Meet Our Team

Vice-President &

Assistant Artistic Director

 

DAVID MCCONNELL

President and Artistic Director

Dr. David A. McConnell founded Vox Philia in 2012 as an intergenerational chamber choir made up of professional and gifted amateur singers.  The choir’s first three seasons focused almost exclusively on music by living composers, featuring over a dozen local and world premieres, as well as a newly-commissioned Christmas carol in December 2014. The choir’s performances have garnered considerable acclaim for thematic programming and musical excellence.  

 

In the summer of 2014, Dr. McConnell co-founded Berks Sinfonietta, a chamber orchestra that also utilizes an intergenerational approach, bringing professional Reading players together with gifted students in both high school and college. Highlights of the first season include well-regarded performances of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, both conducted by McConnell.

Dr. McConnell teaches Introduction to Western and World Music classes at Pennsylvania State University, Berks Campus. He also teaches group and private piano and organ lessons at Alvernia University in Reading. David currently serves as Director of Music at Grace Lutheran Church in Lancaster, where he plays for weekly liturgies and conducts the Senior Choir.  

 

Dr. McConnell received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in December 2002. His teachers at Cincinnati included Earl Rivers, John Leman, Richard Westenberg and Vance George. A native of Philadelphia, Dr. McConnell also holds degrees from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey and Temple University in Philadelphia. He has attended the prestigious Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestral Musicians in Hancock, Maine, the South Carolina Conductor's Institute in Columbia, South Carolina, and The Conductors Institute at Bard College.

 

Dr. McConnell's has presented papers at the national American Choral Directors Association in San Antonio, Texas and the College Music Society Northeast Chapter Conference in Lewiston, Maine. Articles by Dr. McConnell have appeared in journals of the International Federation of Choral Music, the American Choral Director’s Association, the Conductors’ Guild and the American Beethoven Society.  He has written a chapter on Beethoven’s early Piano Concerto in E-flat for inclusion in a book being published about Beethoven’s time in Bonn. 

 

In recent years, Dr. McConnell has conducted choirs in Portugal, The Netherlands, and Latvia, as well as throughout the northeastern United States.

 

JAMES GILMER

Vice-President and Assistant Artistic Director

From Shillington, PA, James first picked up the violin at 7 years old, after visiting an "instrument petting zoo" at Cumru Elementary School. Throughout middle and high school, James consistently made County- and District- level ensembles, reaching PMEA All-Region Orchestra in his senior year.

 

He continued his musical studies at Franklin & Marshall College, playing first violin in the Orchestra and Philharmonia, the school's elite chamber ensemble. At F&M, James was a Business, Organizations, and Society major, with a minor in the German language.

 

By day, James works in Lancaster at Harbor Compliance, a local small business. By night (and weekend), he is an active community musician. After college, James has played violin with Allegro: the Chamber Orchestra of Lancaster, the Reading Pops Orchestra, Genesius Theatre, and American Music Theatre, and in numerous freelance settings. He has played alongside such notable artists as Keiko Matsui and Jackie Evancho. He continues private studies with John Hamilton, a Lancaster Symphony Orchestra violist and violinist.

James's passion lies in conducting, both from his studies under Brian Norcross at F&M, and from his countless hours of watching videos of von Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, and Toscanini. Having conducted works by Dvorak and Beethoven, James is excited to develop the art alongside Dr. McConnell in a collaborative, mentoring environment.

 

Sensing a great need for a chamber orchestra in Berks County, James is thrilled to apply his business acumen, organizational skills, and musical talent to Berks Sinfonietta. He hopes the ensemble will prove a rewarding opportunity for students, college grads, and professionals alike to play challenging music together.

 
 

KATHLEEN BAHENA

Secretary

 

From Reading, Pennsylvania, Kathleen became interested in playing the violin at age 5 after she heard an NPR story about the instruments of the orchestra.  Her mother purchased a cheap student instrument at a local music shop and Kathleen started private lessons soon after.

 

Kathleen was a homeschooled student throughout highschool. After switching to viola from violin her sophomore year, Kathleen started competing in festival orchestras, making it to PMEA's All-State Orchestra her senior year.  That same year she was accepted to the Ithaca College School of Music where she graduated four years later with a BM in Viola Performance. At IC, she studied with Debra Moree. During the summer months, she studied with and participated in masterclasses of Karen Ritscher, Wing Ho, Ning Mu, Lawrence Dutton, and Jodi Levitz.

 

An avid chamber musician, Kathleen has attended the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival, the PA Academy of Music’s Summer Festival, Soundfest with the Colorado String Quartet, and the Zephyr International Chamber Music Festival in Courmayeur, Italy.  In these festivals she has played some of the most important string quartet literature of the western classical tradition.

