Chen Zhao, violin
A native of Shanghai, Chen Zhao showed an early interest in music, playing a makeshift violin (a chopstick and pencil box) until his parents gave him a 1/8-size violin on his fourth birthday. He studied with his uncle Ronghao Nie and gave his first public performance at the Shanghai Children’s Palace at age six. He went on to study at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Crossroads School for Art and Sciences, Curtis Institute of Music, SF Conservatory of Music, and joined the San Francisco Symphony at age 25. His teachers include Jiaxiang Zhou, Jiyang Zhao, Heiichiro Ohyama, Felix Galimir, and Camilla Wicks.
Chen has toured throughout the US, Europe, and Asia, and performed at Ravinia, La Jolla, Sun Valley, Round Top, Santa Fe, PMF, Evian, BBC Proms, Lucerne festivals. A seasoned performer in the world's most prestigious concert halls, Chen has also performed as a soloist most recently with the San Francisco Symphony, Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Oslo Chamber Orchestra, and the Stanford Symphony Orchestra. An avid chamber musician, he has performed with Martin Lovett, Miriam Fried, Paul Neubauer, Robert Chen, Gilbert Kalish, Jorja Fleezanis, Geraldine Walther, and studied with members of the Amadeus, Guarneri, Vermeer, Juilliard, and Borodin Quartets. Chen has also performed and recorded with artists such as John Denver, Train, and most recently, Metallica at the Chase Center.
Chen has mentored young violinists in San Francisco since 2000. He is a violin professor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and serves as the orchestral training coach for both the SF Conservatory Orchestra and the SF Symphony Youth Orchestra.
Catherine Cosbey, Violin
Catherine Cosbey of the Cavani String Quartet, leads an adventurous career as a vibrant performer and presenter of chamber music. Ms. Cosbery’s international performing career has taken her throughout the US and abroad. She has made appearances at the Honens Festival in Calgary, Alberta, Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Germany, Esterhazy String Quartet Festival in Hungary, Festival de Febrero in Mexico, Xenia Concerts in Toronto, the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, the Detroit Chamber Music Society, the Kennedy Center, Severance and Carnegie Hall, amongst others. She has served as guest violinist with with the Afiara, Attacca, Cecilia, Tokai, and Verona Quartets, and has enjoyed collaborations with A Far Cry, Julian Rachlin, Sarah McElravy, Boris Andrianov, Richard Stoltzman, Donald Weilerstein, Peter Salaff, and James Dunham.
A founding member of the award winning Linden String Quartet, hailed as “polished, radiant and incisive” (The Strad Magazine), she has toured extensively throughout North America and Europe. She has served in the Fellowship Quartet at Yale University and the Apprentice Quartet at the Cleveland Institute of Music and performed residencies for the University of Iowa, and the University of Idaho. As a member of the Linden Quartet, Ms. Cosbey received the Gold Medal and Grand Prize at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, Coleman Barstow Prize at the 2009 Coleman National Chamber Ensemble Competition, the 2010 Hugo Kauder Competition, and the ProQuartet Prize at the 9th Borciani String Quartet Competition.
Ms. Cosbey, along with musical soulmate Katherine Dowling, is proudly co-Artistic Director of the Regina Chamber Music Festival, a week-long chamber music festival that works to bring inspiring concerts and instruction to her hometown community in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, and co-Artistic Director of Bach From The Heart, a concert experience that explores the emotional journeys of Bach’s Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin through music and poetry. As a member of a musical family, she often performs as part of the Cosbey Piano Quintet. Ms. Cosbey holds degrees from the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and Yale University’s School of Music. Her principal mentors are Eduard Minevich, Erika Raum, Paul Kantor, Peter Salaff, and the Tokyo and Cavani Quartets.
At home Ms. Cosbey enjoys serenading her many plant pets with Bach and depicting their leaves on loaves of sourdough bread.
