GMF2020: Opening Event | Celebrating Rochester’s Own

“Celebrating Rochester’s Own” features Rochester-area professional classical musicians of African descent performing chamber music, concert arias and spirituals.  Artists include Kearstin Piper Brown, soprano; Nicole Cabell, soprano; Boubacar Diallo, cello; Elena O’Connor, soprano; Herb Smith, trumpet; George Taylor, viola; and Lee Wright, piano.

Pre-Concert Conversation: Herbert Smith, host, trumpet and Gateways Artistic Programs Committee; Kearstin Piper Brown, soprano and Gateways board member; Lee Koonce, President & Artistic Director, Gateways Music Festival and Thomas Warfield, senior lecturer, Rochester Institute of Technology and William Warfield Scholarship Fund Board of Directors.


Herbert Smith

Lift Every Voice and Sing
J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson, arranged by James Cockerham

Musicians of the 2017 and 2019 Gateways Music Festival Orchestra
Michael Morgan, conductor

Oh, What a Beautiful City
Traditional African-American Spiritual, arranged by Johnie Dean

Balm in Gilead
Traditional African-American Spiritual, arranged by Hale Smith

Kearstin Piper Brown, soprano
Elena O’Connor, soprano
Lee Wright, piano

Ulysses Kay

Steal Away
Traditional African-American Spiritual,
arranged by Herbert Smith and Lee Wright

Herb Smith, trumpet
Lee Wright, piano

Ma rendi pur contento from Composizioni da Camera
Vincenzo Bellini

Joy from Genius Child: A Cycle of 10 Songs
Ricky Ian Gordon, music
Langston Hughes, text

Nicole Cabell, soprano
Lee Wright, piano

Duo for Viola and Cello, “Eyeglasses Duo,” WoO 32 | I. Allegro
Ludwig van Beethoven

George Taylor, viola
Boubacar Diallo, cello

Ol’ Man River from Show Boat
Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II

William Warfield, bass-baritone

Recorded live at Hochstein School of Music & Dance on Tuesday, October 27, 2020 and Thursday, October 29, 2020.

Special thanks to recording engineers Matt Mann and Annalise Taylor, sound engineer John Truebger, and Peggy Quackenbush, Executive Director, Hochstein School of Music & Dance.

About Jessye Norman

By James Norman

Born September 15, 1945 in Augusta, Georgia to the late Silas Norman Sr. and Janie Mae King Norman, Jessye attended C. T. Walker Elementary School and Lucy Laney High School in Augusta. She completed her undergraduate studies at Howard University in 1967. She then studied at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, and at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. She earned a master of music degree at the University of Michigan in 1968.

Her church home was the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Augusta. Music and the church were vital interests in Jessye’s early life. Her mother played piano and her father sang in the church choir, and by the age of four she was already singing gospel songs in the church choir.

As a young girl she enjoyed listening to live radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera. Her early love of music grew into an extraordinary life of music. Her stellar performance in competitions and auditions as a young artist won her a full scholarship to study music at Howard University, and later an invitation to join the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, where she made her professional operatic debut.

Over the following decades, Jessye cultivated a spectacular career filled with unique and unprecedented achievements. She won great acclaim for her performances in a wide range of leading roles with the world’s premier opera companies; in solo recitals and in concerts of her cherished classical repertoire with preeminent orchestras across the globe; and in artistic excursions into jazz and American musical theatre.

Jessye was renowned not only for her vocal virtuosity and versatility; but also for her strong work ethic, thorough preparation, and deep understanding of language, texts, and context. She was an adept student of language and culture, and she was embraced by many countries as one of their own.

Jessye was the recipient of many awards and accolades, including forty honorary doctorate degrees; five Grammy awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award; the National Medal of the Arts from President Obama; and the Kennedy Center Honors. In France, an orchid was named for her by the National Museum of Natural History; she was a Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres; and she was an Officier of the Legion Francaise.

She was a trustee at the New York Public Library, Carnegie Hall, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Lupus Foundation, and the New York Botanical Garden. She was a passionate advocate for arts education. She was devoted to the Jessye Norman School for the Arts in Augusta, Georgia. Jessye’s memoir, Stand up Straight and Sing!, was published in 2014.


Kearstin Piper Brown

Soprano Kearstin Piper Brown just made her San Francisco Opera debut covering the role of Dame Shirley in the world premiere of John Adams’s Girls of the Golden West. Recently, Ms. Brown performed with Rochester Oratorio Society in the Vaughan-Williams Dona Nobis Pacem and Emancipation Oratorio. She also toured Israel as Bess in Gershwin’s masterpiece, Porgy and Bess. This season Ms. Brown will return as a guest artist with the Chaliapin Festival at the Kazan Opera Theater in Russia and in the spring, she will also begin work singing the lead role in the new opera, Promised Land: An Adirondack Folk Opera. Next season brings Ms. Brown back to the West Coast for Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the San Jose Chamber Orchestra and a return to San Francisco Opera to sing the Clara in Jake Heggie’s, It’s a Wonderful Life. She will also sing her role debut as Pamina in The Magic Flute with Opera in Williamsburg and make appearances in the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival.

