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2024 PREMIERE|Project Festival Composer Fellows Announced

Updated: May 2

Choral Arts Initiative announces the vibrant 2024 PREMIERE|Project Festival Composition Fellows roster.

Headshot of all 12 composer fellows.

Irvine, CA - After selecting from a competitive pool of composer applicants, Choral Arts Initiative (CAI) is excited to announce the twelve Composition Fellows selected to participate in their annual PREMIERE|Project Festival. The festival will feature 12 world premieres by these incredible composers, which will be performed by Choral Arts Initiative. The festival will take place at Concordia University Irvine’s gorgeous Borland-Mankse Center and the Charlie and Ling Zhang Orchestra Hall from June 25-28, 2024, with the concluding performance on June 28 (tickets are available now). The PREMIERE|Project Festival is a unique opportunity for composers to work with the musicians of Choral Arts Initiative, one of Southern California's premier choral ensembles and recipient of the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming. Composers will also receive close mentorship from returning and distinguished composer faculty members Dale Trumbore and Derrick Skye and newest faculty member Matthew Lyon Hazzard.

Artistic and Executive Director Dr. Brandon Elliott conceptualized the PREMIERE|Project Festival as a professional development experience that models the commissioning process, from contact and contract to residency and performance. The festival is geared towards recent graduates, those in career change, and early to mid-career composers. This experience provides a platform for composers to complete their compositions in a workshop setting with a professional chorus, receive guidance from world-renowned composition faculty, build their network, and gain exposure to the latest music in the choral field. The foundation of the festival is dedicated to the creation and performance of new choral works and provides emerging composers with the chance to work with professional singers and gain valuable experience in the choral music industry.

Composers selected for the festival can bring a composition in progress or a completed work to be adjusted during their mentoring and workshops throughout the week. The festival concludes with a live and recorded public premiere of each composer’s work. In addition, Fellows will have the option to establish a distribution deal with MusicSpoke, an artist-owned sheet music platform under the Choral Arts Initiative ICON Series.

The 2024 PREMIERE | Project Fellows were chosen through a highly competetive evaluation process. The 12 fellows come to us from 12 cities all over the world, including Ayo Awosika (Los Angeles, California), Grace Coberly (Boston, Massachusetts), Albert de la Fuente (Barcelona, Spain), Brandon Di Noto (San Diego, California), Adán Alejándro Fernández (Los Angeles, California), Lorna Katz (Gardena, California), Clark Lawlor (Syracuse, Utah), Nathan Scalise (Cheshire, Connecticut), Austin Scott (Los Angeles, California), Mark Smythe (New Zealand/North Hollywood, California), Peter Walters (Northampton, Great Britain), and Kelly Yixuan Wang (Beijing, China).

Meet the fellows

Ayo Awosika is a Berklee College of Music graduate and a Los Angeles based vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Ayo is a passionate educator with 15+ years of teaching experience. She has created and curated various masterclasses, workshops and voice curriculum for several different private music schools in the US and also has a roster of students around the world. She was recently commissioned to compose and conduct a new choral piece for a 250 person choir that debuted at the 2023 Sister Singers Network Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. When she is not vocal arranging and producing for other artists and groups, she is working on a new body of work that includes choral music and a solo project to be released in the near future.

Grace Coberly is a composer, singer, and educator with a passion for human connection. Above all, they seek to create musical experiences that are accessible to audiences of any background. Grace’s work has been performed across the United States and Europe. Their recent honors include being named a finalist for the American Prize in Composition (vocal chamber music division, 2023), a finalist in in the ASCAP’s Morton Gould Young Composer Awards Competition (2022), a performance winner of the EXTENSITY Commission (2022), and a runner-up in the Women's Sacred Music Project Commission Competition (2020). Grace completed their undergraduate studies in music and linguistics at Haverford College. They are now working towards their master’s in music education at George Mason University, where they recently completed their Orff Schulwerk Level II training.

Albert de la Fuente is a Catalan composer based in Barcelona. He grew up in a family with no musical tradition, and it wasn’t until age 16 that he began piano lessons with local teacher Assumpta Breda. At the start of his college studies in Industrial Engineering at age 18, he abandoned all formal musical training and continued autonomously, becoming an utterly self-taught composer. He has been awarded with 3 first prizes at the 2nd Composition Contest of the Catalan Youth Choir Association, and 1 first prize at the 7th Sant Antoni Composition Contest. His music has been performed at Barcelona's Palau de la Música and at concerts organized notable Catalan ensembles, including Cor Albada, Orquestra Styria and Banda del Prat. He has been a member of the Catalan Composer Association since 2022.

