Astraios musicians have performed around the world and are ready to bring you great classical music. Meet some of the performers from our most recent seasons.
Dr. Eka Gogichashvili is Associate Professor of Violin at Baylor University where, in addition to teaching a full violin studio, she coaches chamber music and orchestral excerpt classes. Eka performs with the Baylor Piano Trio and Eka and Kae Duo. She holds dual Bachelor of Music degrees from Balanchivadze College of Music and from Rowan University in NJ. She also holds dual Master of Music degrees from Tbilisi State Conservatory and the Louisiana State University (LSU). She completed her Doctor of Musical Arts degree at LSU with a minor in orchestral conducting.
Her research focuses on composers active during the Holocaust, especially the creative output of Erwin Schulhoff. In the summer of 2015 she released a recording of Schulhoff’s violin compositions.
Robert Gruca performs a wide range of solo, chamber, and concerto repertoire. Highlights of Robert’s seasons include performances with The Cleveland Orchestra, the Marquette Symphony Orchestra, the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, and the New Philharmonic. In addition, Robert Gruca has earned several top prizes in international guitar competitions, including the Rantucci International Guitar Competition, America Competition, and the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition.
Robert teaches at The Cleveland Music School Settlement and is proud to have started the first Suzuki guitar program in Northeast Ohio. For more information, visit www.robertgruca.org.
Jaymee Haefner is the Assistant Professor of Harp and has served as the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the University of North Texas College of Music. Dr. Haefner serves as the World Harp Congress Treasurer, frequently writes for the Harp Column, and published The Legend of Henriette Renié and One Stone to the Building. She also serves on the board of the American Harp Society Foundation and is on the editorial board for the American Harp Journal. She holds Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from the University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music, and the Doctor of Music degree from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
Click here to visit her website.
Patrick Herring began playing music at a very early age and hated it with a passion until they let him start hitting things. Since then he has received a Bachelor in Music Education from the University of North Texas and Masters in Percussion Performance from Southern Methodist University. Music has taken him all around the United States and he has proudly played shows in 40 out of 50 states. He’s looking forward to getting up to New England someday and knocking out a few more of them.
Patrick is the Operations Manager for the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra. He currently serves as the principal percussionist of the Allen Philharmonic Symphony and plays extra with many local and regional orchestras as well as theater companies and churches and anyone else that needs something hit musically.
Patrick lives in Little Elm with his wife, son, daughter, and two beagles and in his spare time creates instructional videos on how to play percussion on his website.
Dr. Kae Hosoda-Ayer is Associate Professor of Piano at Baylor University. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in piano performance with emphasis in chamber music and collaborative arts from the University of Texas at Austin; a Master of Music degree and Graduate Diploma in piano performance from New England Conservatory where she was a Piano Honors Competition winner; and a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance from Toho Gakuen School of Music, Tokyo, Japan.
She has been on the accompanying faculty at the New England Conservatory, and while at the University of Texas at Austin she was named the first prize winner in the Sidney Wright Endowed Presidential Scholarship Competition in Piano Accompanying.
Dr. Ayer has concertized throughout the United States, Canada, Japan, and Korea, where she is in demand both as a soloist and collaborative pianist.
Eric Jones got his start in music at an early age, studying voice with his father, Robert Jones, and singing in many children’s roles, including Amahl and the Night Visitors. He began studying the violin and viola at age 10, and received a Bachelor and Master of Music in Viola Performance and a Masters in Musicology from the University of North Texas, and is a PhD candidate in Musicology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Eric studied Bolivian folk music as a Fulbright Scholar in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and is a specialist in the folk music traditions of Latin America and the Andes. He teaches world music at the University of Texas at Dallas and Southern Methodist University. He is also a regular performer of both solo works and chamber music, and has performed with orchestras in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
Bassoon | Programming Director
Michael Jones serves as Astraios's Programming Director, coordinating ensembles, arranging music for our versatile ensembles, and managing our elementary school programs.
Michael received his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from Indiana University, where he held an Associate Instructorship. Michael subsequently received a Fulbright Grant to study bassoon performance and pedagogy at the Sydney Conservatorium, where he received a Graduate Diploma in 2006. During this time, he also toured with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. In 2016, he was the Acting Principal Bassoonist of the Texarkana Symphony, and has performed regularly with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra since 2013. His teachers have included Carl Rath, Andrew Barnes, Arthur Weisberg, and Kim Walker.