Highlights of Ms. Brown’s performances as a concert soloist include an appearance at the Palais Augarten in Vienna, a gala of American music with the Moscow City Symphony Orchestra, Handel’s Messiah with the Lebanon Symphony, a concert with the Rochester Early Music Festival, the Festival Classique’s Opera Under the Stars concert with the Residentie Orkest in The Hague and the Edison Awards Gala 2010 with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, both of which were televised LIVE in the Netherlands, as well as concerts with the Pasadena Symphony and Pops, the Cedar Rapids Chorale and Symphony, and the Hines-Lee Opera Ensemble at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Ms. Brown was a young artist at the International Institute of Vocal Arts in Italy, the Opera Colorado and the Utah Festival Opera, as well as an Artist-in-Residence with Dayton Opera, Opera Memphis, and Cincinnati Opera. She has been a prize-winner in several international competitions, including the Montserrat Caballé International Competition, the William Matheus Sullivan Foundation, the Gerda Lissner Foundation Vocal Competition, and the Licia Albanese-Pucinni Foundation International Vocal Competition.

A native of Alexandria, Virginia, Ms. Brown is a graduate of both Spelman College and Northwestern University.

Nicole Cabell

Soprano Nicole Cabell, the 2005 Winner of the BBC Singer of the World Competion in Cardiff and Decca recording artist, is one of the most sought-after lyric sopranos of today. Her solo debut album, “Soprano”, was named “Editor’s Choice” by Gramophone and has received an incredible amount of critical acclaim and several prestigious awards: the 2007 Georg Solti Orphée d’Or from the French Académie du Disque Lyrique and an Echo Klassik Award in Germany.

While a member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lyric Opera Center for American Artists (now known as Ryan Opera Center), Nicole Cabell had the opportunity to sing the title-role in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen in student matinees as well as to cover the roles of Marzelline in Fidelio and Rita Billingsly in the world premiere of William Bolcom’s A Wedding. Miss Cabell made her extremely successful Orchestra Hall debut with the Chicago Symphony in concerts of Tippett’s A Child of Our Time with Sir Andrew Davis conducting. She also made her European debut in concerts of Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem with the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome with Antonio Pappano and Thomas Hampson; she appeared with the Florida Orchestra as the Soprano Soloist in Mahler’s 4th Symphony with the Florida Orchestra and Stefan Sanderling and in Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 with the Baltimore Symphony. Nicole Cabell was heard in recital in Little Rock, AK.

Awards include first place in both the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition and the Women’s Board of Chicago Vocal Competition. Nicole Cabell was a semi-finalist in the 2005 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and earned first place in the American Opera Society competition in Chicago. She is the 2002 winner of the Union League’s Rose M. Grundman Scholarship, and the 2002 Farwell Award with the Woman’s Board of Chicago. Nicole Cabell holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Performance from the Eastman School of Music.

Boubacar Diallo

Boubacar Diallo is an African-American cellist, born and raised in New York City.  In New York City, Boubacar has had the privilege of studying at some of the city’s finest institutions, including Special Music School at Kaufman Music Center and Mannes Pre-College. He also was a member of Face the Music, an organization dedicated to the study and performance of contemporary music, and the New York Youth Symphony Chamber Program.

Boubacar was a winner at the Special Music School High School Concerto Competition, performing the first movement of the Lalo cello concerto in D minor, and performed the final movement of the Brahms B major trio for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s High School Competition winners’ concert at Alice Tully Hall.

He has performed in many venues, including Carnegie Hall, the National Opera Center, and the United Nations’ climate summit in Paris, France.

Some of his primary teachers have been Annie Barley Givler, Micheal Finckel, Alex Croxton, Tomoko Fujita and Fred Sherry. Boubacar currently attends the Eastman School of Music in pursuit of his undergraduate degree, where he studies with Steven Doane and Rosemary Elliot. He is the recipient of the Eastman Artist Scholarship, and serves as a Resident Advisor for the on- campus student community.

Additionally, he recently completed a fellowship at the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra in Ithaca, NY, where he served as the inaugural participant of the orchestra’s diversity initiative . He is a two- time attendee of the Heifetz International Music Institute, which takes place in Staunton, Virginia.

