September 2016

James Nickel, head shot_resizeJames Nickel, Horn

James Nickel has been a member of the National Symphony Orchestra since 2008. He has served as both third horn and Acting associate principal horn. Before joining the NSO, Mr. Nickel was the Assistant principal hornist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Associate principal hornist with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. In addition to his schedule with the NSO, he also serves as the Principal hornist with the Arizona Musicfest in Scottsdale, AZ. He can be heard on recordings by the National, Dallas, Detroit, and Montreal symphonies, and also with his horn colleagues from the Dallas and Houston symphonies on their Crystal records recording called Texas Horns.

Outside of the orchestra, Mr. Nickel is also active around the DC area with the Smithsonian Chamber players, the Eclipse Chamber orchestra, the 21st Century Consort, the National Chamber Players, and Washington Symphonic Brass.

In the summertime, James has participated at the Garth Newel Music festival in Warm Springs, Virginia, the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival in Stellenbosch, South Africa, the Music in the Mountains festival in Durango, Colorado, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony in Idaho, the National Repertory Orchestra, the Spoleto Festival, the American Wind Symphony, the Texas Music Festival, and the Sarasota Music Festival.

In addition to his performing schedule, Mr. Nickel is on the brass faculty at both George Mason University, and Catholic University.

Mr. Nickel earned his B.M. from the New England Conservatory of Music. He is a native of St. Petersburg, Florida, but now lives in Virginia with his wife Julianna and their two children.

October 2016


Michelle Kim, Violin

Michelle Kim is a violin virtuoso who has won numerous solo competitions, performed across the United States and around the world, and performed in festivals in Aspen, Salzburg, Banff, New York and Porto, Portugal.

She has played at Carnegie Hall, at the Kennedy Center Honors and at numerous charity and diplomatic events on the acoustic and electric violin.  For the last three years, she has performed the electric violin at the Italian Embassy for Becky’s Fund Walk This Way Fashion Show.  Ms. Kim played Bach’s Partita No. 3 for the Institute for Korean-American Studies Liberty Award Dinner honoring Ambassador Christopher R. Hill at the US Senate Russell Building.  In 2014, she performed for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo at the US Institute of Peace.

Ms. Kim has been a first violin section member of the Washington National Opera Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts since graduating from the Manhattan School of Music with a Master’s Degree.  She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from the University of California at Berkeley.

Michelle is also the Founder and Chief Cultural Officer of Culture Saves (, a global non-for-profit organization that restores hope and promotes peace through the arts.

julien formal large(1)Julien Benichou, Guest Conductor

Conductor Julien Benichou currently serves as Music Director of the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra, as well as Orchestra Director at Towson University, and is currently Visiting Conductor at Montclair State University.

Previous positions have included Assistant Conductor of the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, Assistant Conductor of the Skokie (Illinois) Symphony Orchestra and the Columbia (Maryland) Symphony Orchestra.  As guest conductor, Mr. Benichou has led the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, Orquestra Sinfonica do Parana in Curitiba, Brazil, and the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra in St. Petersburg, Russia. He also has conducted the Mobtown Modern new music concerts in Baltimore, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Mobtown Modern Synchronicity collaboration, and the New Music Ensemble at Towson University.

Before coming to the United States in 1995 for graduate studies with Gustav Meier at the Peabody Conservatory, Mr. Benichou held positions in his native France leading several choral ensembles.  Further studies were at the Rueil-Malmaison Conservatory in France where he studied conducting with Jean Sebastien Bereau.  He studied harmony and counterpoint at the Schola Cantorum in Paris and was the recipient of several awards.

In addition to receiving a graduate performance diploma from Peabody Conservatory, Julien Benichou earned a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from Northwestern University under Victor Yampolsky, and did further graduate studies at Yale University with Lawrence Leighton Smith.  Among the conductors with whom he has participated in master classes are Leonard Slatkin, Yuri Temirkanov, Marin Alsop, Michael Tilson Thomas, and JoAnn Falletta. At the Hot Springs (Arkansas) Music Festival Mr. Benichou received a fellowship as assistant conductor and the following summer as associate conductor.

Mr. Benichou has a special interest in new music and has led commissions, premieres, and a recording on the Centaur label. He has also written and conducted the sound track for a recent film. Also an opera and ballet conductor, Mr. Benichou has also worked with the Ballet Theater of Maryland, the Morgan State University Choir and Opera Workshop, as well as the Baltimore Concert Opera. He has conducted a fully staged production of Porgy and Bess at Morgan State University to great critical acclaim.

Another strong interest is music education. Mr. Benichou has taken the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra on three European tours, most recently to St. Petersburg, Russia where he led a side-by side concert with the St. Petersburg Symphony, and will be taking them on a tour of Ireland in the summer of 2016. He has been guest conductor for numerous honors orchestras in Maryland and California.

January 2017

Gates Headshot (Tux)Jeffrey Grayson Gates, baritone 

Baritone Jeffrey Grayson Gates is a Texas native whose capitivating, artful performances have won the admirations of audiences and critics throughout the United States. He was hailed by The Baltimore Sun as having “vocal spark,” as well as a “thundering presence” by DC Metro Theatre Arts for his recent performance as Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera Baltimore. Mr. Gates was a Regional Finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in both the Mid-West and Mid-Atlantic regions, a winner of the Vocal Arts DC Young Artists Competition, the Naftzger Young Artist Auditions, and the Stephen Dickson Encouragement Award. Mr. Gates received a Bachelor of Music degree from Oklahoma City University, studing under Dr. William Nield Christensen, and a Graduate Performance Diploma in Voice from the Peabody Conservatory, studying under William Sharp.

Among his widespread repertoire of operatic roles, Mr. Gates’ performance highlights include: Don Giovanni, Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro; Harlequin in Ariadne auf Naxos; Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia; Mr. Gedge in Alber Herring; Tarquinius in The Rape of Lucretia; Germont and Baron Duphol in La Taviata; Happy in La Fanciulla del West; Frederic in Lakme; Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance; Horace Tabor in The Ballad of Baby Doe; Einstein and Falke in Die Fledermaus; Count Homonay in The Gypsy Baron; Polonio/Primo Becchino in Amleta (Faccio); Rabmaldo in La Rondine; Nick Shadow in The Rakes Progress; and Rev. Hale in The Crucible. He has previously performed as a young artist with Central City Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Opera Saratoga, Kentucky Opera, and Light Opera Oklahoma.

In addition to opera and musical theater, Mr. Gates has extensive experience on the concert stage performing with many orchestras throughout the United States. He has appeared as baritone soloist in Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and Oklahoma City University Symphony; Mozart’s Requiem with the Richmond Symphony; Carmina Burana with the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra; Fauré’s Requiem with Washington Master Chorale and Harford Choral Society; and Duruflé’s Requiem at Epiphany Episcopal Church. Mr. Gates has also been featured as the baritone soloist in Handel’s Messiah with various organizations throughout the United States, including the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra, York Symphony Orchestra, Harrisburg Choral Society, and Harford Choral Society. He has also performed a series of art song recitals with Vocal Arts DC, including a recital on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Jeffrey Grayson Gates currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland with his wife, soprano, Courtney Kalbacker.

jonathan kingJonathan King, Chorus Master/Guest Conductor

Jonathan King, an active pianist and conductor based in Washington, D.C., currently serves as Upper School Choral Music Program Director at Annapolis Area Christian School, where he directs and oversees six choral ensembles. In 2013, he was assistant conductor to the UMS Choral Union, a Grammy® award-winning ensemble that regularly collaborates with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and he has helped prepare choirs for eminent conductors including Leonard Slatkin, Nicholas Cleobury, and Philip Brunell. He has assisted conductor John Nelson in several performances with the Chicago Bach Project, Orchestre de chambre de Paris, and most recently with the MasterWorks Festival in Winona Lake, Indiana.

A versatile pianist, Mr. King has been a member of several award-winning chamber ensembles and has soloed with orchestras in Illinois, Michigan, and New York. He served as a rehearsal pianist at the Lyric Opera of Chicago during their 2014-15 season, and in 2013 was a featured pianist at the University of Michigan’s Collage concert, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Hill Auditorium. As a collaborative pianist, Mr. King has worked closely with celebrated singers including soprano Abigail Santos Villalobos, and baritone Will Liverman, with whom he was a semi-finalist in the 2015 Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition in London. Mr. King and Mr. Liverman will return to Europe during the 2016/2017 season to record with Deutsche Grammophon.

Mr. King completed two Master of Music degrees—in piano chamber music and choral conducting—at the University of Michigan, where he was the recipient of the Edward P. Frolich and Brehm Fellowship awards. He received his Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance at Wheaton College (IL), where he studied with Daniel Paul Horn. Other mentors include Jerry Blackstone, Christopher Harding, and Martin Katz.