Music Director & Conductor
Christopher Wilkins is passionate about community-oriented projects. He has made it a priority to develop partnerships with artists and organizations based in Northeast Ohio, and to develop educational programming for people of all ages, interests and backgrounds.
Christopher Wilkins has served as Music Director of the Akron Symphony since 2006. Under his direction the orchestra’s programming has reflected his strong interest in community-oriented projects. He has developed partnerships with many artists and organizations based in Northeast Ohio, including the Akron Art Museum, Akron-Summit County Public Library, Firestone High School, Summit County Historical Society, YEPAW 365, GroundWorks Dance Theater, Neos Dance Theatre, and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Recent major collaborative projects have included fully staged performances of Porgy and Bess, The Rite of Spring, Titanic, South Pacific, A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and Carmina Burana. The orchestra’s community initiatives have been awarded a major grant from the Knight Foundation to support community engagement projects and collaborative programming over a five-year period.
Maestro Wilkins also serves as Music Director of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, a summer orchestra performing weekly on Boston’s Esplanade and throughout the neighborhoods of Boston. As a guest conductor, he has appeared with many of the leading orchestras of the United States, including those of Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. He has also appeared regularly with orchestras in Latin America, New Zealand, Spain and the UK.
He previously served as Music Director of the San Antonio Symphony and the Colorado Springs Symphony, and is currently Artistic Advisor to the Opera Theatre of the Rockies in Colorado Springs. Wilkins also served as resident conductor of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, helping launch that orchestra in its inaugural season, and leading it on tours throughout the Americas.
Wilkins won the Seaver/NEA Award in 1992. He has served as the associate conductor of the Utah Symphony, assisting his former teacher Joseph Silverstein; as assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, as assistant to Christoph von Dohnányi; conducting assistant with the Oregon Symphony under James DePreist; and was a conducting fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center.
Born in Boston in 1957, Maestro Wilkins earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. He received his master of music degree from Yale University, where he studied with Otto-Werner Mueller. As an oboist, he performed with many ensembles in the Boston area, including the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, and the Boston Philharmonic under Benjamin Zander.
Associate Conductor, Akron Youth Symphony Music Director
Active as a composer and arranger, Eric Benjamin’s works have been performed by orchestras nationally. Eric is a committed educator and has taught music at the elementary, secondary and college level.
Eric Benjamin graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music with degrees in music education and orchestral conducting. He began his professional conducting career as resident conductor of the Akron Symphony Orchestra and now serves as music director of the Tuscarawas Philharmonic and the Alliance Symphony.
He has appeared as guest conductor with orchestras in Canton, Columbus, Cleveland, Wooster and Erie, Pa. Active as a composer and arranger, his works have been performed by orchestras nationally. Recently, the Canton Symphony opened its season with the premiere of his An Occasional Overture.
Mr. Benjamin is a committed educator and has taught music at the elementary, secondary and college level. He is currently an adjunct faculty member at University of Mount Union where he conducts the orchestra, teaches conducting and a course on music and culture. He also directs the University Chorus and teaches at the Kent State Tuscarawas campus.
“I love to engineer interactions between young people and music,” Benjamin said, “events that hook up scholarship, creativity, performance and achievement with that electric current that makes a student want to do music in the first place.”
Director, Akron Symphony Chorus
Chris Albanese is the Director of the Akron Symphony Chorus.
Chris Albanese is an assistant professor of choral conducting at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music where he conducts the Grammy-nominated Singing Hoosiers, and teaches courses in choral conducting.
Chris came to the university by way of San Francisco, where he was a member of the Grammy award-winning ensemble Chanticleer. As a member of Chanticleer, he performed in venues ranging from Los Angeles’ Disney Concert Hall to Vienna’s Musikverein. The ensemble’s performances and interviews were broadcast on nationwide NPR affiliates, Russia’s Mariinsky network, and the Hallmark Channel’s Home and Family program. An active soloist and recitalist, Chris has also performed with the Dayton Opera, Cincinnati Bach Festival, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, Ars Musica Chicago, Berkshire Choral Festival, Lorin Maazel’s Castleton Festival, and as tenor soloist for the world premiere of Dominick DiOrio’s Ding Dong Bell.
As a conductor, Chris’ most recent work includes conducting and preparing collaborations with Sandi Patty, Sylvia McNair, the Indianapolis Opera, Ft. Wayne Philharmonic, and Carmel Symphony. While at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, he conducted the University of Cincinnati Men’s Chorus, prepared the Men’s and Women’s Choruses for the North American university premiere of Arthur Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and served the school’s Opera Department in the roles of chorus master and assistant conductor.
A passionate educator, Chris has facilitated master classes throughout the United States and Europe. He has served as a presenter, clinician, and adjudicator for the Indiana Music Education Association, Indiana State School Music Association, Ohio Music Education Association, Music America, Chanticleer Youth Choral Festival, and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati; commonly presenting on topics related to vocal pedagogy and their application in the choral setting. Chris also exhibits a keen interest in the music of Ibero-America, with special focus on the extant masses and motets of Juan Gutierrez de Padilla.
Chris is a fervent advocate of popular and syncretic music styles, and their incorporation within the choral medium. His own varied musical experiences include work as a keyboardist in the Chicago-based Chris Buehrle Band, lead tenor saxophone with the Dayton Jazz Ensemble, and study of raga and basic Hindustani vocal technique with Stefan Fiol and Kanika Pandey.
Chris received his bachelor’s degree in music education and vocal performance from the University of Dayton, a master’s in vocal performance from Northwestern University, and a doctorate in choral conducting from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music.
