CCM and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra report Diversity Fellowship program successes

Four Diversity Fellows will join major American orchestras in the 2022-23 performance season

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the UC College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) are proud to announce recent successes of their CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship program. 

Established in 2015 and launched with a grant from The Mellon Foundation, the nationally-recognized program amplifies and supports extraordinary young string players from populations historically underrepresented in American orchestras through a specialized, two-year graduate degree-level education, professional development and mainstage performance opportunities with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Four CSO/CCM Diversity Fellows have obtained full-time positions with major American orchestras for the 2022-23 season; additional Diversity Fellows successes include careers in music education, social change and orchestral administration.

We are honored to support these extraordinary artists on their professional journeys and make meaningful strides in changing American orchestras through the Diversity Fellowship Program.

CSO President and CEO Jonathan Martin

Diversity Fellows Appointments to Major American Orchestras

CCM/CSO Fellowship award winners, a cooperative program between CCM and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Emilio Carlo.

  • Emilio Carlo, violist and Diversity Fellow from 2016-18, has accepted a one-year contract with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for the 2022-23 season. Previously, Carlo performed as a section violist with the Nashville Symphony in Tennessee. In the 2020-21 season, he won a position with the Columbus Symphony in Ohio and made finals for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Associate Principal Viola position in Texas. Last season, Carlo made finals for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania and will be joining the PSO on a European tour in August, prior to starting with the CSO. Carlo performed as a substitute on the CSO’s first two subscription concerts of the 2021-2022 season.
A portrait of CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Luis Celis.

CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Luis Celis.

  • Luis Celis, bassist and Diversity Fellow from 2021-22, won the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s section bass position, out of 179 applicants. Previously, Celis obtained a position with the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, and in 2022 Celis was accepted to Tanglewood, Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer academy for advanced musical study.
A portrait of CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Dan Wang.

CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Dan Wang.

  • Dan Wang, violist and Diversity Fellow from 2017-19, won the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s section viola position, out of 140 applicants. Previously, Wang won the section viola position with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in Texas.
A portrait of CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Denielle Wilson.

CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Denielle Wilson.

  • Denielle Wilson, cellist and Diversity Fellow from 2019-21, has accepted a one-year position with the cello section of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Previously, Wilson won first prize in the Strings Division of the Sphinx Orchestral Partners Auditions (SOPA) Excerpt Competition, which provides Black and Latinx orchestral musicians the unique opportunity to audition for a panel representing several orchestras seeking to identify musicians for invitations to auditions, pre-advancement at auditions and placement on substitute player lists. Wilson was offered a one-year position with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra as a result of her SOPA Award. In June 2022, Wilson was the featured cellist in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 2022 MAC Music Innovator Concert. She is currently playing in the cello section of the CSO for Cincinnati Opera’s performances of Aida.

"The CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship Program is designed to open doors for talented young string players from historically underrepresented groups in American orchestras," said CSO President and CEO Jonathan Martin. "The Fellowship Program, which enables participants to learn directly from their professional counterparts and perform in highly intensive professional experiences, continues to benefit musicians as they audition and obtain jobs in the industry. We are honored to support these extraordinary artists on their professional journeys and make meaningful strides in changing American orchestras through the Diversity Fellowship Program."

"My experiences in the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship have offered tools that assist in my pursuit of a full-time position in a professional orchestra," said Wilson.

During the 2021-22 season, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted more than 300 "blind auditions" whereby screens concealed musician candidates from the audition committee, promising anonymity. Adopted by orchestras in the 1970s to address gender disparity in the audition process, blind auditions have endured in the industry as a tool to eliminate other potential biases, including race, in the selection process, allowing for the tone and artistry of each musician to be the sole indicators of success. At the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, auditions were conducted before a committee which, depending on the position, included Music Director Louis Langrée, principal musicians and musicians from the section in which the vacancy occurred.

"When we conduct auditions to fill vacancies within the Orchestra, we are in search of the right artist to join the community of the Orchestra," said Langrée. "As our auditions are conducted blind, the appointments of our Diversity Fellows to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra indicate that they were the best, and we should all take great pride in the achievement of our Diversity Fellowship program. I look forward to working with Dan, Emilio and Luis in their new capacities with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra."

Additional Diversity Fellows Successes

CSO/CCM Diversity Fellows have also achieved success in entrepreneurship, music education, and arts administration.

A portrait of CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Camellia Aftahi.

CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Camellia Aftahi.

  • Camellia Aftahi, bassist and Diversity Fellow from 2018-20, has been teaching and performing in Southern California since her fellowship. In 2021, Aftahi was a Robert Black Fellow at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Institute, a program at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art for young composers and performers. She has also been involved with Bass Players for Black Composers, an organization that commissions and publishes new works for double bass by Black composers.
A portrait of CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Anita Graef.

CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Anita Graef.

