The Ensemble

Gerald Rizzer, Piano

Gerald Rizzer is the founder and artistic director of The Chicago Ensemble. He holds degrees from the University of Chicago and Yale, and he also attended Juilliard. Mr. Rizzer teaches piano, theory, and ensemble at Sherwood Community Music School. For many years, he taught music appreciation courses at DePaul. Mr. Rizzer composed the music for several shows performed at Theater Building Chicago. He has recorded two CDs of his short piano pieces "Songs Without Words," one in 2012 and the other in 2016.

Michelle Areyzaga, Soprano

Michelle Areyzaga has performed with Chicago Opera Theater, Lyric Opera's "In the Neighborhoods", Opera Theater North, Chicago Light Opera Works, and Orquestra Sinfonica del Estado de México. Her Pamina, part of Chicago's Silk Road Festival, was aired on public television. Additional roles include Cunegonde, Sophie (Werther), Mimi and Musetta, Adele, and Belinda. She has appeared several times in the New York Festival of Song and "Bernstein on Broadway", as well in New York City Opera's composer showcase. She performed Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music under John Rutter. Oratorio solos include the Brahms Requiem and the Poulenc Gloria. Ms. Areyzaga recorded CDs of music by Gwyneth Walker, Lita Grier, and William Ferris. She has been heard frequently in WFMT live broadcasts.

Alin Cernaianu, Violin

Alin Cernaianu came to the US in 2007 from his native Romania where he played in the National Opera House of Timisoara and the Timisoara Symphony Orchestra. He received a masters from Northern Illinois University in 2009. From 2008 to 2010 he was a member of Civic Orchestra of Chicago. Mr. Cernaianu currently plays with Camerata Chicago and teaches at DePaul University's community music school and the International Music School of Chicago.

Ricardo Castañeda, Oboe

Ricardo Castañeda received his BA and MA degrees from Northwestern University, where he received an award for excellence in performance and won the concerto competition. He studied with Ray Still who was principal oboist if the Chicago Symphony. Mr. Castañeda has performed with the Chicago Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Grant Park Symphony and Chicago Opera Theater. Principal oboe positions include Chicago Sinfonietta, Lake Forest Symphony and Joffrey Ballet orchestras. He has made solo appearances in Latin America, Europe, and the United States. An active teacher in the Chicago area, he is on the faculty of Northeastern Illinois University in DeKalb and he is program director of the Birch Creek Music Festival in Door County, Wisconsin.

Stacy Eckert, Mezzo-Soprano

Stacy Eckert sings a vast repertoire. In opera, her portrayals include Dorabella, Waltraute, Regina, and Carmen. As a concert soloist, Ms. Eckert’s numerous performances include Verdi’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and Bernstein’s Jeremiah Symphony. A member of the Chicago Symphony Chamber Chorus, Ms. Eckert has worked with Boulez, Solti, Barenboim, Mehta, Eschenbach, and other conductors. She first performed with The Chicago Ensemble in its 21st season.

Elizandro Garcia-Montoya, Clarinet

Elizandro Garcia-Montoya a native of Costa Rica, moved to the United States in 1993 to study clarinet at Baylor University with Dr. Richard Shanley. He attended the Cleveland Institute of Music and received a master of music degree from Rice University. As a chamber musician, Mr. Garcia-Montoya has performed with Chicago Chamber Musicians and is a member of the Barossa Quintet, featured in the Ravinia Festival's outreach and education program. As an orchestral musician, he is principal clarinet in the New Hampshire Music Festival and has played with the Cleveland Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera, Tanglewood Music Center, Spoleto Festival USA, State of Mexico Orchestra, Joffrey Ballet orchestra, and Chicago Sinfonietta. He is on the faculty of Elmhurst College, DePaul Community Music School, and the British School of Chicago.

Amy Hess, Viola

Amy Hess is newly appointed to Lyric Opera Orchestra. Formerly she was principal viola of the Civic Orchestra and a member of the Northwest Indiana Symphony. Recently Ms. Hess collaborated with bassist Edgar Meyer at Aspen. She received a masters from Northwestern University, where she was selected to be soloist with the orchestra. She holds bachelors degrees in both French and violin from Oberlin, spending a semester in Paris studying violin and musicology.