Karen Ní Bhroin
Assistant Director, Akron Symphony Chorus
Karen Ní Bhroin is the Assistant Director of the Akron Symphony Chorus.
Karen Ní Bhroin is from Co. Wexford, Ireland, and is one of Ireland’s leading young female conductors. Karen is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and currently holds the position of graduate assistant orchestral conductor at Kent State University, where she is pursuing her master’s degree in orchestral conducting with Dr. Jungho Kim.
In the summer of 2019, Karen was Assistant Conductor to Richard Rosenberg at the National Music Festival in Maryland. Karen was also a participant at Dartington International Summer School, where she worked with Timothy Redmond, Graeme Jenkins and Tom Randle. Karen was awarded a full bursary from Dartington to attend this program.
During 2018, Karen was a Britten–Pears Young Artist, studying as one of four conductors with Marin Alsop and Valentina Peleggi for two weeks in Snape Maltings, U.K.
In 2017, Karen made her debut with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, conducting a lunchtime concert at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, which was broadcast live for RTÉ Lyric FM.
During 2016-2018, Karen was conductor in training with RTÉ Orchestras, Choirs and Quartets. Here she worked with Chorus Master Mark Hindley and the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir, and RTÉ principal guest conductor Nathalie Stutzmann.
In 2016, Karen won the Orion Young Conductors’ Award at MusicFest in Aberystwyth, Wales, with the Orion Orchestra and conductor Toby Purser.
In 2014, Karen was one of three finalists in the ESB Electric Ireland Feis Ceoil, Ireland’s inaugural conducting competition, where she conducted the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.
Karen made her conducting debut with Trinity College Orchestra in 2013 in the final year of her degree. Karen has previously studied conducting privately with Neil Thomson, Robert Houlihan, Denise Ham, John Longstaff and David Brophy. She has also attended conducting courses and classes in Europe and America with Rodolfo Saglimbeni, Neil Varon and John Farrer.
Gospel Meets Symphony Choirmaster
Jonathon Turner currently serves as Director of Choral Activities at Lutheran High School East. His leadership and mentoring helps to shape the lives of learners on a daily basis.
Jonathon Turner enjoys a multifaceted career as a pastor, conductor, tenor and educator, having served in numerous capacities locally and nationally. He received his undergraduate training at Kent State University, and is a member of the James Abbington Cohort at Hampton University. He is also the Senior Pastor of The Israelite Missionary Baptist Church in Akron.
Some of the highlights of his musical accomplishments include serving as the Director of Kent State University’s Voices of Testimony Gospel Choir, Chorus Director of Past Unforgotten in Akron, Artist-in-Residence for the Black Voices of Inspiration at Purdue University, Director of the University of Mount Union’s Inspirational Voices of Praise, and Director of Band and Choral Activities at Emmanuel Christian Academy. He currently serves as the Director of Choral Activities at Lutheran High School East.
Jonathon has also spent several years as a member of the Gospel Meets Symphony Rhythm Section, and this past season served as a guest conductor at Gospel Meets Symphony.
The Gospel Meets Symphony Choir is comprised of singers from more than 70 area churches. The choir serves as the inspirational voice of the Akron Symphony Orchestra’s annual Gospel Meets Symphony concert, which has been a Northeast Ohio tradition since 1994.
Douglas A. Bayda
Director, Akron Youth Philharmonic
Douglas Bayda has extensive experience teaching orchestra in Akron Public Schools, as well as string instruction for students since 2007. He is active in the Ohio Music Education Association and National Association for Music Education.
The Greater Akron Musical Association recently selected Douglas A. Bayda, the Director of Orchestras at Akron’s Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts, as the new Director of the Greater Akron Youth Philharmonic (AYP). He will begin as Director of AYP at the start of the 2012-2013 school year.
The Director oversees the Akron Youth Philharmonic and prepares members for performances during a 20-week season, which extends from November through March. The Director plans, programs and conducts weekly rehearsals and three annual concerts, selects appropriate music for the season, organizes auditions, and works with the Director of the Akron Youth Symphony (AYS) to coordinate an annual side-by-side concert.
“I am very honored to be working with the Greater Akron Youth Philharmonic,” said Douglas Bayda. “This ensemble has a long tradition of excellence. I’m excited to be part of the musical journey its members will take.”
Bayda has extensive experience teaching orchestra in Akron Public Schools at Miller South and in the East Cluster, and he has provided string instruction for students in grades 4-8 since 2007. He previously taught orchestra and band for grades 4-12 in the Princeton City Schools system in Cincinnati, where he directed the high school Chamber Orchestra and Freshman Band, and prepared the orchestra wind and percussion section. He is active in the Ohio Music Education Association (OMEA) and the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). He currently resides in Medina with his wife, Beth and their children, Laura, Nicholas and Nathan.
“My main goal with AYP is to provide high achieving student musicians with an opportunity to perform in a full orchestra with likeminded peers,” said Douglas Bayda. “I enjoy challenging students at this age with a variety of musical repertoire, and helping them perform it at a very high level of musicianship.”
Bayda received his Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Bowling Green State University, where he served as principal clarinet for three years with the Symphonic Band and principal clarinet in the orchestra. He received his Master of Music in Wind Instrument Performance from The University of Michigan, where he was awarded a fellowship to study clarinet with Fred Ormand and performed with the University’s Symphonic Band and orchestra. Bayda continued studies in string pedagogy, string instrument repair, conducting, and teacher enrichment at The University of Wisconsin, Madison, The University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music, and Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio.