Holiday Candlelight Concert

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Conductor - Ryan Murray

Ryan Murray's dynamic conducting, natural musicality and deeply held passion for the arts have allowed him to steadily build a robust career since his professional debut at the age of just 22. Ryan is currently the Associate Conductor for the Modesto Symphony Orchestra and Music Director for the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra; with whom he made his conducting debut at Carnegie Hall in 2014. Since his appointment in 2013, Ryan has consistently worked to improve the quality, skill and prominence of the youth orchestra, and now leads an ensemble that features over 60 students from the greater Modesto area. He is also Artistic Director of Townsend Opera and Resident Conductor & Choral Director of the Music in the Mountains Summer Festival in Nevada County, California.  As part of a joint-collaboration, Ryan served as Music Director for Fresno Grand Opera's mainstage productions of contemporary opera for two seasons, and previously served as a staff conductor for the Bay Area Summer Opera Theater Institute (BASOTI) and The Opera Academy of California in San Francisco.  Effortlessly moving between genres, Ryan currently enjoys a wide range of performance genres & platforms, including traditional orchestral and operatic repertoire, pops performances, and a notable emphasis on contemporary American operatic works.

Ryan has recently garnered national recognition for his dynamic, compelling performances of contemporary opera and is the current winner of the 2016/17 American Prize in Opera Conducting for his highly lauded production of A Streetcar Named Desire. He was a 2016 semi-finalist for the Ernst Bacon Memorial Award for the Performance of American Music and received honorary mention for the American Prize in Youth Orchestra Conducting. Ryan is also a past winner of the Vienna Philharmonic’s prestigious Ansbacher Fellowship for Young Conductors, and spent the summer in residence alongside the Vienna Philharmonic at the 2014 Salzburg Festival.

Driven by a lifelong passion for learning, Ryan has attended masterclasses and seminars around the world. Ryan recently attended the 2017 Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music's Conductors Workshop, and was one of just eight conductors worldwide to attend the Time of Music Summer Festival Masterclass in Finland led by Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angles Philharmonic, Susanna Mälkki; he also recently attended a contemporary music symposium led by Alan Gilbert featuring the New York Philharmonic. Past events include the Aurora Chamber Festival in Sweden, where he studied under Maestro Kurt Masur, the Lucerne Festival Academy’s Conducting Masterclass in Switzerland, and the Eastman School of Music’s Summer Conducting Institute featuring the Rochester Philharmonic. Ryan holds degrees, summa cum laude, in Bassoon Performance and Voice Performance from California State University, Sacramento. Widely praised for his tireless work ethic, natural poise, and impassioned, inspired performances, Ryan continues to connect deeply with orchestras and audiences alike, and has proven to be a formidable presence on the podium.

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Chorus Director - Dr. Daniel R. Afonso, Jr.

Daniel R. Afonso, Jr. has served as conductor of the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Chorus since its foundation in 2001 and has prepared several choral works with the ensemble. He is also Coordinator of Vocal and Choral Studies at California State University, Stanislaus. Afonso received a B.M.E. degree from the Universidade do Rio de Janeiro (UNI -Rio), a M.M. degree in Choral Conducting from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and a D.M.A. degree in Choral Conducting and Pedagogy from the University of Iowa. Dr. Afonso is originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and has studied conducting with Carlos Alberto Figueiredo, Cees Rotteveel, Eph Ehly, and William Hatcher.

Dr. Afonso has performed with choral groups in Brazil, U.S., and Europe, and has previously taught music at the Conservatório Brasileiro de Música, Universidade do Rio de Janeiro (UNI-Rio), and Doane College, Nebraska. In 1988, he won the first prize and the best performance of Villa-Lobos work award at the Concurso Villa-Lobos de Canto Coral, a national choral competition sponsored by the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro. Dr. Afonso is strongly committed to the performance of new music and has commissioned and premiered many new choral works in the last few years, including several of his own works as well as works by young composition students.  He had his New York debut in 2012, conducting Mozart’s Requiem with members of the MSO Chorus and students from CSU Stanislaus at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

He is also a composer, arranger, and editor of choral music and has choral works published by earthsongs, Colla Voce, and Alliance Music Publications. He served as composer-in-residence with the San Francisco Choral Artists during their 2014-2015 season and has also written works for the Los Angeles Children’s Choir, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, and other ensembles in the US and abroad. He has written innumerous arrangements for the Modesto Symphony Orchestra, including a new version of The Star-Spangled Banner for chorus and orchestra, recently premiered at the opening concert for the 2015-16 concert season. Dr. Afonso is widely recognized for his research and performance of Brazilian choral music and continues to frequently present workshops and lectures about the Latin American choral repertoire.

