music director

As a dynamic and diverse musician, violinist, and conductor, Huifang Chen enjoys a dual career as a performer and an educator. She graduated from the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied violin with Jascha Brodsky. Ms. Chen has been the Music Director of the Greater Miami youth Symphony since 2008 and is currently the Concertmaster of the South Florida Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Chen also teaches violin at the New World School of the Arts in Miami and at Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Palm Beach. During the summers, she performs and teaches at the Killington Music Festival in Vermont. Ms. Chen was a member of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra from 1994 until its demise in 2003.

As a violin soloist, Ms. Chen has appeared with many orchestras around the globe including the Taipei Symphony Orchestra in Taiwan and the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra in Czech Republic amongst others.  Most recently, she played Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 “Turkish” with the South Florida Symphony Orchestra in 2020. She was the winner of the 1999 Young Concert Artist awarded by the National Concert Hall of Taipei, Taiwan, and a Concerto Competition Winner in 2003 at the University of Miami where she received her Master’s degree in 2005. 

As a committed violin pedagogue, many of Ms. Chen’s students are frequent winners at both local and international competitions. Many are now attending top music schools such as the Curtis Institute of Music and Juilliard School, and many others are now members of professional orchestras.  

As a recording artist, she has appeared on dozens of award winning CDs for artists such as the Bee Gees, Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, Jon Secada and Barbra Streisand. In 2012, she recorded Thomas Sleeper’s Violin Concerto with the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra in the Czech Republic and the CD of this recording was released in 2014 on the Albany Label. Most recently, she was featured as a soloist in John Gottsch’s Princess Yurievskaya CD with the South Florida Symphony Orchestra, which was released in 2021 on the Naxos Label. 

Olivia Smith
Interim Concert Orchestra Conductor

Olivia Smith is a violin teacher and performer based in Miami, Florida. As an instructor, Ms. Olivia is trained in the Suzuki violin method and teaches through unit 10. Growing up as a violinist of the Suzuki school, Olivia began playing at the age of 3. A few years later, she was immersed in the Irish fiddling tradition and can sometimes be found performing with local Irish bands and dance groups. Olivia received a degree in Music Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and specializes in starting the complete beginner on violin, general music, as well as a several other instruments. 

In addition to teaching music lessons, Olivia maintains a steady performance schedule and has performed with artists such as Shakira, José Feliciano, Arturo Sandoval, Lynn Harrell, and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenburg to name a few. She has also collaborated as a recording studio musician with several artists including Gloria Estefan and Pharrell Williams. When she is not teaching or performing, Olivia can be found cycling through the the streets of Miami or cooking a tasty meal.

Alexander Magalong
Alexander Magalong
Concert Orchestra Conductor
On hiatus for our 2021 – 2022 Season

Alexander Magalong is currently the assistant conductor of the Palm Beach Symphony and has previously served as associate conductor of the Frost Symphony Orchestra and conductor of the Frost Flute Ensemble. According to the South Florida Classical Review, “Magalong was particularly adept at keeping the ensemble cohesive during the tricky twists of melodic phrasing.” Mr. Magalong was a finalist for music director of the Pikes Peak Philharmonic and has also conducted for the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra, Broadmoor Pops Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of the Springs, and the Peakharmonic Youth Orchestra. He has conducted the orchestral world premieres of Fanfares for the Apocalypse by Ken Ueno, Setting Century by Dorothy Hindman, and Symphony #3 by James Stephenson.

Having taught high school, junior high, and elementary orchestra for an underprivileged school district for nine years, Mr. Magalong is a passionate advocate for music education in the public schools. Under his direction and active recruitment, his high school program tripled in size, resulting in four ability-based string orchestras, the most of any Colorado high school. In 2011, the Widefield High School Chamber Strings was selected to perform at the Colorado Music Educators Association conference alongside more affluent schools. He actively promoted the relevancy of classical music to his students and the community, regardless of personal background.

As a respected educator in Colorado, Mr. Magalong has guest conducted many honor orchestras, festivals, music camps, youth orchestras, and educator conferences in Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Westminster, Jefferson County, and the Boulder Valley. He served on the Colorado All-State Orchestra board as Southern Governor for six years and has adjudicated many festivals throughout the state.

Mr. Magalong holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of Denver and two graduate degrees (a Master of Music and a Doctor of Musical Arts) in Instrumental Conducting from the University of Miami. He was selected as a participant for the 2018 Ithaca International Conducting Masterclass and has conducted in workshops with the Rochester Philharmonic, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, and the Fargo-Morehead Symphony.

String Orchestra Conductor
Mirlynez Iglesias String Orchestra Conductor
On medical leave for our 2021-2022 Season

Mirlynez Iglesias-Mendez was born in La Habana, Cuba where she started her violin studies at the age of seven. She knows how to play a wide variety of musical styles on the violin. She held membership in the opera and ballet symphonic orchestra in her native country from a young age. Her talents gave her the opportunity to be in one of the most prestigious musical groups, Camerata Romeu, on the island.

Once Mrs. Iglesias-Mendez moved to Miami, Florida, she continued with her music studies receiving a B.M in Violin Performance from Florida International University, a Master’s in Music Education from University of Florida, and most recently an Educational Specialist in Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University.

Glades Middle School was Mrs. Iglesias-Mendez’ first assignment with the Miami-Dade County Public schools. As Orchestra Director, her outstanding work was noted from the very beginning with her own award of Rookie Teacher of the Year. Her students received numerous superior ratings for the district assessments as well as state festivals. She also trained her orchestra to play all types of music. They were often invited to play for region and district events.

Later, Mrs. Iglesias-Mendez worked as a District String Specialist for the Central Region where she provided professional development as well as developed string programs for many schools in the area. She has also served for the last decade with the Greater Miami Youth Symphony as one of the Chamber Music Conductors and most recently the Strings Orchestra.