Daniel Kelly, a native of Charleston, SC, joined Texas A&M University-Commerce in the fall of 2010 after serving on the faculty of Indiana State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.
Dr. Kelly holds a BS in trumpet performance from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, and a MM and DMA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His principal teachers include Michael Ewald, Ronnie Romm, Ray Sasaki, and Richard Steffen. He has been designated a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music (NCTM) by the Music Teachers National Association and is a member of the Music Teachers National Association, the College Music Society, the International Trumpet Guild, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Dr. Kelly is a Yamaha Performing Artist/Clinician.
Jonathan Kuhns-Obana currently holds positions in the Eugene Symphony Orchestra, Portland Opera Orchestra, and Eugene Concert Orchestra. Previously, he has held principal positions with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra (Japan), and the Young Musician’s Foundation Debut Orchestra. In addition, he has performed with a number of other orchestras, including the Eugene Opera Orchestra, Oregon Mozart Players, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, and Midland-Odessa Symphony and Chorale. When not performing, he can be seen working and helping students, parents, and staff at Network Charter School. Jon received his Master of Music from the University of Southern California and Bachelor of Music from Indiana University. His teachers have included Myron Bloom, Eli Epstein, Rick Todd, and James Thatcher.
Originally from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, soprano Jessica McCormack is Coordinator of Voice Studies and Associate Professor of Voice at Indiana University South Bend. During the summer, she is on the voice faculty at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. Additionally, she was appointed as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Notre Dame for fall 2016, and the Conservatory at Baldwin-Wallace University for spring 2016. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of North Texas, a Master of Music from Southern Methodist University, and a Bachelor of Music from the University of Toronto.
A featured soloist with the Fort Worth, South Bend, New Brunswick, and Springfield (Ohio) symphonies, and the Bach Society of Dayton, she was selected as an Emerging Leader by the National Association of Teachers of Singing in 2012 and 2016, and she has presented for the National Opera Association and the Pan-American Vocology Association on issues related to vocal health. Upcoming engagements include a recital at the University of Northern Colorado School of Music, premiering Richard Kidd’s cycle Sea Changes, an invited talk for Berklee College of Music, and performances during the 2018 Saint John Early Music Festival, themed Scottish Muse.
Natasha Merchant is the newly appointed Adjunct Professor of Oboe at Texas A&M University-Commerce. She received a Bachelor of Music from Indiana University and a Master of Music from the University of Southern California, and continued her studies at the Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles. Her primary teachers have been Allen Vogel, Linda Strommen, and Theodore Baskin.
Before moving to Texas, Natasha was the 2nd oboist for the Orquesta Sinfonica Sinaloa de las Artes in Culiacan, Mexico. She has also performed with the Las Colinas Symphony, Irving Symphony, Amarillo Symphony, Allen Philharmonic, Sherman Symphony, and the Ft. Wayne (IN) Philharmonic. In addition to teaching at Texas A&M-Commerce, she maintains a large private studio of oboe and English horn students from all over the metroplex. Natasha also runs The Cake Merchant baking blog and is the official caterer of Astraios concerts.
Matt Milewski became a Texan in 2010 when he joined the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Before that, Mr. Milewski had been a full-time member of the Louisville, Grand Rapids, and Charleston Symphonies as well as performed and continues to perform as an extra musician with the Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, St. Louis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Nashville Symphonies. A dynamic performer, he studied with Julia Bushkova at the Interlochen Arts Academy and attended the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, earning a performance diploma studying with Yuval Yaron. Mr. Milewski holds the Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
Jeremy Reynolds is currently on faculty at the University of Denver Lamont School of Music and performs as Associate Principal Clarinet of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. He made his Carnegie Hall Debut in 2015 and presented recitals at Clarimania (Poland), ClariBogota, Australian Clarinet Festival, One Month Festival (South Korea), International Alliance for Women in Music, International Double Reed Society and National Flute Association. He has also performed at the Cultural Festival of Portugal’s World Exposition, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Tucson Symphony, Colorado Music Festival, Des Moines Metro Opera, Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra, New World Symphony, National Repertory Orchestra, National Orchestral Institute, and Aspen Music Festival.
