The Ensemble

Gerald Rizzer

Gerald Rizzer, Piano

Gerald Rizzer is the founder and artistic director of The Chicago Ensemble whose “enthusiasm, persistence and omnivorous curiosity” has given the ensemble the reputation of offering “Chicago’s most venerable and repertorially adventurous chamber music series.” (Lawrence Johnson, Chicago Classical Review).

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 three CDs with his Songs Without Words for piano; the most recent of which also holds his songs to A. E. Housman poems.

Mr. Rizzer has a BA from the University of Chicago, a masters from Yale University and he also attended Juilliard School of Music.

Michelle Areyzaga

Michelle Areyzaga, Soprano

Soprano Michelle Areyzaga has performed with The Chicago Ensemble for more than ten years. She is “blessed with a radiant and all-encompassing soprano” (Chicago Tribune).

She has appeared with Ravinia Festival, the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s In the Neighborhoods program, Grant Park Music Festival, New York City Opera, among  others. She also toured in the revue “Bernstein on Broadway” directed by  Jamie Bernstein, the composer’s daughter, performing it with the Cleveland Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, and the Israel Philharmonic. Ms. Areyzaga’s operatic roles include Mimi in La Boheme, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, Cunegonde in Candide, and Despina in Così fan tutte.

She holds a B.A. in vocal performance from Roosevelt University. Ms. Areyzaga participated in Ravinia’s Steans Institute for Young Artists and the  OperaWorks summer intensive program; and she appeared in  Chicago Opera Theater’s debut artist series.

Ricardo CastaƱeda

Ricardo Castañeda, Oboe

In addition to performing with The Chicago Ensemble, which he has done for 20 years, Ricardo Castañeda is currently principal oboist with The Chicago Sinfonietta and english horn/oboe chair with The Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mr. Castañeda made his solo debut with the National Symphony of El Salvador and has since appeared as a soloist with orchestras in Latin America, Europe, Japan, and the United States. He has played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera Orchestra, Grant Park Symphony, and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra as a guest oboist. He has also served as principal oboist in the pit orchestras of Chicago Opera Theater, Bolshoi Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, and Joffrey Ballet, as well as in numerous “Broadway in Chicago” productions.

Mr. Castaneda holds a BA and MA in Music Performance from Northwestern University, where he won the concerto competition and the Wade Fetzer award for excellence in performance.

Elizandro Garcia-Montoya

Elizandro Garcia-Montoya, Clarinet

A native of Costa Rica, Mr. Garcia-Montoya is acclaimed for “outstanding woodwind playing”, with solos of “subtle splendor and precision” (El Universal, Mexico). In addition to performing with The Chicago Ensemble for over a decade, he is also a member of the Fifth House Ensemble. Mr. Garcia-Montoya serves as principal clarinetist for the Elmhurst Symphony and he performs regularly with the Chicago Philharmonic and Chicago Sinfonietta. He has also performed with the Cleveland Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera, and the State of Mexico Orchestra.

Mr. Garcia-Montoya has participated in several music festivals, including Tanglewood, National Repertory Orchestra, International Festival at Round Top, Spoleto/USA, and Yale’s Norfolk chamber music festival.

Mr. Garcia-Montoya holds a bachelors in music from Baylor University, a masters from Rice University, and a Professional Studies diploma from Cleveland Institute of Music.

Jaime Gorgojo

Jaime Gorgojo, Violin

Jaime Gorgojo, violin, often appears as a soloist and chamber musician. Recent appearances include recitals on Chicago’s Dame Myra Hess concert series, at the Grand Teton Music Festival, at Strathmore Hall in Washington DC, and on the Chicago Symphony Presents chamber music series in collaboration with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax. He is also the first violinist with Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, an ensemble that juxtaposes blues and classical styles.

Dr. Gorgojo serves as the violin and chamber music professor at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and he is the founder and artistic director of the Chicago Chamber Music Festival (CCMF), a summer program for young talented musicians. Mr. Gorgojo is a 2018 recipient of an Individual Artist Grant from the City of Chicago to produce a music album called “Iberia,” featuring Spanish music for violin and piano.

Amy Hess

Amy Hess, Viola

Violist Amy Hess has played in concerts of The Chicago Ensemble in recent seasons. She joined the Lyric Opera Orchestra in 2016 and the Grant Park Orchestra in 2017. Formerly she was principal viola of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and a member of the Northwest Indiana Symphony orchestra.

