Our Musicians and Vocal Artists
Eric Halen joined the Houston symphony as Assistant Concertmaster in 1987, and now serves as Co-concertmaster. After earning his bachelor’s degree at Central Missouri State University, he received his master’s degree at the age of 20 from the University of Illinois, while studying with Sergiu Luca. At age 23, he became artist/teacher of violin at Texas Christian University. Mr. Halen has performed in solo and chamber music programs in the U.S. and abroad, including solo appearances with the St. Louis and Houston Symphonies.
As a chamber musician, Mr. Halen has collaborated with many pre-eminent artists including violinist Sergiu Luca, cellists Gary Hoffman and Lynn Harrell, and pianists Christoph Eschenbach and John Kimura Parker. Locally, Mr. Halen has made frequent guest appearances with DA CAMERA of Houston, and CONTEXT. As a member of the Houston Symphony Chamber Players, he has toured the U.S., Japan, and Europe. Critics have described Mr. Halen’s violin playing as “sterling”, and “tenderly expressive and dramatic”. A review in the Chicago Sun-Times of Mr. Halen’s performance of Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” states, “…as the final, sustained tone of Eric Halen’s violin faded to close… there was no doubt that the evening had offered the best kind of virtuosity.” Mr. Halen plays a violin made in 1616 by Antonio and Hieronymus Amati..
Praised by New York Newsday for “extraordinary musicianship…forceful, sophisticated and entirely in the spirit of the music,” American cellist Brinton Averil Smith’s performances have elicited rave reviews around the world, praising virtuosic performances and musical ideals rooted in the golden age of string playing. Smith’s debut recording of Miklós Rózsa’s Cello Concerto with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on Koch Classics won widespread international critical acclaim, including the annual Gramophone Awards Issue which praised Smith as a “hugely eloquent, impassioned soloist,” and continued, “The sheer bravura of Smith’s reading is infectious.” His recording of Fauré’s Piano Trio and Après un Rêve with Gil Shaham was selected as one of BBC Music magazine’s best albums of the year and the American Record Guide praised their performance as “Stunningly beautiful”, continuing “I cannot imagine a better stylistic match for Shaham”
Mr. Smith has appeared regularly as a soloist with the Houston Symphony since joining the orchestra as principal cellist in 2005. Prior to this, he was the first musician chosen by Lorin Maazel to join the New York Philharmonic and the principal cellist of the San Diego and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestras. Mr. Smith’s North American engagements have included performances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Marlboro Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival, the Banff Centre for the Arts and with orchestras throughout the country. A passionate advocate of unjustly neglected repertoire, Mr. Smith recently gave the North American premiers of rediscovered works of Jean Sibelius and Alexander Zemlinsky. His performances have been broadcast on CBS’s Sunday Morning and on the radio throughout the U.S., including NPR’s Performance Today and Symphonycast.
An active chamber musician, Smith has collaborated with violinist Gil Shaham on numerous occasions including Carnegie Hall’s Gil Shaham and Friends series. He has also collaborated with cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Lynn Harrell, violinists Cho-Liang Lin, James Ehnes, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Sarah Chang, soprano Dawn Upshaw, pianist Jonathan Biss and members of the Beaux Arts Trio and the Guarneri, Emerson, Juilliard, Cleveland, and Berg quartets. Smith has performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Marlboro Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival, the Seattle Chamber Music Society, the Sarasota Music Festival, the New York Philharmonic Chamber Series, the Killington Music Festival, El Paso Pro Musica, the Mainly Mozart Festival, the Brevard Music Festival and the Texas Music Festival and is an artistic director of the Restoration Chamber Music festival in Galveston. As a student, he was a prize winner in the Leonard Rose International Cello Competition and in several consecutive Juilliard concerto competitions and was invited to perform at the American Cello Congress. Mr. Smith is currently a member of the faculty at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, and has given masterclasses throughout the United States, including at the Aspen Music Festival, the New World Symphony and the National Orchestral Institute.
The son of a mathematician and a pianist, Brinton Averil Smith was admitted to Arizona State University at age 10, where he took courses in mathematics and German and, at age 17, completed a B.A. in mathematics. He subsequently became a student of Eleonore Schoenfeld at the University of Southern California, where he was also a teaching assistant in the mathematics department, and completed work for an M.A. in mathematics at age 19. He then studied with the renowned cellist Zara Nelsova at The Juilliard School, where he received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree, writing on the playing of Emanuel Feuermann. Mr. Smith resides in Houston with his wife, the pianist Evelyn Chen, and their daughter, Calista.
A native of Indonesia, of Chinese, Dutch and Javanese ancestry, a multi-talented concert violinist and pianist, Dr. Ayke Agus began her concert career on both violin and piano at the age of 7, through out Indonesia with her mother as accompanist. Dr. Ayke came to the United States after high school, on a full scholarship to study violin and piano at Daemen College, Buffalo NY. Upon receiving a full scholarship for her graduate studies from the Julliard School of Music, she instead auditioned for the Heifetz Masterclasses USC, in Los Angeles, California. Her acceptance into the Jascha Heifetz Masterclasses at USC began a lasting association with the great violinist till the very end of Heifetz’s illustrious life.
