Fortner was most recently Assistant Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra. As the Founder and Artistic Director of the Iowa Great Lakes Music Festival, he partnered with local performing arts presenters to bring world class musical performances to the Iowa Great Lakes region. As a Graduate Assistant Conductor at the Peabody Conservatory, he led concerts of the Peabody Symphony and Conductors Orchestra during the 2016-2017 season.
In 2016, Fortner served as the assistant conductor for the Martha Graham Dance Company at the Library of Congress during their revival of the original Ballet to Copland’s Appalachian Spring. As cover conductor for the Concert Artists of Baltimore, he served under Maestro Ed Polochick.
A committed educator, Fortner has taught for the Baltimore Symphony “OrchKids” and the Bridges Academy programs, which provide at-risk youth with free music lessons.
Fortner was a member of the final class selected by the late Gustav Meier to attend the Peabody Conservatory, where he studied with Marin Alsop and Markand Thakar, completing his Graduate Performance Diploma in conducting in 2017. Additionally, Fortner completed a Bachelors and Masters of cello performance at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. He has performed chamber music alongside musicians from orchestras such as the Houston Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Minnesota Orchestra. A native of Houston, Texas, Fortner has enjoyed visiting his family in the Iowa Great Lakes since childhood.
Jeff Paul, principal oboist with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, grew up in Southern California where he gained experience and expertise in various forms of performing arts. He was an aspiring concert pianist by the age of ten and was awarded opportunities to perform piano concerti with the Conejo Youth Symphony and the Pepperdine University Orchestra. Jeff attended the Eastman School of Music (BM with performer’s certificate, 1999) and the University of Southern California (MM, 2003) for oboe performance. His primary teachers include Richard Killmer, David Weiss, and Allan Vogel. He has performed as a soloist with the New West Symphony, Heidelberg Castle Festival Orchestra, Conejo Concerto Orchestra, and the South Dakota Symphony and has substituted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and San Diego Symphony.
One of Jeff’s primary interests has been traditional folk music of various cultures. He enjoys working closely with The New Porcupine Singers and improvising alongside Lebanese oud player Simon Shaheen.
In composition, Jeff has received awards from the Young Composer’s Guild of the Music Teachers Association of California, resulting in several premiers of his chamber and orchestral music. He has also received commissions from various organizations, including the South Dakota Symphony and the Young Artists Ensemble theater group in California. He composes regularly for the Dakota Wind Quintet.
Jeff has recorded for various projects, including a Warner Bros. film scoring session, a hip-hop orchestra, aspiring jazz/rock/fusion bands, and a spattering of independent short films.
Sue Sidoti studied violin and viola with Robert Gerle and Raymond Sidoti, organ with Bruce Eicher, Donald McDonald and Jean Langlais, and piano with Reynaldo Reyes and Betty Oberacker. After preliminary study in violin, viola and organ at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and the University of Michigan, she received her Bachelor of Music degree in organ from Westminster Choir College in Princeton and her Master of Music degree in violin and viola from The Ohio State University where she was elected to the music honor society, Pi Kappa Lambda. While at The Ohio State University, she was graduate associate and violist of the graduate string quartet, and violinist in the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.
Sidoti has performed extensively in the United States and Europe and has been violist of the Shiras String Quartet in residence at Northern Michigan University and the Capital University String Quartet in residence at Capital University. She has also performed as soloist with the Rome Festival Orchestra. She has taught at Baylor University, the Rome Festival Institute in Italy, Stephens College (where she was also chapel organist), Augustana College, Northwestern College and Dordt University. She has received touring grants from the South Dakota Arts Council as a member of the Sidoti Trio, has been violist of the Academy String Quartet in residence at Augustana University and Director of the former Augustana Academy for the Performing Arts. Formerly Associate Principal Violist and now a member of the viola section of the South Dakota Symphony, she has been Principal Violist of the Rome Festival Orchestra, the Superior Chamber Orchestra, the Missouri Symphony Society Chamber Orchestra, the Northwest Iowa Symphony, and the Sioux City Symphony. Sue has been violist of the Sidoti Trio and Quartet, faculty member of the Camerata Chamber Ensembles with SDSYO, and Personnel Manager of the South Dakota Symphony. Her violin and viola students have earned scholarships at some of the most prestigious conservatories and music schools in the United States and Canada.