Kathleen also regularly plays in orchestras.  During her time at IC she was a member of the Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra, all the while performing in student formed groups for composition and conducting recitals.  She has also played in some of the regions professional orchestras including the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes, the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra, the Chesapeake Orchestra, and the Reading Symphony Orchestra. Additional musical experiences include her studies in early music/baroque viola, contemporary music performances, and opera/musical pit work.

 

Kathleen enjoys sharing these experiences with her peers and students and has been doing so for 10 years as a string teacher. Currently she is a studio violin and viola teacher at the Kimberton Waldorf School in Phoenixville, PA where she also conducts the Bell Choir, and runs a private studio from her home in West Reading.  She is also a member of several music ensembles in the area and can be seen performing at the Genesius Theater, with the Reading Pops Orchestra, for the Berks Opera Company, as a soloist at Immanuel UCC in Shillington, and for many weddings and events. In November of this year, Kathleen accepted the position of principal violist for the Northern Tier Symphony Orchestra.

JENNIFER STERNICK

Concertmaster

 

Violinist Jennifer Sternick is an active and enthusiastic freelance musician. She performs professionally as a soloist and as a member of symphony orchestras, pit orchestras, chamber ensembles, and new music ensembles. Routinely holding leadership positions, Jennifer has been the Concertmaster of Berks Sinfonietta since its inception in 2014, has held the Concertmaster chair of the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra from 2012 until 2017, and was most recently named Concertmaster of the Washington Symphony Orchestra in 2019.

Jennifer's passion for new music is evidenced in her role as founder, President, and violinist of Kamratōn, a non-profit chamber music organization dedicated to women in new music, the arts, and in business. She greatly enjoys working with living composers, musicians, dancers, and other artists to design and realize concerts that make new music more accessible to the audience. In May 2019, Kamratōn premiered the opera, Her Holiness, The Winter Dog, in which all musicians, in addition to their instrument responsibilities, supported acting roles on stage.

Originally from the outskirts of Mohnton, Pennsylvania, Jennifer grew up studying violin with Barbara Lanza. She then earned her bachelors in music and philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, summa cum laude, where she studied with Roger Zahab. Post-University, she studied with Huei-Sheng Kao of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Jennifer is the recipient of the Mildred Miller Posvar Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in Music and the Alfred D’Auberge Award for Excellence in Music Performance. When Jennifer is not making music, she is an avid cyclist, runner, and rock climber.

TONY VELOZ

Board of Directors

 

A graduate of Bucknell University’s class of 2014, Tony Veloz earned his degree in Cellular Biology/Biochemistry along with a minor in music. During his time as a violinist at Bucknell, Tony was an active member of the department's interdisciplinary improvisation ensemble, music composition scene, and participated in a myriad of small ensembles and projects including a student rock band and a chamber Baroque orchestra. Most recently, Berks Sinfonietta, Genesius Theatre, the Anthracite Philharmonic, Lone Cricket and the Ensifera, and various chamber music opportunities dominate his time spent in performance. When not in performance or rehearsal, Tony coordinates the grassroots efforts of the South of Penn Taskforce where he works and co-organizes with neighbors of Southwest Reading towards achieving a love for and stability of its various neighborhoods through programming oriented around increasing home ownership, quality of life, and interpersonal relationships in the South of Penn. Tony also works to pass on his knowledge of as well as to cultivate the skills of and a love for music in the next generation of Berks County's young musicians through his private studio.

 

DR. BARTON SMITH

Board of Directors

 

Barton Lowell Smith was born at the Reading Hospital where he later spent 31 years practicing internal medicine and gastroenterology. His parents were William I. Smith, DDS, who attended Northeast Junior High, Reading High, and  Albright College, and Helen Lachcik Smith. Barton’s education was in the Reading Public Schools, Albright College, and Cornell University Medical College, with post graduate training for 7 years in Manhattan (Bellevue and Memorial-Sloan Kettering Hospitals) and the University of Miami. He returned to Reading to practice medicine after serving two years, during the Vietnam War, at Fort Benning, Georgia.

 

His publications include book reviews, letters to the editor, and scholarly articles on ornithology, biochemistry, gastroenterology, evolution, and evolutionary medicine. He has lectured on the life of Charles Darwin and on Evolutionary Medicine. Serving as editor of the journal of the Berks County Medical Society from 1980 to 1986 he wrote monthly editorials, and subsequently was President of the Society in 1991. Barton was President of the Manuscript Society, an international organization promoting the preservation and scholarly use of historical manuscripts, from 2010-2012, and serves on the Board of Trustees. 

 

Activities since retirement from medical practice include bird watching, swimming, and playing the piano, particularly the music of Chopin. He has been married to Kristina Hanson Smith for 53 years and they have 2 sons, Philip and Donald. Inspired by Kristina’s example of community service, especially with her college, Russell Sage College , and the Learning Disabilities Association of Pennsylvania, Barton’s volunteer activities include Albright College, the American Red Cross (“Meals on Wheels”), the Manuscript Society, Adopt an Acre, Inc (farmland preservation), and the Polish American Heritage Association of Berks County.    

 

CINDY BALCHUNUS

Board of Directors

 

Cynthia grew up in the Pittsburgh area and moved to Berks County in 1993 with her husband George, an attorney. Cynthia had 3 children between 1994 and 1999 and has been a stay-at-home mother since then.

 

Her youngest child, also named George, studied Bass with Chip Breaux, who invited him to join the Sinfonietta. Cynthia joined the board while George was in High School.

 

Cynthia has served on several other boards in Berks County including Kesher Zion Synagogue, where she was president from 2017-2019, the Jewish Federation of Reading and Berks Opera Company.

 

BRANDON BUTERBAUGH

Board of Directors

 

From Shillington, PA, Brandon began playing trombone and viola at a young age before becoming very involved in the music program in the Governor Mifflin School District and Berks County. Currently, Brandon is the Director of Bands at Hershey High School, where he directs the Wind Symphony, Symphonic Band, Trojan Marching Band, and Jazz Band.

 

Brandon is a graduate of West Virginia University, where he completed a Master's degree in Trombone Performance under Dr. H. Keith Jackson and Dr. Brian Plitnik. While at West Virginia, he was a Graduate Assistant with the West Virginia University Bands, including three concert ensembles and the 350-member WVU Mountaineers Marching Band - The Pride of West Virginia. He studied conducting under Dr. Scott Tobias. Prior to attending WVU, Brandon received his Bachelor's degree in Music Education from Penn State University. As a student in the Penn State School of Music, Brandon was a member of the Penn State Symphonic Band, Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra, Trombone Choir, and Marching Blue Band. He studied trombone under Professor Mark Lusk. Brandon is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Conducting at Messiah College.

As a performer, Brandon is a member of the West Shore Symphony Orchestra and the Berks Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra. Past engagements have included the Altoona Symphony Orchestra, the Ringgold Band of Reading, Berks Opera, and the Morgantown Community Orchestra. He freelances in the Reading/Harrisburg Region and maintains a private brass studio in Palmyra.

In addition to his work at Hershey High School, Brandon also works at Interlochen Arts Camp (Interlochen, MI) as an Institutes Division Cabin Counselor every year during June. ​His professional affiliations include Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, National Association for Music Education, National Band Association, International Trombone Association.

 

ANDREW CUSANO

Co-Founder

 

Andrew Cusano is originally from Shillington, Pennsylvania. He began playing music at the age of 3 when he studied violin. At the age of 8 he began playing percussion and has never looked back. Andrew is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, where he studied principally with John H. Beck. He also had the great pleasure of studying with Dr. Willis Rapp, Michael Burritt, Leigh Howard Stevens, and Anthony Orlando. 

 

As a performer, Andrew has appeared with the Pottstown Symphony, Philadelphia Wind Symphony, Reading Symphony, Reading Pops Orchestra, Northern Stage Theater, Delaware Theater Company, New London Barn Playhouse, Dutch Apple Dinner Theater, Dartmouth College Theater, Reading Civic Theater, Ephrata Performing Arts Center, and Genesius Theater. He has played with numerous stars of Broadway, jazz, opera, and classical music. 

 

In addition to performing, Andrew is an active educator. He is the band director at Governor Mifflin High School and maintains a busy private studio. Mr Cusano was formerly a teacher at Holy Name High School and the Wyomissing Institute of Fine Arts. He received a PA music education certification from West Chester University.

 

Berks Sinfonietta was established in 2014 as a group made up of local musicians, dedicated to exploring the vast repertoire of all periods. One of its distinguishing characteristics is the intergenerational approach, where young professionals, advanced students and gifted amateurs come together to learn from one another and to create performances of unqualified excellence. We also intend to explore various aspects of performance practice, and to build a new audience for classical music through education and outreach.

484-509-1290

710 N. 5th St.

Reading, PA 19601

© 2020 Berks Sinfonietta

Website by Brandon Buterbaugh

  • YouTube
  • Facebook - Black Circle