Brandon Di Noto is an American conductor, vocalist, educator, and composer with a diverse background and musical career. He earned two baccalaureate degrees, one in Music and the other in Business Communication, from Point Loma Nazarene University. He earned his Master of Music degree in Choral Music from the USC Thornton School of Music. Primarily a choral conductor, he currently serves as the Director of Choral & Vocal Ensembles at Classical Academy High School, and Conductor of the Azusa Pacific University Bel Canto Women’s Choir and Men’s Chorale Club. As a composer, Di Noto is captivated by traditional and innovative methods of conveying musical narratives to his audiences. He is interested in blending traditional and extended harmonies, as well as modern composition techniques with the many cultural and musical traditions at his disposal, in his works. Di Noto’s composition mentors include: Neal Desby, Victor Labenske, Z. Randall Stroope, Frank Ticheli, and Dale Trumbore.

Dr. Adán Alejándro Fernández is the Director of Music at Holy Family Catholic Church in Glendale, CA. His choirs were selected as a finalist for the American Prize and have made video recordings of Mozart's Requiem, Durufle's Requiem, and Faure's Requiem as parts of their submissions. Dr. Fernandez has served as interim Director of Choral Activities at California Lutheran University and interim Concert Choir Director at Chaffey College. Dr. Fernandez has degrees in Piano, Organ, and a doctorate in Sacred Music from USC.

Lorna Katz is in her first year of graduate school to earn her Ph.D. in Composition, at the University of California, Riverside. She has been a singer and performer for most of her life. Lorna earned her Master’s in Music in Theory and Composition at the California State University, Fullerton, where she was a student of Dr. Pamela Madsen. She graduated from CSUF in May 2023, and was awarded the outstanding graduate composer award at the school’s 2023 convocation ceremony. She also was awarded the 2023 Ellen Jane Lorenz Grant for Graduate Composition, from the Mu Phi Epsilon Foundation, which funded her attendance at Operation Opera in 2023 as an Art Song participant in composition. Lorna is currently a composition student of Dr. Dana Kaufman at UC, Riverside. She is a professional actor and nineteen-year member of the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Radio and Television Artists. She has an IMDB page and has appeared in various TV shows, feature films, and commercials.

Clark Lawlor is a software engineer and award-winning composer. His recent accolades include: First Prize, 2023 International Contest of Choral Composition, University of Alcala (Spain); First Prize, 2023 Utah ACDA Choral Composing Competition; and Winner, 2023 NDSU Fissinger Choral Composition Prize. Despite his recent successes, Clark is somewhat of a newcomer to the choral composing scene. Although he studied music at the University of Utah in the early 2000s, Clark dropped out before earning a degree to pursue a more “responsible” career. With the pressures of building a career and supporting a growing family, Clark took a long hiatus from music. He had all but lost his dream of a music career, until 2022 when Clark joined a local choir, and shortly thereafter began composing choral music again. Since 2022 Clark has written over a dozen choral compositions, has seen success on YouTube and in sheet music sales, and has been the recipient of multiple awards. He recently signed on with a promising new publisher, Endeavor Music, and is excited to be a part of their growth.

Nathan Scalise is an American composer who creates music that is deeply tied to place, story, and emotion by blending the rhythmic drive and direct expression of vernacular traditions with the performance techniques and complexities of the concert tradition. His music has been awarded by NYC SongSLAM (2019 First Prize), Fifteen Minutes of Fame, and Dolce Suono Ensemble (2017 Steven Stucky Young Composers Competition), and performed nationally and internationally by professional artists. His opera, A Great Resignation, premiered at the 2022 Hartford Fringe Festival. Scalise earned his DMA in composition from the Hartt School, where he studied with Gilda Lyons, Robert Carl, and Nathalie Joachim. He also holds an MM in Composition from Binghamton University, where he studied composition with Daniel Thomas Davis and trombone with Don Robertson, and a BA in Music and Economics from Swarthmore College, where he studied composition with Gerald Levinson, trombone with Paul Arbogast, and piano with Hans Lüdemann. He performs as a trombonist, pianist/keyboardist, drummer, and choral singer.

Austin Scott is a composer from Los Angeles, California. Originally a guitarist, Austin grew up listening to mostly rock music. This influence, among many others, is evident throughout his work. His eclectic blend of genres and compositional philosophies create a unique palate of musical colors that range from ethereal to bombastic. Austin graduated from Berklee College of Music with a B.A. in Composition in 2021. Since then, his work has been performed both in the states and overseas – recently his string orchestra piece, “Wormhole”, was performed in Vilnius, Lithuania as part of the St. Christopher Composer Competition.

Mark Smythe is a New Zealand-born, Los Angeles-based composer known for his choral, film and concert music. In 2023, his score for The Reef: Stalked was nominated in both the SCL Awards and World Soundtrack Awards. He also premiered "Alone" for Choir & Electric Guitar with LA Choral Lab at their acclaimed 'Apsis' concert. Whether for the screen or the concert hall, Mark's music is melodically evocative and accessible. The NZ Listener describes his "Moto Mojo" (Harp & Delay Pedal) as "so tuneful you remember it all instantly". The first thing Movie Music UK noticed about Mark's score for The Reef: Stalked was "how beautiful large parts of it are". Mark holds a Graduate Diploma in Screen Composition (Distinction) from the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS) and is currently Part Time Faculty at California State University Northridge (film music history) and UCLA Extension (film Scoring).