Recently, she collaborated in concert with bassist Edgar Meyer as part of the Aspen Salida concert series in Colorado. When at Northwestern University, Ms. Hess took part in the Chicago premiere of Joel Puckett’s “Short Stories”, a concerto for string quartet and wind ensemble, and she performed the solo viola part in Richard Strauss’s “Don Quixote”.

While studying at Oberlin, she spent a semester in Paris, studying violin with David Rivière and musicology at the Sorbonne. Her interest in French music continued with a collaboration with Oberlin assistant professor and Ravel scholar Sigrun Heinzelmann, in a presentation at the Music Theory Midwest Conference.

Ms. Hess has a masters in viola performance from Northwestern University, and a bachelors in French and violin from Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music.

Matthew Oliphant

Matthew Oliphant, French Horn

Described as “prickly” and “disorienting” by the Chicago Tribune, Matthew Oliphant is a new music and chamber music specialist. As a solo hornist with the music group Ensemble Dal Niente, he performs contemporary music by established and emerging composers and classics of the new music repertoire. In 2015, he premiered 9 Mile Canyon for horn and live electronics, collaborating with composer/performer Jonathon Kirk.

Past performances include solos with the Northshore Concert Band, the Northwestern University Chamber Orchestra, and the Northshore Chamber Orchestra. He also performed as a guest principal hornist with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and The Florida Orchestra. Other orchestras and chamber ensembles that Mr. Oliphant has played with the Milwaukee, New World, Elgin, South Bend, and Northwest Indiana Symphonies and the Chicago Chamber Orchestra, New Millennium Orchestra, and the New Philharmonic. As a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago for two years, he was mentored by musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and performed under the batons of the world’s leading conductors.

Education: BA and MA, Northwestern University

Ben Roidl-Ward

Ben Roidl-Ward, Bassoon

Ben Roidl-Ward is a Chicago-based bassoonist and improviser dedicated to working with and advocating for his generation’s composers to commission and premiere numerous solo and chamber works featuring the bassoon. Currently, he is the second bassoonist of the Illinois Symphony and a faculty member of Carthage College, the Music Institute of Chicago, the People’s Music School, the Merit School of Music, and the North Carolina Governor’s School.

Mr. Roidl-Ward performed as a soloist with the Seattle Symphony and the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble and as an ensemble member with famed orchestras and ensembles such as the International Contemporary Ensemble, Ensemble Dal Niente, the Chicago Symphony, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and the New York Philharmonic. Music festival performances include Mostly Mozart, Ravinia, Lucerne Tanglewood, Spoleto, and Banff.

Education: Doctoral candidate, Northwestern University. Rice University and Oberlin Conservatory.

Bridget Skaggs

Bridget Skaggs, Mezzo-Soprano

A native of Texas, Bridget Skaggs has swiftly gained the attention of Chicago audiences for her “warm and plaintive” singing (Chicago Classical Review) across a broad range of genres, including classical, contemporary, avant-garde, jazz, and musical theater.

She has appeared with Chicago Fringe Opera, Chicago Folks Operetta, Haymarket Opera, Lake Forest Civic Orchestra, Baroque on Beaver Festival, Opera Steamboat, and Pittsburgh Festival Opera. A passionate advocate for art song, Ms. Skaggs is a founding member and executive director of the vocal quartet, Fourth Coast Ensemble, and was recently named Vocal Arts Associate for Chicago Fringe Opera. Ms. Skaggs debuted the role of Austin in the world-premiere production of Rossa Crean’s The Great God Pan in 2018, which received the American Prize in Opera Performance. This year she will record music by composer Lori Laitman on the Naxos label. She also recorded the American premiere of Paul Abraham’s jazz operetta Ball at the Savoy for future release.

Education: BA, Oklahoma City University’s Wanda L. Bass School of Music.

Alan Snow

Alan Snow, Violin

In his two previous appearances, violinist Alan Snow impressed The Chicago Ensemble audiences with his affinity for playing chamber music. He is concertmaster of the Evansville (IN) Symphony and violinist in the resident string quartet. He was appointed concertmaster of the Columbus, Indiana Philharmonic in 2017, shortly after receiving his Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University, where he studied with Sibbi Bernhardsson of the Pacifica Quartet and Alexander Kerr, concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Snow has also served as concertmaster of the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra and was concertmaster of the Music Academy of the West and of the Indiana University Sinfonietta, which performs without a conductor. As a member of The Chicago Panamerican Ensemble, he recorded an album, “Voices of Mexico Past and Present”, subsequently touring the US and Mexico. Along with pianist Joanne Chang, Mr. Snow won the 2016 Latin American Music Center recording competition and will be releasing another album of Mexican music, “Dialogos”.  As soloist he won grand prize in the Walgreens National Concerto Competition.