Dr. Beverly Gibson, is a clarinet instructor at Northwestern College, Orange City, IA and Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA as well as a chamber music instructor for the Dakota Academy of Performing Art at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, SD. She is currently the Bass clarinetist/E Flat clarinetist with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and Principal clarinetist with the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra. She is an artist/clinician for the Buffet Crampon Corporation representing Buffet clarinets. Dr. Gibson was recently featured on French Canadian vocalist, Michel Chartier’s album recorded in Kent, England.
She received her Bachelor of Music Education degree from the State University of New York at Fredonia, a Master’s degree in Woodwind Performance from the University of North Texas and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Louisiana State University.
Music faculty positions have included positions at McNeese State University, University of Central Arkansas, University of North Texas, Louisiana State University and Augustana College. Additionally she has served as bass clarinetist/Eb clarinetist with the Baton Rouge Symphony, Principal clarinetist with the Lake Charles and Rapides Symphony Orchestras in Louisiana and the Plano Chamber Orchestra in Texas.
Dr. Gibson has performed on clarinet and saxophone with numerous artists including the Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Gene Ferrari, Patti Greco, Michael Andrew, Andy Williams, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Guy Lombardo Orchestra, Stars of the Lawrence Welk Show, Henry Cuesta, Myron Floren, Don Rickles and Frankie Valli. She has been a member of the house orchestras aboard Carnival Cruise Lines’ Fantasy and Ecstasy, Costa Cruise Lines’ Costa Classica, Holland America Cruise Lines’ Nieuw Amsterdam and a guest soloist on Cunard Cruise Lines’ Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. She has performed at the Grand Teton Music Festival and the Classical Music Festival in Vienna. She has presented recitals/clinics in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Austria and Switzerland and for the International Clarinet Association, Music Teacher’s National Convention, Regional Saxophone Symposium and the South Dakota Bandmaster’s Association.
Karren Melik-Stepanov is a professor of cello and chamber music at Augustana University. He has appeared as a recitalist, a soloist and a chamber musician in North America, Europe, North Africa, the Baltic Republics and the Caucasian Republics. In addition to playing with the leading chamber groups and being a principal of several orchestras in former USSR, he was professor of music at the National Conservatory of Music in Baku (former USSR). Many of his former students are now pursuing musical careers in the USA, Spain, Germany, Russia, Mexico, Finland, the Baltic Republics, Israel and Armenia.
Dr. Melik-Stepanov earned his bachelor and master of music degrees with honors and also an artist’s diploma in cello performance. He later earned his D.M.A. degrees in cello performance and chamber music from Yerevan National Conservatory of Music, and he counts one of the greatest cellists in cello performance history, Mstislav Rostropovich, as his principal cello teacher. He also published a several books about the contemporary cello music and the performing art.
Sarah Richter grew up in Sioux Falls, studying violin, viola, and chamber music with Sue & Ray Sidoti. Her violin performance degree is from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Linda Cerone & David Russell. July and August of last year saw her featured in both traditional chamber music and experimental performance art at Emerson College in England. She has enjoyed doing off-beat gigs, such as solo work with The Moth storytellers. As first violinist of the Dakota Academy of Performing Arts (DAPA) Quartet, she recently coached, performed, and recorded string quartets by her late mentor, Italian-American virtuoso violinist and composer, Ray Sidoti. In addition to her history of education and community outreach functions on the faculty of DAPA’s chamber music program (now the SDSO’s Camerata), Sarah is a regular member of the South Dakota Symphony’s first violin section. December 2018 marked her first performances in the Twin Cities, playing first violin for Minnesota Dance Theater’s Nutcracker Fantasy. She is a private violin/viola teacher and freelance violinist, dividing her time between Sioux Falls and Minneapolis.