Shenandoah Conservatory announces the recipients of the 2016 Shenandoah Conservatory Alumni Awards. This year, nine alumni from an array of performing arts disciplines have been chosen by conservatory faculty and leadership to receive one of two awards—the Alumnus of Excellence Award and the Rising Star Alumni Award.
“These prestigious awards honor exceptional alumni who have proven to be leaders in their respective fields,” said Dean of Shenandoah Conservatory Michael Stepniak, Ed.D. “They have had an extraordinary impact on the arts, education and research, and they serve as an inspiration for our faculty and students.”
The Shenandoah Conservatory Alumnus of Excellence Award is presented to alumni who have made exceptional contributions to their profession, attained a national level of prominence within their fields, and demonstrated exceptional integrity. The 2016 recipients of the Shenandoah Conservatory Alumnus of Excellence Award are:
- Mr. Nicholas A. Collins (B.A. in Theatre, Scenic and Lighting Design Emphasis, ’00)
- Dr. Alice M. Hammel (B.M. in Music Education, ’87; D.M.A. in Music Education, ’99)
- Dr. Alejandro Hernandez-Valdez (B.M. in Piano Performance, ’99)
- Mr. Corcoran N. Holt (B.M. in Jazz Studies, ’04)
New this year, the Shenandoah Conservatory Rising Star Alumni Award is presented to alumni who have already made significant contributions to their profession and show promise of becoming national-level stars within their field. The 2016 recipients of the Shenandoah Conservatory Rising Star Alumni Award are:
- Dr. Silvan Negruţiu (D.M.A. in Piano Performance, ’13)
- Ms. Rachel Oneika Phillips (B.F.A. in Dance and Bachelor of Business Administration in Management, ’00)
- Ms. Amanda R. Powell (B.M. in Vocal Performance, ’03)
- Ms. Jennifer M. Ravitz (B.F.A. in Musical Theatre, ’11)
- Ms. Sara E. (Ruzicka) King (B.F.A. in Musical Theatre, ’07)
A formal presentation to honor all 2016 Shenandoah Conservatory Alumni Award recipients will be made during the Celebration Luncheon on Saturday, April 2, beginning at noon in the Ferrari Room of the Brandt Student Center. The Celebration Luncheon is presented as part of the 2016 Conservatory Alumni Reunion. Learn more about the 2016 Conservatory Alumni Reunion that will take place Friday, April 1, and Saturday, April 2, on the main campus of Shenandoah University here.
2016 Shenandoah Conservatory Alumnus of Excellence Award Recipients
The Shenandoah Conservatory Alumnus of Excellence Award is presented to alumni who have made exceptional contributions to their profession, attained a national level of prominence within their fields, and demonstrated exceptional integrity.
Mr. Nicholas A. Collins ’00 • Orlando, Florida
Mr. Nicholas A. Collins is revered for his work as a creative consultant and entertainment designer. As an award-winning creative, his artistic direction and designs have been utilized in major theme parks and attractions, professional theatres, parades, and other special events along the East Coast.
Collins is a senior scenic designer in the Entertainment, Art and Design Department at Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida, where he is deeply involved in the theme park’s month-long Halloween Horror Nights event and has created designs for the park’s Harry Potter-themed attractions. His team works primarily on live shows, parades and spectaculars.
Collins also serves as a freelance creative consultant focusing on concept design, creative development, art direction, show scenic design, environmental theming, technical direction, project management and installation support.
He is a past Walt Disney World Imagineer, and early in his career, worked as a freelance scenic consultant for Royal Caribbean Productions/Cruise Lines, helping prepare parade productions aboard some of the world’s largest passenger cruise ships.
Dr. Alice M. Hammel ’87, ’99 • Richmond, Virginia
Alice M. Hammel, D.M.A., is a widely known music educator, author and clinician whose experience in music is extraordinarily diverse. She currently teaches at James Madison and Virginia Commonwealth universities in the areas of music education and music theory respectively, and has many years of experience teaching both instrumental and choral music in public and private schools. She has maintained a large, independent flute studio for more than twenty years. Dr. Hammel is also the Autism Spectrum Disorder Music Intervention Specialist for ASSET (Autism Spectrum Support, Education and Training), a division of Virginia Youth and Family Services.
Hammel has put these varied experiences to great use while compiling a large body of scholarly work. A text and online resource, “Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Label-free Approach,” co-authored with Dr. Ryan Hourigan, was published in 2011. Now in its fifth printing, this book was recently joined by a second book written by Hammel and Hourigan: “Teaching Music to Students with Autism,” lauded by critics in the field upon release. Both resources are available through Oxford University Press. A new resource, “Winding It Back: Teaching to Individual Differences in Classroom and Ensemble Settings,” is scheduled to be released in March 2016. Hammel has also contributed chapters to several other Oxford University Press resources including “Composing our Future” (edited by Kaschub and Smith). Hammel is a contributing author to a variety of resources available through the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and has published widely in music, arts, special and general education journals.
Hammel has been affiliated with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for several years and has presented multiple workshops for arts educators and arts administrators through this association. She was a member of the Kennedy Center National Forum: Examining the Intersection of Arts Education and Special Education. In 2013, she served on the planning committee for the national conference sponsored by the Kennedy Center and Very Special Arts. Hammel serves in many concurrent state and national professional leadership positions, including as the chair of the Students with Special Needs section of the Virginia Music Educators Association, and is a multiple award recipient honoring her commitment to music education and music teacher education.
Hammel received her Bachelor of Music Education and Doctor of Musical Arts from Shenandoah University (Magna Cum Laude) and her Master of Music Education from Florida State University. She holds Level III Kodály Certification from James Madison University and Level I Elementary General Music Certification from the Gordon Institute for Music Learning.
Dr. Alejandro Hernandez-Valdez ’99 • Long Island City, New York
Hailed by The Washington Post as a conductor that conducts “with the incisive clarity of someone born to the idiom,” Alejandro Hernandez-Valdez, D.M.A., is an acclaimed choral and orchestral conductor, solo and chamber pianist, composer, and arranger. As Co-founder, Conductor and Artistic Director of the New Orchestra of Washington, in Washington, D.C., he has collaborated with international artists J. Reilly Lewis, Arturo Márquez, Dana Lyn, Rahel Rilling, Sara Rilling, Duo Alturas, Akemi Takayama, Ryo Yanagitani, Linda Mabbs, Soichi Muraji, Izumi Kamata, and others, and has premiered works by Andrés Levell, Javier Farias, and Julian Wachner.
After an extensive search process, Hernandez-Valdez was recently appointed Director of Music at the historic All Souls Church and Artistic Director of Musica Viva in Manhattan. Founded in 1819, All Souls Church is one of the largest and most influential congregations in the United States. Musica Viva is a professional choral ensemble founded in 1977 with a long tradition of top-caliber performances, innovative programming, and a strong dedication to the commissioning of new works. Previously, Hernandez-Valdez served as Director of Music at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda, Maryland, where he led a dynamic and widely respected music program.
In 2011, Washington, D.C. chamber choir Cantigas Cantigas honored Hernandez-Valdez, alongside Septime Weber, Artistic Director of The Washington Ballet, and Placido Domingo, with the first-ever “Award for Talent” in celebration of the ensemble’s twentieth anniversary. To mark this occasion, the mayor of Washington, D.C., proclaimed April 28 “Latinos in the Arts Day.”
As a pianist, harpsichordist, and organist, Hernandez-Valdez has played under the baton of conductors David Zinman, Sir Neville Marriner, John Williams, Valery Gergiev, Christoph Eschenbach, Helmuth Rilling, the late Rafael Frübeck de Burgos, Robert Spano, James Conlon, the late Julius Rudel, the late James DePriest, Jeffrey Kahane, Michael Stern, Murray Sidlin, James Ross, Robert Shafer, J. Reilly Lewis, Simon Halsey, and the late Norman Scribner.
In 2013, Hernandez-Valdez appeared twice at Trinity Wall Street in New York City during the Britten 100 worldwide celebration, which was organized by the Britten-Pears Foundation in honor of the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. With the New Orchestra of Washington he recently recorded Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (released in August 2015). In December of 2014, he composed and premiered “The Imaginary City” a cantata for soloists, choir, and orchestra inspired by the life of Ramzi Aburedwan, a violist who has opened music schools through Palestine to teach music to underprivileged children.
Hernandez-Valdez’s profile was recently included in a book by the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs entitled “El mundo en las manos/Creadores mexicanos en el extranjero (The World in Their Hands/Creative Mexicans Abroad),” which features successful Mexican nationals residing in diverse parts of the world who are leading figures in diverse artistic fields, including music.
Alejandro Hernandez-Valdez completed his Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance at Shenandoah Conservatory in 1999. He received his Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts in Music Performance from the University of Texas at Austin.
Mr. Corcoran N. Holt ’04 • Washington, D.C.
Mr. Corcoran N. Holt’s rise as an in-demand New York bassist has been extraordinary. He is currently performing and touring with alto saxophone legend Kenny Garrett. He has also performed and/or recorded with almost every jazz name of note on the scene, including Wycliffe Gordon, Javon Jackson, Brian Settles, Marcus Printup, Steve Furre, Jimmy Cobb, Nicholas Payton and more. In 2002, he and his father were instrumental in arranging a performance tour in Senegal for the Shenandoah Conservatory Jazz Ensemble. Holt received his Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies from Shenandoah Conservatory in 2004.
2016 Shenandoah Conservatory Rising Stars Alumni Award Recipients
The Shenandoah Conservatory Rising Star Alumni Award is presented to alumni who have already made significant contributions to their profession and show promise of becoming national-level stars within their field.
Dr. Silvan Negruţiu ’13 • Decatur, Illinois
Romanian pianist Silvan Negruţiu, D.M.A., has given solo and chamber music performances across Europe, the United States, Hong Kong, and Japan, and has given concerto performances with orchestras in Romania, Ireland, Spain, and the United States. He is a laureate of numerous international competitions, including the “Roma 2000” and Salerno “Beethoven e i classici” in Italy; the “Seiler” in Sofia, Bulgaria; the “Feis Ceoil” in Dublin, Ireland; and the “Konzerteum” in Pireas, Greece. He has performed as a soloist with prestigious orchestras such as Romanian Radio Chamber Orchestra, Alicante Philharmonic Orchestra, Romanian National George Enescu Philharmonic, and Dublin Symphony Orchestra. Some of his concerts have included live television and radio broadcasts.
Dr. Negruţiu obtained his Master Degree Diploma in 2009 with First Class Honours at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Dublin City University in Ireland and a graduate diploma in 2007 at the National University of Music in Bucharest, Romania. In Dublin, he studied with pianists John O’Conor and Reamonn Keary, and held the position of piano instructor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music for three years. His principal teachers in Romania were Professor Magda Stănescu and Viniciu Moroianu; he has also advanced his studies with Lory Wallfisch, Fabio Bidini, Irina Morozova, Richard Goode, Klaus Hellwig, and Peter Frankl.
Negruţiu has been a frequent attendee and performer at international music festivals such as the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College The New School for Music in New York, the George Enescu Festival in Bucharest, Romania, the International Holland Music Sessions in Bergen, the Netherlands, and the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. In September 2008, Negruţiu was one of the seven international pianists accepted for the prestigious Beethoven Course in Positano, Italy, organized by the Wilhelm Kempff Cultural Foundation. He is the recipient of the 2009 Gaiety Bursary in Dublin, the Romanian Government Bursary for Advanced Studies Abroad in 2007, the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research Award of Excellence in 2002, and the 2001 Eugen Barbu Award for excellence in performing activity. He is also a member of the Performing Creation Union of the Romanian Musicians. In 2013, he was honored with the Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges distinction. Mr. Negruţiu completed his Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance at Shenandoah Conservatory under the guidance of internationally acclaimed pianist and pedagogue John O’Conor. At Shenandoah, he was a piano teaching assistant from 2010 to 2013.