Andrew Snow

Andrew Snow, Cello

Andrew Snow has been with The Chicago Ensemble for more than fifteen years. He  has performed recitals in Mexico with his wife, pianist Beatriz Helguera-Snow, and they recorded a CD, “Voices of Mexico Past and Present”, made possible by a grant from the Mexican National Foundation of Arts and Culture. Mr. Snow was formerly the cellist of the Lyra Quartet and principal cellist of the Kenosha Symphony and Chicago Symphonic Pops. With the latter orchestra he toured the Far East. Currently, he is a member of Chicago Sinfonietta and the Chicago Philharmonic. He has played with  the Milwaukee Symphony, Grant Park Symphony, Lyric Opera, The Joffrey Ballet, and Ars Viva, as well as with Fulcrum Point and Contemporary Chamber Players. He teaches privately and adjudicates student competitions.

Mr. Snow holds a bachelors from Northern Illinois University and a masters from Southern Methodist University.

Mathias Tacke

Mathias Tacke, Violin

Mathias Tacke, violin, has played with The Chicago Ensemble for over a decade. From 1992 until 2007 he was the second violinist of the acclaimed Vermeer Quartet, in residence at Northern Illinois University. At that university, Mr. Tacke is professor of violin and chamber music. He is also guest lecturer for string chamber music at Northwestern University.

With the Vermeer Quartet Mr. Tacke gave performances in many prestigious festivals, including Tanglewood, Taos, Ravinia, South Bank, Lucerne, Berlin, Schleswig-Holstein and Edinburgh. Three of the Vermeer Quartet’s recordings were nominated for the Grammy Award.

Mr. Tacke appears in a wide range of repertoire from the Baroque to music of our time.  Beside The Chicago Ensemble, his Chicago musical affiliations include Camerata Chicago, Chicago Chamber Musicians, Fulcrum Point, Chicago Philharmonic and Evanston Bach Week.

From 1983-1992 Mr. Tacke was a member of the Ensemble Modern Frankfurt, one of the most important professional groups specializing in the performance of contemporary music. The Ensemble presented numerous premieres including works by most of today’s leading composers. He appears on recordings for Sony, ECM. Harmonia Mundi, Naxos and Cedille.

Gabriela Vargas

Gabriela Vargas, Flute

Originally from Costa Rica, flutist Gabriela Vargas is equally at home as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player. An active performer and educator in the Chicago area, she performs in different ensembles, in classical repertoire, in new music and in Brazilian music. Ms. Vargas appeared in the last program The Chicago Ensemble presented before the pandemic brought an end to the season. Other chamber groups she performs with are Fulcrum Point International Contemporary Ensemble (I.C.E) and Fifth House Ensemble. She has recently played with the Lyric Opera orchestra and the Chicago Philharmonic.

 Ms. Vargas performed a concerto with Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Costa Rica after winning the Young Artist Competition. Since then, she has given performances and held flute masterclasses in Central, South, and North America. She has been heard performing live on WFMT. Ms. Vargas has a bachelor's from Universidad de Costa Rica and a master's from Western Illinois University. She holds orchestral and performance certificates from Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.

Benton Wedge

Benton Wedge, Viola

Violist Benton Wedge has performed with famous musicians, including televised performances with Celine Dion and Enrique Iglesias, and appeared on Oprah and WTTW Soundstage shows with Lyle Lovett, Randy Newman, Burt Bacharach, and Aaron Neville. He has recorded with Cheap Trick and Mannheim Steamroller and performed with popular acts such as Kansas, ELO, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Smokey Robinson, Il Divo, and Andrea Bocelli.

Benton Wedge is a member of the Music of the Baroque, Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Elgin Symphony Orchestra. He frequently performs with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Grant Symphony. Mr. Wedge is a former member of the Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa and the Fidelio String Quartet, based in Lisbon, Portugal. He has been principal violist for the Sarasota and Spoleto Opera Festivals and the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra. As a composer, the William Ferris Chorale, the choir of Old St. Patricks Church, 4spiel, the Covington String Quartet, and members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra members have all performed his compositions.

Education: BM and MM from Northwestern University


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