Sean O'Neal, Violin

A native of Salem, Oregon, Sean began playing the violin at an early age after being inspired by an appearance of the great Itzhak Perlman on an episode of Sesame Street. He studied violin performance at the University of Oregon under full scholarship, graduating Magna Cum Laude in spring of 2011 with a Bachelor’s in Music. While there he frequently sat in principal positions in the University of Oregon Symphony, and played regularly with the Eugene Symphony, Eugene opera, Eugene ballet, Corvallis Symphony, and the Oregon Coast Chamber Orchestra. His 4th year at U of O he won the University’s concerto competition, and was also a national finalist in the MTNA Young Artist competition.

Upon graduating from the University of Oregon, Sean moved to Houston, Texas to begin his work in the Master’s program at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. In spring of 2013 he completed his MM at Rice University in Houston Texas, studying violin performance with Professor Kenneth Goldsmith. While there, he performed two master's recitals, and received chamber music coachings from such prestigious faculty as Cho-Liang Lin, Desmond Hoebig, James Dunham, and Kathleen Winkler. He has also been an orchestral fellow at the acclaimed National Repertory Orchestra, and the Round Top Music Festival. 

A passionate teacher as well as performer, Sean has been teaching violin privately for the past decade. Since graduating from Rice Sean has maintained a private violin studio with over 40 students, with many representing their schools in their All-Region orchestras. In the 2015-2016 season Sean had the pleasure of performing in many ensembles in Houston, including Ensemble Mercury, the Houston Ballet, Opera in the Heights, and the Symphony of Southeast Texas (where he has a contracted core position). 

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Zachary Montasser, Violin

Born in Bethesda, MD, violinist Zachary Montasser has been enamored with music since preschool, at which point he inquired about taking violin lessons.  His teachers include Mary Findley, Robert Cole, Sylvia Ouelette, Oleg Sulyga, Andrzej Grabiec, and Janet Sung.  Mr. Montasser’s passion for music has been a driving force through a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Violin Performance under the tutelage of prize winning violinist Andrzej Grabiec.  During his Masters, Mr. Montasser developed a love for the String Quartet genre, and subsequently cofounded the Fuzion String quartet, which was later featured at classical music festivals such as the Hot Springs Music Festival in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and the Cali de Camara in Colombia, South America.

Mr. Montasser completed a Performance Certificate at DePaul University under the guidance of concertizing violinist Janet Sung.  While at DePaul, Mr. Montasser co-founded Clark Street Quartet, whose activities included classical concerts as well as collaborations with choreographer Lin Kahn, and Hip-Hop/Jazz Fusion group Sidewalk Chalk.  

In 2015 Mr. Montasser moved back to Houston and is currently working with Stages Repertoire Theater and is a core member of the Symphony of Southeast Texas.  He has co-founded yet another String Quartet, the Westheimer String Quartet, with whom he hopes to reach audiences in a most genuine way through his favorite medium.

 

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Ilana Rose Mercer, Viola

 

A native of Philadelphia, violist Ilana Rose Mercer received a Bachelor’s degree from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and a Master’s degree from Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. Her principal teachers have included Ivo van der Werff, Karen Ritscher, and Joan der Hovsepian, and she has participated in master classes held by world-renowned violists such as Kim Kashkashkian, Roberto Diaz, and Atar Arad. She has also received fellowships and full scholarships for many summer festivals, including Bowdoin International Music Festival, The Colorado College Summer Music Festival, and the National Repertory Orchestra. Ilana now resides in Houston, TX, where she is an active teacher and plays with several Houston area orchestras, including The Symphony of Southeast Texas and Mercury: The Orchestra Redefined. Ilana is now the violist of the Westheimer String Quartet, one of Houston’s newest chamber ensembles, which holds a residency position at the Taneycomo Music Festival in Branson, MO.

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Daron Kirsch, Cello

A Houston native, Daron Kirsch is a graduate of Sam Houston State University with Daniel Saenz and the Florida State University with Greg Sauer. He has toured around the US, Puerto Rico and China. While in Florida, he was a member of several ensembles, including Sinfonia Gulf Coast, Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra and the Tallahassee Composers Orchestra, as well as performing with the Tallahassee Ballet. Having moved back to Houston in 2014, he is active as a teacher and maintains a large private studio with students having advanced to the All-Region Orchestra, and giving sectionals at area schools.

Daron is also active as a performer, with a strong interest in new music. Since 2012, he has been a member of the Taneycomo Festival Orchestra in Branson, MO, where he has given both American and world premieres of new pieces. In his downtime, Daron enjoys playing pool and sitting on the couch with his dog, Zoe, while scrolling through Netflix and not picking anything to watch. Go Noles.

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