The “stirring” (New York Times) and “intoxicating” (Philadelphia Inquirer) music of American composer Alex Berko (b. 1995) is characterized by a balance of intimacy and power, a keen sense of lyricism and emotional sensitivity, and a love of narrative. Berko’s music often poses questions about our personal environments and relationships to one another, and he is interested in weaving listeners through intimate stories and perspectives with universal values.
Berko’s music has been widely performed throughout the U.S. and abroad by orchestras, choirs, and chamber ensembles. His recent collaborators include the Monterey Symphony, Cape Symphony, Plymouth Philharmonic, Bloomington Symphony, Donald Nally, The Crossing, Craig Hella Johnson, Conspirare, NOTUS Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Cathedral Choral Society and the Washington National Cathedral, Miró Quartet, Del Sol String Quartet, Boston New Music Initiative, Arabic/jazz artist Nai Barghouti and jazz/folk duo Kate McGarry and Keith Ganz.
Berko has received two consecutive ASCAP Morton Gould Awards for his orchestra and choral music (2022/2021). Another recent project in collaboration with composer Daniel Bayot and the Lebron James Family Foundation landed Berko a regional EMMY ® for his music. His work has also received national recognition from the Society of Composers, Inc. (SCI/ASCAP commission), The American Prize (Choral Music Division), American Choral Directors Association (Brock Memorial Prize), DownBeat Magazine (Best Arrangement), Rice University (Paul and Christiane Cooper Prize), and Cleveland Institute of Music (Carl E. Baldassarre Composer/Performer Award). Additionally, he has held fellowships or residencies at Big Sky Choral Initiative, RED NOTE New Music Festival, Atlantic Music Festival, Glen Deven Ranch in Big Sur, California Summer Music, and NYU/ASCAP Film Scoring Institute. He is currently the composer-in-residence with Luzerne Music Center (NY).
Berko’s Lincoln was included on The Crossing’s album, Rising w/ The Crossing released by New Focus Records. The album was met with critical acclaim: It was nominated for a 2022 GRAMMY ® for Best Choral Performance and was included in The 25 Best Classical Music Tracks of 2020 by the New York Times and NPR’s A Diary Of Classical Albums For A Troubled 2020.
Berko holds a MM in composition from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music where he was a Brown Fellow. He received his BM in composition, an outside concentration in piano, and a certificate in entrepreneurship from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. Originally from Cleveland, Berko received extensive training at the Cleveland Institute of Music preparatory division. He is a student of Anthony Brandt, Pierre Jalbert, Karim Al-Zand, David Dzubay, Claude Baker, Aaron Travers, Don Freund, Keith Fitch, Stephen Stanziano (composition) and Jean-Louis Haguenauer, Edmund Battersby, and Sandra Shapiro (piano).
Berko currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio with his partner, Laura and his puppy, Riley.
Rosśa Crean (they/them) jokingly says they “write strange music that they like to listen to when they are by themself, eating raw cookie dough in a dark closet,” but in truth, their music has been referred to as being “funny…and virtuosic” (Classic Concert Nova Scotia), having “exceptionally different, outstanding quality” (Download), and music that “stirs you deep, undertones of humanity” (Access Contemporary Music). Composing and creating music with a focus on the evocative and lyrical, they began their professional career as a Bass-Baritone, specializing in avant-garde and Contemporary Classical music, many of which were their own compositions. While pursuing their Masters at Illinois State University in Composition, they have studied with Stephen Taylor, David Feurzeig, and Nancy Van de Vate. They have trained in several vocal styles, including rock, opera, sean-nós (traditional Gaelic singing), and Indian and Middle Eastern vocal ornamentation.
As a synesthete, Crean occasionally creates projects that focus on neurological responses between sound, color, and emotional states. Their chromesthesia was a creative tool in the creation of the Edward Gorey partnering art installation entitled “Summerland: A Ghost Story,” a collaboration with visual artist Ken Gerleve. It has most recently been featured in their opera, “The Great God Pan,” (2018-19 American Prize winner) where the prepared piano was notated with specific color designations for each note of a pitch class Crean saw as representing the other world that threatened the moral existence of humanity in the original story on which it was based. Their one-act opera “The Times Are Nightfall,” a queer sequel to “Don Giovanni,” premiered at Opera America in July 2018. Their most recent work, “The Priestess of Morphine,” a monodrama in song cycle style, was commissioned and premiered by the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago in June 2019.