After completing his studies at Shenandoah Conservatory, Negruţiu moved to Decatur, Illinois, where he began his new position as assistant professor of piano and coordinator of keyboard studies at Millikin University. Recently, Negruţiu performed recitals at the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts; Katzin Concert Hall–Arizona State University (Phoenix, Arizona); Concert Hall–University of Music and Theatre (Tallinn, Estonia); George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia); Benedict Music Tent and Harris Hall (Aspen, Colorado); the Anderson House in Washington, D.C.; the Târgu Mures Philharmonic (Romania), as part of The Musical Days Festival; had his solo debut with Dublin Symphony Orchestra in Ireland, performing Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto; and performed the world premiere of American composer Zack Stanton’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Ensemble, with the Shenandoah Symphonic Wind Ensemble.
Ms. Rachel Oneika Phillips ’00 • Brooklyn, New York
Formerly a featured member of Abdel Salaam’s Forces of Nature Dance Theatre, Ms. Rachel Oneika Phillips’ theatre credits include the workshop, “Fela! A New Musical,” and Anita in the 50th anniversary international tour of Jerome Robbins’ “West Side Story,” directed by Joey McKneely and nominated for The West End’s Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival, winning the Theatergoers’ Choice Award in the same category. She is currently performing on Broadway in “Amazing Grace.” Oneika is from Grenada, West Indies, and completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance at Shenandoah Conservatory and Bachelor of Business Administration in Management at Shenandoah University’s Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business in 2000.
Ms. Amanda R. Powell ’03 • Saint Charles, Illinois
Ms. Amanda R. Powell is a recording artist, songwriter and frequent soloist with Apollo’s Fire. She will record the “St. John Passion” with the group in the spring and tour with them as well. Powell also appears as a soloist on “Sephardic Journey,” to be released by Apollo’s Fire early this year. Powell completed her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance at Shenandoah Conservatory in 2003.
Ms. Jennifer M. Ravitz ’11 • Edmond, Oklahoma
Ms. Jennifer M. Ravitz moved to New York City after graduating from Shenandoah Conservatory and began an internship at one of the most prestigious and busiest casting offices in the entertainment industry, Telsey and Company, a company responsible for the casting of more than half of Broadway’s plays and musicals. From there, she moved to the casting office of Cindy Tolan, where she was a member of the casting team for the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” Broadway’s “The Performers” starring Henry Winkler, the Warner Brothers film “This Is Where I Leave You” starring Tina Fey and Jason Bateman, as well as dozens of regional and off-Broadway plays and musicals and several other film projects.
After almost two years at Cindy Tolan’s office, she moved to Jonathan Strauss Casting where she was promoted to casting associate and began working on the NBC television series “Chicago Fire.” The success from “Chicago Fire” soon launched a spinoff series, “Chicago PD,” which premiered to glowing reviews from both press and audiences. Variety called it “a series distinguished primarily by its solid casting.” Both television shows quickly drew massive audiences and successful ratings, making the Chicago television series two of NBC’s most- watched dramas. Two years later, a third series was launched, “Chicago Med,” which premiered in November 2015. Ravitz holds the title of casting associate for all three shows.
Additionally, Ravitz has served as the casting director for Mason Street Warehouse, a nonprofit theatre in Saugatuck, Michigan, since 2012. When she is not casting, Ravitz teaches on-camera audition classes and continues to write her own material for television and stage, a passion she first cultivated at Shenandoah University through the Playwright’s Performance program. Ravitz received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Shenandoah Conservatory in 2011.
Ms. Sara E. (Ruzicka) King ’07 • League City, Texas
Ms. Sara E. (Ruzicka) King has been very successful in her chosen career. She has had leads in the Broadway productions of “Hair” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”; on the television program “Smash”; lead roles in national tours; and sang with Carole King on the “Today” show. King can be heard solo on the Grammy award-winning album, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from Shenandoah Conservatory in 2007.