In addition, Dr. Ayke collaborated with Mr.Heifetz on completing of many of his unfinished transcriptions for violin and piano, most of which are now published.
Dr. Ayke will forever be known for being the last accompanist for Jascha Heifetz, for the last 15 years of his life.
Dr. Ayke taught for 10 years on the piano faculty at USC.
After Mr.Heifetz’s death, Dr. Ayke Agus wrote “Heifetz, As I Knew Him”, which has been read by music lovers worldwide.
As a result, she has been invited to give annual masterclasses and lecture concerts around the world, such as at St. Petersburg Conservatory, Russia, and Moskow. At the Jascha Heifetz Concert Hall in Vilnius, Lithuania, at the Juilliard School of Music, New England Conservatory, Boston University, George Mason University, Peabody Conservatory, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USC, UCLA, Los Angeles California, Yang Siew Toh (YST) National University in Singapore, University of Indonesia, and at major music schools in Indonesia.
In her spare time, she is a music for healing volunteer at many hospitals, and give charity concerts as her way to serve her God.
After 45 years living in Los Angeles, in 2018, Dr. Ayke Agus and her husband Matthew Mallen, a former English Professor moved to a small city in northern California, Yuba City, who accompanies her whenever she is on her life long mission.
The New York Times hailed Evelyn Chen as “a pianist to watch,” praising her “brilliant technique, warm, clear tone, and exacting musical intelligence.” Ms. Chen’s recent engagements have included performances on five continents at venues including David Geffen Hall and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, Wolf Trap and the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the National Concert Hall in Taipei, the Cultural Center of Hong Kong, and the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow.
A Steinway Artist, Ms. Chen has performed with numerous orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra (upon Mstislav Rostropovich’s recommendation), the Houston Symphony, the San Diego Symphony, as well as the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, the New Zealand Symphony, the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan, the State Symphony Orchestra of Mexico among others. She has collaborated with renowned conductors including Riccardo Muti, Leonard Slatkin, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Zdenek Macal, Joseph Silverstein, JoAnn Falletta, and Keith Lockhart.
Ms. Chen’s recordings have received international critical acclaim. Her recording of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with Leonard Slatkin and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London on Sony/BMG was among the top ten best-selling classical recordings in England. Ms. Chen’s performance was praised by Fanfare Magazine as “eminently musical, particularly sensitive to Rachmaninov’s intimacies.” Fanfare also commended Ms. Chen’s recording of the Miklos Rozsa’s Piano Concerto with James Sedares and the New Zealand Symphony on Koch International, stating “it would be hard to imagine a performance more in tune with the music’s dynamism than the one turned in by Evelyn Chen, who wonderfully communicates a kind of virtuoso thrill while also capturing every one of the work’s Protean changes of mood.” Gramophone Magazine added that “Evelyn Chen is a dazzlingly secure, marvelously sympathetic exponent that Rozsa fans will rightly welcome with open arms.”
Ms. Chen has been featured on the CBS Evening News, and her performances have been broadcast by the National Public Radio, WGBH (Boston), WQXR (New York), WNYC (New York), WNCN (New York), WFMT (Chicago), and WGTS (Washington DC), as well as throughout Taiwan and Great Britain (Classic FM). She has collaborated in chamber music with artists including violinists Frank Huang, Cho-Liang Lin, and Yoonshin Song, violist James Dunham, cellists Leslie Parnas and Brinton Smith, as well as members of the New York Philharmonic, the Dallas Symphony, and the Houston Symphony. Ms. Chen has also performed before prominent dignitaries including the Princess of Thailand and the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
A winner of several international competitions, Ms. Chen was the recipient of the Petschek Award, which awarded her a fully sponsored New York debut recital at Alice Tully Hall. She was also the First Prize Winner of the Mieczyslaw Munz International Competition, and the Grand Prize Winner of the Piano Guild International Recording Competition. As the youngest competitor at the age of fourteen, Ms. Chen captured First Prize in the Bach International Competition in Washington DC.
Ms. Chen received a Doctor of Musical Arts from the Juilliard School, a Master of Music from the New England Conservatory, and a Bachelor of Arts in composition, Magna Cum Laude with highest honors, from Harvard University. Her teachers include pianists Russell Sherman and Jerome Lowenthal, and composers Leon Kirchner and David Lewin. She is currently Associate Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City.
Joan DerHovsepian newly appointed principal violist of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. She joined the viola section of the Houston Symphony in 1999, hired by Christoph Eschenbach, and began serving as Associate Principal in the fall of 2010. Ms. DerHovsepian was Principal Viola of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra for two seasons and played in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. She has appeared as guest principal viola with the Cincinnati Symphony.