Olga Dubossarskaya Kaler, Violin

Olga Dubossarskaya Kaler attended the Moscow State Conservatory and New England Conservatory and holds a doctorate from Northwestern University. She was awarded the Speciial Prize at the Rodolfo Lipitzer International Competition and was a finalist at the Concert Artist Guild International Competition. Ms. Kaler was assistant concertmaster of the Rochester Philharmonic and principal second violin of the Syracuse Symphony. Ms. Kaler currently plays with Ars Viva and the Chautauqua Festival orchestra. She has also performed with the Chicago, Boston, and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestras and in two tours of the World Orchestra for Peace, under Valery Gergiev. Ms. Kaler has participated in the Montreal Chamber Music Festival, Steamboat Springs (Colorado) Chamber Festival, and Athens Music Festival. She has coached students in master classes and worked with youth orchestras. She recently published a study on violin technique. Ms. Kaler is on the faculty of DePaul University.

Susan Levitin, Flute

Susan Levitin has played with The Chicago Ensemble since its inception. She is a graduate of Eastman. She was soloist with the Eastman Philharmonia Orchestra on its 27-country tour. For many years, Ms. Levitin played with Lyric Opera. She has performed several Dame Myra Hess solo recitals. With Gerald Rizzer, piano, Ms. Levitin recorded two CDs, one of French repertoire, the other of American works. She teaches at Sherwood community Music School, where she founded the Summer Flute Institute and the Festival of Flutes, with participation by students from all over Chicago. She is co-founder of the Santa Fe Intensive summer flute program. Ms. Levitin has given workshops for the National Flute Association and contributes articles to Flute Talk magazine. Among her students are several who are now in major orchestras.

Rika Seko, Violin

Rika Seko a graduate of Tokyo University of Arts, began her professional career as guest concertmaster of the Columbia Symphony and assistant concertmaster of the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra. During that time Ms. Seko performed over twenty different concertos, from Baroque to contemporary, and gave numerous recitals in Latin America. She continues to appear in Columbia as a soloist. She has played with many Chicago-area orchestras including the Chicago Symphony, Lyric Opera, Chicago Philharmonic, Grant Park, Music of the Baroque and Fulcrum Point New Music Project, and is concertmaster of the Elmhurst Symphony.

Steven Sigurdson, Cello

Steven Sigurdson attended Juilliard School of Music. He was awarded two fellowships to Tanglewood, received first prize in the National Society of Arts and Letters cello competition and was a finalist in the General Motors National Concert Competition. Mr. Sigurdson was co-principal cellist of the New World Symphony and the Florida Philharmonic, also appearing as a concerto soloist. As a chamber musician, he was a member of the Atlas String Quartet (DC area) and Arcangelo Piano Quartet (Durham, NC, touring internationally with the latter group. He was a founding member of two New York based ensembles: the Graff Piano Trio, finalists in the Osako (Japan) International Chamber Music Competition, and the Guinness String Quartet, which performed at Alice Tully Hall in New York. Mr. Sigurdson was the music director of the Haydn Society of Florida, appearing frequently as both soloist and conductor. As a studio musician, he can be heard on recordings of Extreme, Collective Soul, and Gloria Estefan.

Andrew Snow, Cello

Andrew Snow has been with The Chicago Ensemble for more than a decade. He holds degrees from Northern Illinois University and Southern Methodist University. Mr. Snow has performed several recitals in Mexico with his wife, pianist Beatriz Helguera-Snow. He is on the faculty at Trinity International University. Mr. Snow was formerly the cellist of the Lyra Quartet, based at Carthage College. He was principal cellist of the Kenosha Symphony. Currently, he is a member of Chicago Sinfonietta, Lake Forest Symphony, and the Chicago Philharmonic. He has participated in concerts of the Milwaukee Symphony, Grant Park Symphony, and Ars Viva, as well as with Fulcrum Point and Contemporary Chamber Players. He teaches privately and adjudicates student competitions.

Mathias Tacke, Violin

Mathias Tacke a native of Germany, graduated from the Musikakademie Detmold and joined the faculty. He was a member of the Ensemble Modern Frankfurt and was the second violinist of the Vermeer Quartet, performing at Ravinia, Tanglewood, Taos, Lucerne, Berlin, Schleswig-Holstein, and Edinburgh. Mr. Tacke performed on three Grammy-nominated recordings with the Vermeer Quartet. He is professor of violin and chamber music at Northern Illinois University and guest lecturer for string chamber music at Northwestern University.