Faculty
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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.

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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.

 

Laura Gaynon, cello

Laura Gaynon is an active performer and presenter of cello and chamber music in the San Francisco Bay Area. Described as "stunning" by the SF Examiner, Laura has performed with the American Bach Soloists, Tenth Avenue Players, Magik*Magik Orchestra, Ensemble for These Times, the unconducted orchestra One Found Sound, and the baroque chamber ensemble Musa. As a chamber musician, she has collaborated with luminaries including Kim Kashkashian, Geoff Nuttall, Bonnie Hampton, Paul Hersh, and Ian Swensen. Laura is the Associate Director of Bard Music West in San Francisco, as well as Artistic Director of Bay Area Concerts at Home, a chamber music series that takes place entirely in the living rooms around the Bay Area. She is dedicated to promoting the music of today, and spearheaded Musa’s “Art Inspiring Art” commissioning project, now in its third year.

 

A devoted teacher, Laura has a studio in San Francisco and is on faculty at Chamber Music by the Bay, California Music Preparatory Academy and the Pacific Crest Music Festival. Laura has degrees from Yale University and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she graduated with an M.M. in cello performance, an Artist Certificate in chamber music, and an emphasis in Historical Performance Practice as a student of Jennifer Culp and Elisabeth Reed. ​ 

 

www.lauragaynon.com

 

Chiharu Sai, piano

Selected by Japan’s major newspaper, Mainichi Shinbun, as “One of the 100 People in Tokyo to Represent the 21st Century,” pianist Chiharu Sai performs widely as a soloist and chamber musician, both in Japan and the United States.

 

Her performances have met wide acclaim for their “great verve and refreshing power” (Chopin Magazine). Ms. Sai’s performance highlights include four concerts in 2002-2010 at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City including two solo recitals, one chamber music concert with New York Amadeus String Quartet, and one concerto performance with the Carolina Philharmonic conducted by David Michael Wolff.

 

The renowned critic Harris Goldsmith said of Ms. Sai’s performance of Mozart’s piano concertos, “Ms. Sai proved herself to be a Mozartean of refreshingly unusual potency. She is one of those rarities: an artist who is unafraid to explore the white-hot passion of the Salzburg genius”. Upon hearing Ms. Sai’s performance at Opera City Hall in Tokyo, the music critic Yukiko Hagiya wrote, “This critic wishes that she would cross the Pacific Ocean more often to enthrall the classical music fans of Japan”.

 

Ms. Sai balances her performance schedule with an active involvement in music education and pedagogy. Since she moved to Mount Shasta from New York City in 2013, she has been teaching both at College of the Siskiyous and Southern Oregon University. 

 

Ms. Sai holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts in Piano Performance from the Manhattan School of Music. Her doctoral dissertation entitled “The Proportional Function of the Cadenza in the First Movements of Mozart’s Piano Concertos” was published by Lambert in Germany. Her debut CD of Chopin’s 4 Scherzi and 4 Ballades was released on King Records of Japan in the fall of 2008. Of this disc, the critic Yoshiko Ikuma noted Ms. Sai’s “deep identification with their celebrated creator’s genius”.

 

www.chiharusai.com

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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.

www.marybiancomusic.com