Elena O’Connor

Soprano Elena O’Connor made her European opera debut in 2017 in Wiesbaden in the title role of Tosca. The following month she was called as a last-minute cover for Sondra Radvanovsky as the title role in Aida at the Chorégies D’Orange Festival, which she sang alongside Marcelo Alvarez and Anita Rachvelishvili on the stage of Orange’s 7,300-seat ancient Roman theater. She reprised the role at Oper Dortmund, opening the company’s 2018-2019 season, followed by a debut with Romanian National Opera in Cluj-Napoca as Leonora in Il Trovatore.

In the spring of 2020, she returned to Wiesbaden to sing Tosca while touring in the role of Aida with the Landestheater Detmold. In the summer of 2018 she sang the role of Rosalinda in Finger Lakes Opera’s production of Die Fledermaus, led by conductor Gerard Floriano.

She is a frequent guest of the Philharmonic Orchestra and Oratorio Society in her hometown of Rochester, New York. In concert, Ms O’Connor has sung the soprano solos in numerous Bach Cantatas, Poulenc’s Gloria, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, the Requiem masses of Brahms and Verdi.

As a young singer, Ms. O’Connor received honors and awards from numerous competitions, including the Palm Beach Opera International Vocal Competition where she was a prize-winner in two consecutive years. Additionally, she was a winner of the Aspen Music Festival’s Vocal Concerto Competition.

As a fellow at Aspen, she was featured as Musetta in La bohème and Micaela in Carmen under the baton of Julius Rudel and the direction of Ed Berkeley.

An art song enthusiast, Ms. O’Connor was a participant of the Ravinia Festival’s Steans Institute Program for Singers under the auspices of James Conlon and Margo Garrett. Also at the invitation of Maestro Conlon, Ms O’Connor was the youngest ever featured soloist in the long history of the Cincinnati May Festival, where she performed the soprano role in Bach’s Cantata No. 21, Cincinnati’s Enquirer calling her “a young star to watch.”

Herbert Smith

Born and raised in Cincinnati OH, trumpet player Herb Smith came to Rochester in 1987 to attend the Eastman School of music, where he received his bachelors of Music Education, and ended up staying.

Upon graduating from Eastman he won the 2nd trumpet position with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and now holds the 3rd trumpet seat.

Herb has been in the Rochester Philharmonic for over 18 years and has performed in Carnegie Hall with the Rochester Philharmonic as well as a soloist on a recital in Carnegie, the year 2008. He regularly plays with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Chautauqua Institute Symphony Orchestra and the Portland Maine Symphony, as well as being a soloist, and chamber musician around the greater Rochester Area.

On the Jazz side of things, he has a CD entitled The Trumpet Shall Sound (2007) featuring his Jazz Quintet playing reinterpreted jazz standards along with original compositions by Herb. He now has a jazz trio entitled “Freedom Trio” which is more adventurous musically, tapping into many different music forms including Jazz, Classical, Indian, and even more popular styles. This group has performed at the Rochester International Jazz Festival for many years, and will be releasing some new music coming soon.

As a musician in Rochester NY, he has had the opportunity to play with many notable musicians including, Wynton Marsalis, Doc Severenson, The Ojays’, Aretha Franklin, Al Jareau, and Ben Folds to name a few.

Furthermore when Broadway touring shows come through Rochester, he is hired as lead trumpet for shows, including The Book of Mormon, Wicked, Color Purple, and just recently Pippin’2015.

Herb’s teaching experience is varied as well, teaching musicians and non-musicians of all ages. He is currently an Artist in Residence for Young Audiences, and the Rochester City School District. He began his Artist and Residence work with the now disbanded Rochester Chapter of the Aesthetic Education Institute. And furthermore, he is a trumpet Instructor at the Eastman School of Music. Herb also does masterclasses and lectures on trumpet technique, endurance and sound production; works with high school bands and Orchestras as teacher and soloist; and teaches private lessons out of his home.

As a composer he has been commissioned to write pieces for Brass Ensembles, High School Choirs, Jazz Ensembles and trumpet Ensembles, all the while composing for his jazz trio. Herb’s composition “The twelve tones of Christmas” for trumpet, piano and voice, was premiered in Carnegie hall in 2008. Recently Herb was commissioned to write a ballet for the Garth Fagen Children’s Ensemble. It was a 6 part work ranging in many styles including Reggae, classical, Jazz and Funk totaling over 40 minutes in length. And he wrote a piece for High School Choir SATB that was premiered in 2014 at The Finney School. He was also commissioned to write a fanfare for the dedication of a new Auditorium at Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women.

George Taylor

“In the hands of an outstanding artist like Taylor, the instrument seems almost heaven-sent,” wrote John Lambert in the Spectator of George Taylor, violist. Taylor is active in practically every aspect of performance as soloist, recitalist and chamber musician, and his playing has been praised for its eloquence, warmth and sensitivity.