  • Anita Graef, cellist and Diversity Fellow from 2017-19, is a soloist, recitalist and chamber musician, performing both nationally and internationally. In 2021, Graef was featured in Strings Magazine’s "Sessions" performance series. She has recently been featured on various radio programs, including WQXR’s "Young Artists Showcase," programs for WFMT, WGTE, WOSU and WUOL’s New Lens concert series, which featured a cross-cultural collection of solo works for cello written by living female composers. She also serves as the Artistic Director and cellist of the Juliani Ensemble. Festival appearances from the past year include her role as an Artist-in-Residence at pianoSonoma, a festival based in Sonoma, CA, as a Festival Artist at the Lake George Music Festival, and as an Emerging Artist at the Victoria Bach Festival. Graef was named the Gheens Foundation Young Artist in 2022, an award which included a concerto debut with the Louisville Orchestra. 
CCM/CSO Fellowship award winners, a cooperative program between CCM and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Blake-Anthony Johnson.

  • Blake-Anthony Johnson, cellist and Diversity Fellow from 2016-17, has pursued a successful career in orchestral administration. Johnson was appointed as the CEO of the Chicago Sinfonietta in May 2020, becoming the first African American executive to guide a nationally-renowned orchestra; he was named President and CEO in April 2022. Johnson’s work focuses on community-centric, multi-disciplinary and educational initiatives that enable cultural institutions to provide equitable access and public service to all. He is the recipient of the 2022 Chicago Community Trust Daniel Burnham Fellowship and has been recently elected to the Sir Georg Solti Foundation U.S. Board of Directors. Johnson serves on the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events in various roles and is currently a member of the Steering Committee for the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative as well as the League of American Orchestras’ EDI Orchestra Management Committee.
A portrait of CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Ian Saunders.

CSO/CCM Diversity Fellow Ian Saunders.

  • Ian Saunders, bassist and Diversity Fellow from 2017-19, moved into administration as the assistant dean of artistic and social change at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and supervised several key social change programs and artistic planning at the institution. In March 2022, Saunders joined the String Training Education Program (STEP) as its new artistic director, using his experiences as an educator, administrator and musician to oversee the development of young musicians.

To date, 28 musicians have participated in the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship program. The following is a summary of Diversity Fellows accomplishments:

  • 10 Diversity Fellows have obtained positions in orchestras, including one-year and multi-year contracts with full-time and per-service orchestras
  • 4 Diversity Fellows have placed on top-tier Group 1 and Group 2 orchestra substitute lists
  • 3 Diversity Fellows have been featured as a soloist in a concert or digital project
  • 5 Diversity Fellows have served aspiring musicians as teaching artists
  • 5 Diversity Fellows have subsequently won positions in another fellowship
  • 3 Diversity Fellows have advanced to semi-final rounds and final rounds of the Sphinx Orchestral Partners Auditions (SOPA) Excerpt Competition
  • 1 Diversity Fellow won first prize in the Strings Division SOPA
That our Fellows have found paths in the performance, academic, administrative, and non-profit sectors speaks to this program’s vitality and versatility.

CCM Interim Dean Jonathan Kregor

"We recognize that professional careers can evolve in many different ways," said Martin. "We are proud of each and every one of our Diversity Fellows for their musicianship and dedication to accelerating change in the industry, on and off the stage."

Since 2015, the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship Program has accepted exceptional violin, viola, cello and double bass players coming from historically underrepresented populations in American orchestras who meet the rigorous artistic and academic standards set for CCM admission as well as an additional audition for a panel of CSO musicians. Once selected, Diversity Fellows gain first-hand experiences in a professional orchestra, performing the equivalent of five weeks per season with the CSO while enrolled in a two-year Master of Music (MM) or Artist Diploma (AD) graduate degree program at CCM. Diversity Fellows also participate in private lessons with CSO musicians, mock auditions, career development workshops, professional audition training with travel assistance and focused mentorship from CSO musicians and the Orchestra’s artistic leadership.

A group photo of CSO/CCM Diversity Fellows Arman Nasrinpay, Alexis Shambley, Camellia Aftahi and Yan Izquierdo.

CSO/CCM Diversity Fellows Arman Nasrinpay, Alexis Shambley, Camellia Aftahi and Yan Izquierdo.

"The CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship program is unparalleled in the opportunities it creates for collaboration, exploration, transformation, and personal and professional growth," said CCM Interim Dean Jonathan Kregor. "That our Fellows have found paths in the performance, academic, administrative, and non-profit sectors speaks to this program’s vitality and versatility. CCM is inspired by the work that our Fellows bring to the classroom, the practice room, and the concert stage—and CCM is proud to send these alums out into the world as bastions of change and innovation."

Each Fellow receives full tuition scholarship support, a $10,000 per year graduate stipend, and a one-time Graduate School Dean’s Excellence Award of $3,000. Each Fellow also receives compensation of $8,000 per season while performing with the CSO.

From the program’s inception, The Mellon Foundation has been the lead funder and partner for the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship and has recently renewed its commitment to funding the program through 2026. Beginning with the 2022-23 season, Scott and Charla Weiss, the latter a CSO Board Member and Chair of CSO Board’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, will join The Mellon Foundation to support the program in ways that complement the foundation’s grant.