Reynolds has won awards at the Coleman and Carmel National Chamber Music Competitions additionally collaborating with Itzhak Perlman, Don Weilerstein, Paul Katz, Ronald Leonard, Stefan Milenkovich, and Merry Peckham. A passionate educator, Reynolds has taught in some of the world’s most renowned music conservatories including the Grieg Academy of Music, Norwegian Academy of Music, Versailles Conservatory of Music, Mahler Private University, Seoul National University, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya and Taiwan’s Soochow University and Tainan University of the Arts.
Ruth Ann Ritchie
Founder & Executive Director | Flute
Flutist Ruth Ann Ritchie is the founder and Executive Director of Astraios. Since 2007 she has established concert series in Texas and Colorado and led Astraios ensembles in performances across the U.S. She is the founding flutist of both The August Winds quintet and the Cirrus Quartet.
Ruth Ann studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Cleveland Music School Settlement before receiving a Bachelor of Music with Distinction in Flute Performance from Indiana University. She continued her studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, receiving a Graduate Diploma in 2006. Her primary teachers have been Tom Robertello, Alexa Still, Linda White, and Joseph Juhos.
Ruth Ann also serves as Executive Director of the Dallas-based Orpheus Chamber Singers. As an administrator, she has worked with Floot Fire Dallas and Hall Ensemble, and served on the Board of the Lewisville Lake Symphony from 2012-2015.
For over three decades, pianist Luis Sanchez has maintained an active career as soloist, collaborative artist, and teacher. He has appeared in concerts in the United States, South America, Europe, and Asia. He is currently Professor of Piano and Director of Keyboard Studies at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Dr. Sanchez joined the Steinway Artist Roster in 2012.
Equally at home with the fortepiano and the modern piano, Dr. Sanchez pursued further studies in fortepiano and XVIII century performance practice with Malcolm Bilson, Andrew Willis, and Liv Glaser (Oslo, Norway). In 2012, he was commissioned to write an article on Phil Belt (American builder of fortepianos) for the New Grove Dictionary of American Music and Early Music America.
Born in Argentina, Dr. Sanchez holds degrees from the National Conservatory of Music “Carlos López Buchardo” and Ball State University. His teachers include Ana Litovsky-Grunwald, Graciela Beretervide, Robert Palmer, and Rebecca Penneys.
Yumiko Endo Schlaffer
Yumiko Endo Schlaffer has been steadily gaining a reputation as a masterful artist ever since her impressive American debut recital in May 2000 at the Carnegie Recital Hall in New York, shortly after completing her Masters degree from the Juilliard School. She has been a recipient of numerous awards, including First Prizes in the Japan International Harp Competition in both Young and Advanced divisions. Yumiko was honored with the opportunity to perform at the Imperial Palace for Her Majesty the Empress of Japan.
Yumiko began her musical training at the age of three and learned musical theory and piano. While taking lessons with Ayako Shinozaki, she received her Bachelors degree from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. She also studied extensively throughout Europe with Marie-Claire Jamet and Isabelle Moretti of France, and Marisa Robles of England. Yumiko earned her Masters degree from The Juilliard School where she studied with Nancy Allen, principal harpist of the New York Philharmonic. Yumiko has been a board member of American Harp Society in Dallas since 2007.
Marianne Shifrin was recently appointed Principal Clarinet of the New Mexico Philharmonic and has been a member of the Arizona Opera Orchestra since 2010. During the summer, Marianne performs with the Missouri Symphony, and the Artosphere Festival Orchestra in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and is a frequent extra/substitute musician with many orchestras. Dedicated to music education, Marianne has taught privately at the elementary, middle school, high school, and college level in schools and programs around the country. Marianne received her Bachelor of Music Degree and a Performer Diploma from Indiana University and her Master of Music degree from Yale University. Her principal teachers include Eli Eban, David Shifrin, and Bil Jackson.