Peter Walters Peter Walters is an English doctor and composer. He has written music, much of it for voice, for many years. Early compositions were commissioned by BBC World Service, and Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation, and also involved music for picture, notably a score for an award winning short 'Shona May' broadcast on Thames Television. He won the Birmingham Conservatoire ‘Composing for Film’ competition in 2008, and has written for theatre and the notable Bengali singer Rukhsana Safa. He plays and writes for long-established folk-rock band, The Hotel Whiskey Foxtrot. He went to medical school rather than a musical conservatoire, and pursued a career in medicine, whilst continuing to write and perform music - much written for schools and children when his own children were young. He has now taken early retirement from clinical practice, to allow a proper commitment to the music which has been a passion throughout his life. His works have been performed locally by Northamptonshire choirs, and internationally in Europe, Asia and America.

Born and raised in Beijing, China, Kelly Yixuan Wang relocated to Ontario to pursue a master's degree in music composition at Western University. Her passion for contemporary and orchestral music blossomed during her bachelor's studies in Vancouver. In 2018, she joined the Vancouver Pops Orchestra and Choir, where she served as an arranger and percussionist, undertaking commissions for orchestral arrangements used in film scoring and musicals. As a composer, Kelly’s interests include experimenting with texture, harmony, and aleatoric possibilities within ensembles. Her music is characterized by its spontaneity and intricacy, as it explores the individual relationships and interactions among performers, audience and conductors. Continuously engaged in introspection, she ponders her own existence and the role she plays on this planet at every moment of her journey.

About Choral Arts Initiative

We believe that we have the opportunity to be a living metaphor that celebrates unity. We believe that fostering and embracing the music of emerging composers is critical to our art form. We believe that our community deserves to hear the greatest performances of new choral music. We believe that passion and sincerity should be at the forefront of all musical endeavors. We are Choral Arts Initiative.

Choral Arts Initiative is a non-profit 501(c)(3) choral organization comprised of some of the most talented and passionate musicians in the Southern California region. Widely recognized as a champion of new music, Choral Arts Initiative has been praised as “gracefully lyrical” (Voice of OC), hailed as one of Orange County’s “Best Choirs” (CBS News, Los Angeles), and noted for its “sublime” and “triumphant” performances (Textura). Winner of the American Prize in Choral Performance, recipient of the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming, and Winner of the San Francisco Classical Voice Audience Choice Awards for Best New Music Performance, Choral Arts Initiative continues its commitment to musical innovation and excellence. Their inaugural album, How to Go On: The Choral Works of Dale Trumbore, ranked #6 on the Billboard Charts (Traditional Classical Albums), and #4 on the iTunes Best Seller Classical Charts. Their passion for new music has led to the commission of nineteen compositions and the premiere of over seventy works. Navona Records released their second album in April of 2022. From Wilderness: A Meditation on the Pacific Crest Trail, by composer Jeffrey Derus, is a concert-length work and meditation on the transformative experience of traveling the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650 mile scenic coastal hiking pathway that stretches the length of the pacific coastline of the United States and traverses the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. Their most recent album, Tapestry of Becoming, released in March 2024, and quickly soared to #1 on the Billboard Charts (Traditional Classical Albums).

About Brandon Elliott, Artistic Director

Brandon Elliott enjoys an expansive career as a conductor-educator, musician, arts leader, and consultant. He is the Founder & Artistic Director of Choral Arts Initiative, an award-winning new music choral ensemble based in Orange County, CA. Under his leadership, Choral Arts Initiative has received critical acclaim and recognition for its artistic excellence, musical innovation, and dedication to performing music from a vibrant roster of living composers. With a passion for new music, he has conducted the premiere of over 70 works.

Equally passionate about teaching, training, and mentoring musicians, Elliott is the Choral and Vocal Studies Director at Saddleback College. He regularly serves as an adjudicator, clinician, preparatory conductor, guest conductor, and guest speaker for festivals, competitions, and local K-12 programs, and is a semifinalist for the 2022 GRAMMY Music Educator Award. As a vocal musician, Elliott has sung with various professional and contracted choruses. Previous engagements include singing under Craig Hella-Johnson in the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble, Pacific Chorale with John Alexander, and various ad hoc ensembles for artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Beck, Star Wars Live, and Zelda Live.

Elliott maintains professional memberships with ACDA, NAfME, MACCC, and Chorus America. His writings have been featured in both Tactus and The Music Educators Journal. Additionally, he has presented on choral entrepreneurship at the 2016 and 2017 Chorus America national conferences and was a panelist for the CCDA Choral Leadership Academy. He currently serves on the American Choral Directors Associaiton National Board of Directors as the Repertoire and Resources co-chair for two-year colleges. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education and a teaching credential from California State University, Fullerton, a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, a specialist certificate in Music Business Leadership from the Berklee College of Music, and a Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Change and Leadership from the University of Southern California. Learn more at


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