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Youth Chorus Director - Dr. Yejee Choi

Dr. Yejee Choi is the Director of Choral Studies at the Conservatory of Music at University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA, where she directs Pacific Singers, University Chorus, and Oriana Womens Choir, as well as teaching Choral Conducting and Sight-Singing. Under the direction of Dr. Choi, the UOP Choral Ensembles witnessed an exciting growth and presented a diverse mixture of innovative and traditional concert programs.

Dr. Choi completed her Doctor of Musical Arts in Choral Music at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. While at USC, she taught Choral Conducting I, USC Oriana Women's Choir, and served as the Assistant Conductor of USC Concert Choir. Her Master of Music degree is from University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where she served as Co-Director & Assistant Conductor of the University Singers, UM Women's Chorus, and UM Campus Singers. Choi received her bachelor of music degree from University of Wisconsin- River Falls, where she studied voice, piano, and organ.

Prior to her music education in the United States, she studied composition at the Korean National University of Art, one of the most prestigious music conservatories in Seoul, South Korea.

Dr. Choi has performed and conducted in various venues in South Korea, Japan, China, New Zealand, Australia, and across the United States. She has participated in the master classes and workshops led by Simon Halsey, Marin Alsop, and David Hill, as well as enjoying opportunities to perform under the baton of Helmuth Rilling, James Conlon, and Grant Gershon. Her teachers include J.W. Park, Kathy Salzman Romey, Lillian Tan, Jo-Michael Scheibe, Nick Strimple, Cristian Grases, Tram Sparks, Morten Lauridsen, and Adam Knight Gilbert.

Dr. Choi is the Co-Founder, Assistant Conductor, and Composer in Residence of J.W. Summer Festival Chorale, the semi-professional choir of 93 members in Seoul, South Korea. A compassionate advocate of community engagement through music, Dr. Choi is also the founding board member of the 'Music Belongs to Everyone!' series, a youth outreach program through choral music, affiliated with J.W. Chorale, South Korea. Recently, she held the similar position as the Choral Director of Esperanza Azteca Youth Orchestra & Choir in Los Angeles, where she was responsible for developing the curriculum and personnel of the 90-voice youth choir. A member of American Choral Directors Association and International Federation of Choral Music, Dr. Choi maintains an active career as a guest conductor and clinician.

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Opus Handbell Ensemble Artistic Director - Richard J. Colla

Richard J. Colla is artistic director and conductor of the Opus Handbell Ensemble. He is also the full-time Minister of Music and Worship at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Modesto where he has directed a variety of vocal and instrumental ensembles since 1990. 

Richard joined the Modesto Junior College music faculty on a part-time basis in the Spring of 2003. At MJC, he has taught Music Appreciation and Introduction to American Popular Music and Music Fundamentals. In addition, he has directed all of the choral ensembles at MJC for the majority of the last decade. Richard has also served as a member of the voice faculty at California State University, Stanislaus, and is an active adjudicator and lecturer. He has presented lectures on a variety of topics including vocal technique and literature, choral literature and methods, as well as handbell techniques. He and his wife, Ginger, also conduct joint workshops in vocal techniques. 

Richard is very active as a bass-baritone soloist and has appeared extensively in recital, oratorio and opera performances. Most recently, Richard sang the bass solos in Mozart’s Coronation Mass under the direction of Sir David Wilcox in Coventry, England. Richard served a four-year term (1993-1997) as the California State Chair for Repertoire and Standards of Music in Worship for The American Choral Director’s Assoc. (ACDA). He has also published articles in The NATS Journal for the National Association of Teachers of Singing, The Cantate California for the American Choral Director’s Assoc., and The Journal for the Choral Conductor’s Guild. Richard received his Bachelor of Music degree with honors from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in vocal performance, and his Master of Music degree at the University of Illinois in choral conducting.

Richard and his wife, Ginger, were honored as the recipients of the 2007 Excellence in Arts Awards for music by the Stanislaus Arts Council. Richard’s choir at Trinity (Koinonia Choir) was invited to participate in a performance of John Rutter’s Requiem in New York’s famous Carnegie Hall in 2005. The Koinonia The Choir and Opus Handbell Ensemble toured to England where they performed Handbell and Choir concerts in June (2008). As part of that tour, the choirs participated in the International Church Music Festival in Coventry, England. In 2012, Richard took His Koinonia Choir with added singers from the community to the Festivale Internationale di Roma, Italy.