A prolific collaborator, Crean has received commissions from and worked with numerous artists, including The Mozart Players at Oberlin College, Opera on Tap (Chicago and New York), Loyola University Museum of Art, bassist Gahlord Dewald, The New Consort, and the Lynx Project. Their musical work has also been featured on Skope TV, Much Music, Fuse TV, and Comcast OnDemand.
A staunch advocate for queer and gender equality, Rosśa founded the “Rosśa Crean Presents” performance series in Chicago, Illinois, which showcases emerging POC, LGBTQIA+, and female-identifying composers and performers.
As a youth Chad McCoy (b. 1980) was profoundly impacted by recordings of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony. Studies in voice, theory, and composition at Magdalen College (New Hampshire), with Dr. Rudy Marcozzi at the Chicago College of Performing Arts of Roosevelt University (Chicago), and independent choral conducting studies with Daniel V. Robinson (Chicago) provided Chad with his musical foundation. As the director of the Youth Choir at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago, Mr. McCoy dramatically built up the program, leading them on multiple European tours, establishing an annual Choir Camp, and it was for this ensemble that he regularly composed and arranged dozens of works. Initially reticent to share his compositions with colleagues and friends, the enthusiastic responses he received encouraged him to continue writing, and now has seen many of his works performed by professional and amateur choirs around the country as well as recent performances in the UK. In his musical life Chad McCoy conducts and performs with early music ensembles for concerts and liturgies in the Chicago area.
Benjamin J. Penwell is a composer and sound artist based in Chicago. His music often deals with long, sustained textures that shift and breathe over time, revealing the small, individual details that make up the larger sound. He likes to investigate how small changes to or manipulations of the details of alignment, timbre, tuning, and volume can make for interesting and meaningful combined textures. He produces work in a mixture of acoustic and electroacoustic contexts. A side interest of his is metal scholarship, and that interest led him to develop and teach a course on the History & Aesthetics of Metal Music in Fall 2022 at Northwestern University, where he is currently working on his PhD in Composition & Music Technology. He also holds a master’s in composition from Boston University and a bachelor’s in composition from the University of Oregon.
Originally from Astoria, Oregon, Jasmine Thomasian (they/them) is a Chicago-based composer passionate about sound, identity formation, and the interpersonal dynamics of Western art music. Jasmine cracks open sounds to examine and transform them. They set up relationships that performers navigate throught (and as) a piece. They incorporate everyday objects and experiences into their concert music. Jasmine’s artistic output spans a range of musical aesthetics, with each piece forming around a core question or concept. From unusual instruments to unique topics, Jasmine enjoys taking on projects that challenge them to think and create in new ways.
Jasmine has been commissioned by the American Guild of Organists, OSSIA New Music, and Kate Amrine. Their music has been performed on Chicago Fringe Opera’s “Sounds of Pride” and in David Bohn’s “Twenty Seconds of 2020” series, as well as at New Music on the Point (2016), Atlantic Music Festival (2016), and I/O Fest (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017). Jasmine has been premiered by the Williams College Concert Choir, Student Symphony, and Baccalaureate Choir, and by malai ensemble. They have had readings by Spektral Quartet (2021) and Larchmere Quartet (2015). Jasmine’s first sound installation premiered in Williams College’s Bernhard Music Center in 2014; their second installation was part of I/O Fest in 2016.
In addition to their work as a composer, Jasmine is an experienced arts administrator. Jasmine is currently Board Operations Manager for Thompson Street Opera Company, a Chicago-based organization that exclusively performs works by living composers. Jasmine has also been a chair of the Student Composers Committee (Northwestern University); co-director of the Graduate Composers Sinfonietta (Eastman School of Music); co-producer of “Music Matters,” a new-music radio show on WAYO FM (Rochester, NY); founder and director of malai ensemble (Williams College); and co-director of the Williams College Student Symphony.
When they’re not composing or arts-administrating, Jasmine enjoys cooking, reading, plant parenting, playing D&D, and cuddling with their Yorkie mix, Maddy.
They also enjoy teaching! Last year, Jasmine taught 2nd Year Aural Skills, and this year (2021-2022) they will be teaching 2nd Year Music Theory, at Northwestern University.