2022 summer festival and chamber series invitations include the Seattle Chamber Music Society, the Mainly Mozart Festival, the Lake Lure Chamber Music Festival, the Peninsula Music Festival, the Texas Music Festival, Music in Context, St. Cecelia Chamber Music Society, and the National Orchestral Institute as a faculty member.
A dedicated teacher, Ms. DerHovsepian is the Artist Teacher of Viola at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, mentoring students through viola orchestral repertoire classes and independent study. She is a regular guest faculty with the New World Symphony and has given masterclasses in orchestra audition preparation for music schools such as the New England Conservatory and for viola students of the Juilliard School.
Ms. DerHovsepian was violist of the Everest Quartet, top prize winners at the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. She served two seasons as Principal Viola of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and played with the Rochester Philharmonic for two seasons. Her primary teachers include James Dunham and Kim Kashkashian.
Praised by the Edmonton Journal for performing “with precision and grace,” and by NUVO Magazine for his “consistently rich tone [and] expressive, intense playing,” Sheldon Person is a violist in the Houston Symphony and enjoys an active career as a chamber musician, recitalist, and teacher.
As a member of the Houston Symphony, Mr. Person has performed in seven countries on three continents and on their live recording of Alban Berg ’s Wozzeck that received the 2017 Grammy Award. Mr. Person was previously a member of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and has also performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra, and as soloist and guest principal with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
Since 2016, he has been a faculty artist at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. Mr. Person has also appeared at the Houston Symphony Chamber Music Series, the Texas Music Festival, Musica Tra Amici, Musiqa Houston, and at the Zenith Chamber Music Festival at Drake University. Radio broadcasts include appearances on Houston Public Radio and NPR. Mr. Person ’s collaborations on new trios by Per Mårtensson and Karim Al-Zand were released on the Centaur Records label in 2017 and 2018.
As first prize winner of the Royal Overseas League ’s Bernard Shore Viola Competition, Mr. Person performed recitals in London, including an appearance at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. While a member of the Artea String Quartet, Leverhulme Fellows at the Royal Academy of Music, Mr. Person appeared at Wigmore Hall, the South Bank Centre, the Brighton Festival, Buckingham Palace, and live on BBC Radio 3. He was also the winner of the Wayne Crouse Viola Prize at the Corpus Christi International Competition for Piano and Strings.
Mr. Person holds degrees and certificates from The Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London), Indiana University, Rice University, and the University of Alberta. As a fellow of the Aspen Music Festival and School, he served as the Assistant Principal Viola of both the Aspen Festival and Chamber Orchestras. Mr. Person is a native of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Acclaimed as “a wonderfully talented violinist…whose sound and technique go well beyond her years”, violinist Yoonshin Song was born in South Korea, where she began her musical studies at age 5. Making her solo debut with the Seoul Philharmonic at age 11, she has since built a successful performing career internationally.
Yoonshin was appointed as Concertmaster of the Houston Symphony in August 2019. Prior to that she has held the same position with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for seven seasons. In Europe, Yoonshin serves as guest concertmaster of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Iván Fischer and she has led the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra with numerous toptiered conductors and artists.
Beyond her first chair duties, Yoonshin has performed as a soloist with many orchestras around the world, including the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Utah Symphony, the New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, the Paul Constantinescu Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, among many others.
She has also participated as a soloist and chamber musician in numerous leading music festivals, including the Marlboro, Deer Valley, Great Lakes, and Aspen Music Festivals in the United States; the Miyazaki Chamber Music Festival in Japan; and the Verbier, Lucerne, and Bayreuth Festivals in Europe.
Yoonshin has earned many prestigious prizes throughout her career, including top prize awards in the Lipizer International Violin Competition in Italy; the Lipinski & Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Poland; the Henry Marteau International Violin Competition in Germany; and first prize at the Stradivarius International Competition in the United States. She studied under the tutelage of Donald Weilerstein at the New England Conservatory and continued her studies with Robert Mann, Lisa Kim and Glenn Dicterow at the Manhattan School of Music.
The Houston Symphony Chorus is one of Houston’s oldest and most distinguished musical organizations. Founded in 1946 as the Houston Chorale, it became the Houston Symphony Chorale in 1968, and the Houston Symphony Chorus in 1986.
The Chorus consists entirely of volunteer singers who have considerable musical skill, vocal talent, and choral experience. They audition for placement each year. The Chorus performance schedule is possibly the busiest in the country, consisting of up to fourteen different sets of repertoires for a total of 45 concerts. Knowing that good singers are usually very busy people and that most could not possibly participate in a full season, the Chorus uses a unique method of placement. At the time of their audition, singers indicate in which series they are interested in singing. Some will be interested in singing only one series with us, while others will hope to sing all fourteen. They are subsequently placed based on their audition scores and stated preferences.