Michael Whitson, viola, PCMF founder and director
Michael Whitson is an active violist and teacher in the Southern California area. As a performer, he has shared the stage with the likes of Katy Perry, Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson, Blake Shelton, Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, as well as many other artists and groups. He is a regular studio musician, having performed on numerous movie scores such as "Mulan", "Secret Life of Pets", and "It Chapter 2". He has also recorded for many current television series such as "The Mandalorian", "Empire", and "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD". Michael performs with local orchestras and ensembles, including the Los Angeles Opera.
A passionate educator as well, Michael serves as the faculty violist at the University of Cal Poly, is currently a Los Angeles Philharmonic Teaching Artist, and maintains his own private studio. He is currently serving as project manager for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's youth orchestra summer program in Idyllwild.
Growing up in the Bay Area, his first studies were with his parents who were also active performers and teachers. He was awarded a full scholarship to attend the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where he studied with Paul Hersh. He then completed his graduate studies at the University of Oklahoma in which he was a member of the university's graduate string quartet.
Along with his love for music, Michael is a passionate fly-fisherman, hiker, and sports fan.
Laura Gaynon, cello, PCMF artistic director
Cellist Laura Gaynon has performed both modern and baroque cello across the United States, Europe, Canada, and China. She has performed with the American Bach Soloists, the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, Opera Parallèle, Magik*Magik Orchestra, One Found Sound, and as a founding member of the baroque chamber ensemble MUSA. A passionate chamber musician, Laura has performed as cellist of the Pacific Crest String Quartet, and of the viola-cello-piano trio Ensemble Illume with violist Jessica Chang and pianist Allegra Chapman. She has collaborated with Kim Kashkashian, Krista Bennion-Feeney, Geoff Nuttall, Bonnie Hampton, Paul Hersh, and Ian Swensen. Festival performances include the Taos School of Music, Valley of the Moon Music Festival, Toronto Summer Music Festival, American Bach Soloists Academy, Berwick Academy, the St. Lawrence String Quartet Seminar, and the 2012 International Piatigorsky Cello Masterclasses at USC.
Laura is co-founder and Co-artistic Director of Bard Music West, a San Francisco music festival that explores the life and works of one underrepresented composer each season through music, dance, theater, film, and lectures. It has achieved widespread critical acclaim, described by the San Francisco Classical Voice as “brilliant” and a “festival [that] defies pretentious norms so prevalent in modern performance practice.”
A devoted educator, Laura is Artistic Director of the Pacific Crest Music Festival, and she teaches cello and chamber music at CSU Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA. Previously, she taught chamber music with Chamber Music by the Bay, the California Music Preparatory Academy, and the string quartet program at Thomas Hart Middle School in Pleasanton, CA.
Laura earned a master's degree in cello performance and an artist’s certificate in chamber music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she studied cello with Jennifer Culp and baroque cello and viola da gamba with Elisabeth Reed. She also studied with Ole Akahoshi and Carolina Singer while earning a B.A. in Molecular Biology from Yale University.
Mary Bianco, composer in residence
Mary Bianco is a San Francisco, Paso Robles, Los Angeles and New York based composer of primarily classical chamber music . She received her M..A. degree in Music Composition from Mills College in 2015; her primary teachers being David Bernstein, Fred Frith, Chris Brown and Roscoe Mitchell. Her thesis is titled, “Understanding and Dealing with the Loss of Absolute Pitch as One Ages”. Mary received her B.A. with concentration in composing from Sarah Lawrence College.
Currently studying with David Garner, her previous teachers include Darius Milhaud, Ezra Laderman, Meyer Kupferman, and Irwin Stahl. Mary composed for the Carpenter Trio from 2011 to 2016. Currently she composes for Symphony of the Vines in the Central Coast, the Crescent City Chamber Players, Project: Music Heals Us, The Solera Quartet, The Manhattan Chamber Players, and various California artists.
Mary is a longtime board member of The Music Conservatory of Westchester in addition to serving on various educational boards both in the U.S. and internationally. She accepts selected commissions particularly for the not-for profit sector where music assists in raising the sights of funders and providing special thanks for generous ongoing supporters.