Alicia Valoti is the Assistant Professor of Viola at Central Michigan University. She studied with Lawrence Dutton, Bruno Giuranna, Garth Knox, Nobuko Imai, Hatto Beyerle, and Atar Arad, and completed her doctorate in viola performance at Stony Brook University in New York. Alicia has taught and performed throughout the world, including in Canada, Italy, China, and the United States.
A committed educator, Alicia served on the faculty of Lone Star College and Sam Houston State University School of Music, where she was a member of the Kolenneh String Quartet. In addition, she was an Affiliate Artist at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston and remains an Artist-Teacher at the Schlern International Music Festival in Italy. She also served on the string faculty at the prestigious Interlochen Summer Academy for the Arts in 2014.
Libby Vanatta, a native of Middle Tennessee, joined the music faculty at Texas A&M University-Commerce in 2010 as Instructor of Piano. She currently teaches class piano, piano pedagogy, piano literature, and private piano lessons. An active accompanist, Libby has also performed throughout the country at conferences, competitions, and in guest artist recitals. Passionate about chamber music, Libby formed Doppio Movimento in 2011 with her Texas A&M University-Commerce colleague, Dr. Luis Sanchez.
Libby Vanatta holds a Bachelor of Science in piano performance from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, and a Master of Music in piano pedagogy from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
A dynamic and versatile musician, flutist Linda White excels in an array of musical styles and plays the entire spectrum of flutes from the piccolo down to the contrabass flute. She regularly performs with classical guitarist Robert Gruca as part of the Gruca White Ensemble. Comfortable with both written and improvised forms, this duo stretches the boundaries of the standard classical concert with their improvisations and arrangements of rock, funk and Latin tunes. In 2020, the Gruca White Ensemble released their debut recording, "A Different Take," through PARMA Recordings on the Navona label.
Linda is a founding member of the Blue Water Chamber Orchestra, and has also performed with The Cleveland Pops, The Cleveland Opera Orchestra, The Akron Symphony, The Canton Symphony, Erie Philharmonic, and The New World Symphony. An avid chamber musician and champion of contemporary music, Linda regularly collaborates with the composers of The Cleveland Composers Guild and performs their pieces at venues throughout the Great Lakes region. An engaging teacher, Linda teaches at The Music Settlement, where she has students of all ages and abilities, and, along with her colleague Jane Berkner, directs two flute choirs. Linda received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Wyoming, then moved to Ohio and earned her Master of Music degree from The Cleveland Institute of Music as a student of Jeffrey Khaner.
Dr. Brian Zator is the Director of Percussion at Texas A&M University-Commerce and Immediate Past-President of the Percussive Arts Society. At A&M-Commerce, he coordinates all percussion activities including Percussion Ensemble I, II, & III, Drumline, "Panimation" and Pan2 Steel Drum Bands, “Samba LeÁ£o” Brazilian Ensemble, undergraduate and graduate applied lessons, and the percussion methods and literature courses. He earned his Bachelor of Music Education degree from Baylor University, Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan, and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of North Texas. He is also a student of world-renowned marimba artist, Keiko Abe, having performed and studied with her in Japan.
As a marimba/percussion soloist or ensemble director, Dr. Zator has performed at seven Percussive Arts Society International Conventions (PASIC), the Texas Music Educators Association Convention, the Texas Bandmasters Association Convention, the College Band Directors National Association Convention, the North Texas Keyboard Percussion Symposium, as well as abroad in China, Brazil, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Argentina and Luxembourg.
Christopher Curtis is an actor, singer, and director currently based in Dallas, TX, and serves as the President of Astraios's Board of Directors. The son of Torrey Curtis and Joyce Adams Curtis, both of whom obtained Masters of Sacred Music degrees from SMU, Christopher grew up singing in choirs under the direction of his parents. After graduating from Oklahoma City University where he studied voice with George Massey, Christopher has gone on to work at more than a dozen theatres in the region including Shakespeare Dallas, Theatre Three, Circle Theatre, City Rep, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, Reduxion Theatre, Oklahoma City Theatre Company, Pegasus Theatre, and Lyric Stage. A few of his favorite roles include "Ed Devery" in Born Yesterday, "John Dickinson" in 1776, and the title role in Hamlet. He is also a veteran improviser, and has performed improv on stages throughout the region for over a dozen years and recently took his two-man improv show "C-4" to perform in New York City.