"We are grateful to The Mellon Foundation for its support of the Diversity Fellowship program from the very beginning," said Martin. "We also recognize the generous support of Scott and Charla Weiss to ensure that our Diversity Fellows have everything they need to pursue their dreams."

"It is our honor to support the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship program," said Charla Weiss. "We have a great passion for music and music’s ability to transform lives, and we can see the transformation through the Diversity Fellowship Program. We are honored to play a part in helping orchestras reflect the people and vibrancy of the communities in which they serve."

Learn more courtesy of the Cincinnati Business Courier.

CCM and the CSO will begin accepting applications for the 2023-25 class of Diversity Fellows on September 1, 2022. The application deadline is December 1, 2022.

About the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

With a legacy dating back 127 years, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is considered one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles. Led by Louis Langrée since 2013, the CSO’s distinguished roster of past music directors includes Leopold Stokowski, Eugène Ysaÿe, Fritz Reiner, Max Rudolf, Jesús López Cobos and Paavo Järvi. Matthias Pintscher is the Orchestra’s Creative Partner, and previous artistic partners have included Lang Lang, Philip Glass, Branford Marsalis and Jennifer Higdon. The Orchestra also performs as the Cincinnati Pops, founded by Erich Kunzel in 1977 and currently led by John Morris Russell with Damon Gupton serving as Principal Guest Conductor. The CSO further elevates the city’s vibrant arts scene by serving as the official orchestra for the Cincinnati May Festival, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet.

The CSO has long championed the composers and music of its time and has given historic American premieres by Claude Debussy, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Maurice Ravel, Béla Bartók, William Grant Still and other prominent composers. It has also commissioned many works that ultimately became mainstays of the classical repertoire, including Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. The Orchestra continues to actively commission new work, amplifying new voices from a diverse array of backgrounds, most recently with the Fanfare Project, a series of solo instrument works written for CSO musicians to mark a moment in time during the COVID pandemic.

Deeply committed to inclusion, relevance, and enhancing and expanding opportunities for the children of Greater Cincinnati, the Orchestra works to bring music education, in its many different forms, to as broad a public as possible. In 2020, the CSO was one of the first American orchestras to create a Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer position to ensure the absorption of best DE&I practices into every facet of the organization. The CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship, a nationally recognized program in partnership with the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, provides a graduate degree-level education with performance and professional development opportunities for extraordinary young string players from populations historically underrepresented in American orchestras. The CSO is also an incubator for and partner to NIMAN, a consortium of American orchestras, professional musicians and educators established to address the lack of racial equity in the classical music field by aligning resources and collaborating to strengthen the trajectory of classical instrumentalists of color at all stages of their pre-careers.

About UC's College-Conservatory of Music

The University of Cincinnati’s nationally ranked and internationally renowned College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) is a preeminent institution for the performing and media arts. The school’s educational roots date back to 1867, and a solid, visionary instruction has been at its core since that time.

Declared "one of this country’s leading conservatories" by the New York Times, CCM offers nearly 120 possible majors, along with a wide variety of pre-collegiate and post-graduate programs. The synergy created by housing CCM within a comprehensive public university gives the college its unique character and defines its objective: to educate and inspire the whole artist and scholar for positions on the world stage.

At CCM, tomorrow’s arts luminaries work with today’s industry leaders. More than 150 internationally recognized faculty members work with students from around the world. With a 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio, CCM students receive personalized mentorship from professors who guide their individual scholarly, creative, musical, performing and teaching growth. CCM professors are Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award-winning performers and designers, ASCAP and BMI Award-winning songwriters and composers, Naumburg Gold Medalists and Fulbright Scholars. They are members of major American orchestras, as well as directors and conductors for the world’s leading opera houses and summer festivals. They are researchers, educators, choreographers, filmmakers and playwrights, as well as experts on health and wellness for artists. They have published widely-used textbooks, performed at the White House and produced multimedia for US presidents. They have been featured on major broadcasts like Good Morning America, the Today Show, the Tonight Show, the BBC Proms and Sesame Street, to mention just a few of their accomplishments.

CCM believes that diversity, equity, and inclusion are inextricably linked to artistic excellence. The college works to bring out the best in its students, faculty and staff by valuing their unique backgrounds, experiences and perspectives — welcoming and leveraging individual contributions to collaborate, create, innovate and compete in a global society.

CCM is an accredited institution of the National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD), the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST), and a member of the University/Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA).

Next Lives Here

At the University of Cincinnati, we realize the impact our teaching, research, artistry and service can have on our community and the world. So, we don’t wait for change to happen. We break boundaries, boldly imagine and create what’s Next. To us, today’s possibilities spark tomorrow’s reality. That’s why we are leading urban public universities into a new era of innovation and impact, and that's how we are defining Next for the performing and media arts.

We're about engaging people and ideas - and transforming the world.

We are UC. Welcome to what's Next.


Featured image at top: Members of the 2021-22 CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship cohort on the stage of Springer Auditorium at Cincinnati Music Hall. Photo/Provided by the CSO.