Mr. Taylor is currently Professor of Viola at the Eastman School of Music. Before joining the Eastman faculty, he was a member of the Ciompi Quartet of Duke University, a position he held from 1979 through 1986. A dedicated, sought-after and beloved teacher, he has served on the artist faculties of The Castleman Quartet Program, Le Dormaine Forget, the Chautauqua Institution, Musicorda, The Encore School for Strings, the Meadowmount School, the Manchester Music Festival, and the Elan International Music Festival, among others. Mr. Taylor is also the inspiration for and collaborator in a series of highly successful workshops called “Viola Intensive’ and presents a summer technique workshop for violists at Eastman. With faculty colleagues Carol Roland and Phillip Ying he co-hosted the highly successful 40th International Viola Congress at the Eastman School of Music. He has also served as a juror for international competitions in Europe and the United States, and has served on the boards of the American Viola Society and the Sphinx Organization.

George Taylor has given numerous solo recitals and appeared as a chamber musician in concerts throughout the United States and at the Tainan Cultural Center in Taiwan. He is a frequent collaborator with the Ritz Chamber Players, and has performed as guest artist at the Skaneateles Music Festival, Lake Winnipesaukee Music Festival and with ensembles such as the Triple Helix Trio, The Society for Chamber Music in Rochester and the Ying Quartet. His recording with guitarist Nicholas Goluses titled “Night Strings” has received wide critical acclaim. Carlos Maria Solare reviewer for the Journal of the American Viola Society states, “Frequent excursions into the instrument’s higher register are beautifully mastered by Taylor, who also enjoys playing the guitar in a plucked cadenza half-way through. Indeed Taylor’s dark, beautifully expressive tone is a constant joy throughout the recording”. Robert Schulslaper of Fanfare magazine writes: “This is an enjoyable recital of diverse, not often-encountered repertoire, performed by accomplished musicians whose intuitive gifts enable them to reveal the essential qualities of each selection.”

Mr. Taylor can also be heard in a landmark recording of the complete chamber music of the African/American composer William Grant Still by the Videmus Ensemble. He has also recorded music by composers such as Frederick Jacobi, John Zorn, Ernst Toch, Jan Radzynski, Ezra Laderman among others for the Milken Foundation. He was co-founder and conductor of the St. Stephens Chamber Orchestra (Durham, NC), an ensemble that has continued to perform and record together to date as the Orchestra of The Triangle. An active advocate for the performance of music by African/American composers, Taylor was a participant in the National Black Arts Festival held in Atlanta, GA and the Gateways Music Festival. He was also a member of the Black Music Repertory Ensemble, which presents music of African/American composers in concerts throughout the country, and is currently a member of The Ritz Chamber Players. Mr. Taylor has performed and premiered works written for him by many composers, including Bill Dobbins, Michael Kimber, Ron Carter, Noel DaCosta, George Walker, David Liptak and Carmen Moore.

A native of New York City, Mr. Taylor attended the Manhattan School of Music where his teachers included Jaime Laredo, Raphael Bronstein and Burton Kaplan. Further studies on viola were with Michael Tree and Abraham Skernick. Mr. Taylor’s chamber music mentors include such notables as Arthur Balsam, Joseph Seiger, Lillian Fuchs, Joseph Gingold, Mischa Schneider, and members of the Guarneri Quartet. He made his recital debut at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1979. Joseph Horowitz of the New York Times wrote: “He is already an unusually accomplished player, with a secure command of the instrument, and an ardent, refreshingly direct style.”

Lee Wright

Lee Wright maintains an active career as a teacher, conductor, organist, and ensemble singer. He regularly serves as conductor both regionally and nationally for all-county, area all-state, and festival choirs.

Since 2004, Lee has served as Director of Music Ministry at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York, where he oversees a diverse ministry including the Downtown Arts Link Concert Series, and events for the Downtown Center.

Lee founded the choral group, First Inversion in the fall of 2014. Driven by his deep commitment to community, First Inversion brings together both professional and avocational singers from Greater Rochester with the goal of true personal and musical growth through a focus on selfless and fearless musical expression.

Lee regularly sings with the the professional chamber choirs Sounding Light (Tom Trenney, director) and Voices (William Weinert, director).

Recently, Lee has guest conducted the Catskill Symphony Orchestra and served as Director of Choral Activities at Hartwick College (Oneonta, NY) from 2016-2018. 

Lee completed his Bachelor of Music degree in Organ Performance at the Eastman School of Music in 2003, studying with renowned American organist, David Higgs. He received the Master of Music in choral conducting from Ithaca college in 2011, and the Doctor of Musical Arts in choral conducting from the Eastman School of Music in 2018. His research focuses on the development of the concert spiritual in the late 19th century.


Gateways Music Festival is grateful to the following foundations, corporations and governmental agencies for their support and contributions made between November 1, 2018 and October 31, 2020.