Presently, she is the Orchestra Director at Jorge Mas Canosa Middle School where she is developing a string program that not only includes the String Orchestra but also Guitar Ensembles. They have performed for district and South Region events.

She has also conducted the Elementary Honors String Orchestra at the 2014 and 2016 Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent’s Honors Festival.

Nerissa Manela Young Mozarts Conductor

Nerissa Manela is a violinist, music teacher, and board-certified music therapist in Miami, Florida. She teaches elementary general music, chorus, and strings in Miami-Dade County Public Schools and works with the Visual and Performing Arts department as a Curriculum Support Specialist. Outside of school, she conducts the Young Mozarts orchestra with Greater Miami Youth Symphony and runs Miami Jam Sessions, a free music therapy socialization group and mentoring program for teens and young adults with special needs. She also volunteers as Chair of Practicing Musician’s Professional Development Roundtable, coordinating a summer symposium and ongoing professional development on educational technology tools and resources for concert band and orchestra teachers.  Nerissa was recognized by the Florida Music Educators Association as a 2020 Emerging Leader and is the 2021 Rookie Teacher of the Year for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Young Sousas, Concert Band & Beginning Band Director
Cristian Escobar
Concert Band

Mr. Cristian Escobar moved to Miami from Colombia at the tender age of 12. He began his musical studies in elementary school playing the recorder, and soon found that he was musically gifted! He attended New World School of the Arts and was awarded a full scholarship at the Florida International University where he was the first student ever to be appointed principal trumpet at the Symphony Orchestra for four consecutive years. He later attended The University of Southern Mississippi where he won many awards including the coveted concerto competition with the wind ensemble.

Mr. Escobar has participated in music festivals such as Philadelphia international music festival, Axiom brass festival, Rafael Mendez Music Festival. He has performed extensively around the United States at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, and the Arsht Center of the Performing Arts.

Mr. Escobar currently teaches at Shenandoah Middle School as director of bands and is also part of many nonprofit musical programs around south Florida such as: Greater Miami Youth Symphony, Miami Music project and Pronartes Colombia where he is a Virtual English teacher to children in Bogota Using music and acting to learn the English language.

Mr. Escobar is very excited to join the group of teachers at GMYS and he is looking forward to making great music this year.

Patrick Araujo
Jazz Band

Patrick Araujo is a Miami-based artist and musician that brings a unique and vibrant sound from his worldly music inspirations, an Emmy Award-winning musician, Patrick has been able to show his well-diverse talents in a multitude of genres, from Jazz to Classical and everything in between.

His ability to stylistically indulge his sound into any given genre has presented the opportunity to perform with several award-winning collectives, bands, orchestras, and artists. Patrick has played in concert for many world-class musicians, companies, and events. To name a few, The Miami Heat Street Band, The Jonas Brothers, Aston Martin, Miami Wind Symphony, Kindred Souls Collective, MIA Brass Collective, and PinoGrillo. Some venues performed include Carnegie Hall, Adrienne Arsht Center, Ziff Ballet Opera
House, the Lyric Theatre, The Olympia Theatre, AAA Arena for the Miami Heat Organization, the Hard Rock Stadium for the Miami Dolphin Organization, and the Marlins Ball Park for the Marlins Organization.

Besides having success in a developing performance career, Patrick is also a music educator who has spent much time working with Miami Dade County Public Schools as the Director of Music at Downtown Doral Charter also with well known non-profit organizations all over Miami, including the South Florida Youth Symphony, Miami Music Project, Young Musicians Unite, And the Greater Miami Youth Symphony.

Through the combination of music education and performance, Patrick was invited by the Panamanian government and the University of Panama to teach and prepare young musicians for a life of impactful music-making. Other international invitations include the Young Bohemia Music Festival which invited Patrick to perform alongside his students at a world festival in Prague. These excellent experiences have fueled Patrick to share and empower the youth to dive in and reap the benefits of music!

Preparatory Strings Instructor
Julia Jakkel
Preparatory Strings

Born into a musical family, Hungarian violinist Julia Jakkel began her musical studies at the age of five. Julia won numerous prizes at national and international competitions during her teenage years. Julia received her Bachelor of Music degree, Magna Cum Laude in May 2016 at Lynn University’s Conservatory of Music, as a student of Carol Cole. A full tuition scholarship recipient, Julia earned Dean’s List honors for eight consecutive semesters, and as a result of her academic achievement, during her undergraduate studies Julia belonged to the President’s Honors Society at Lynn University. She also completed her graduate studies in violin performance at the same institution as a student and Teacher Assistant of Guillermo Figueroa.

Julia has served as a violin mentor at the Lynn University Preparatory School of Music for beginning level players, as well as at the Nat King Cole Generation Hope Summer Strings Program for underprivileged children, at Lynn University between 2013-2019. In addition, she has worked part-time as a violin teacher for U.B. Kinsey Palmview Elementary School and the Plumosa School of the Arts. In her free time Julia enjoys performing: she played a fundraising concert for the Miami Bach Society in 2012, worked as a strolling violinist on a cruise ship and also was an invited guest artist to perform at the Cristal Serenity World Cruise in the summer of 2015, gave performances in France as part of the Zodiac Music Festival in 2016, and has performed with local orchestras such as the Palm Beach Symphony, the Symphony of the Americas and the Southwest Florida Symphony over the past years. Julia’s involvement with the Rotary Club of Boca Raton Sunrise led her to perform charity concerts for the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Lauderdale in 2016 and 2017. Julia was honored to be the only entertainer at the opening ceremony of the new Vice-Consulate of Hungary in Miami in 2019; she has also appeared as a violinist in places such as Mar-a-Lago, Boca West Country Club, Boca Raton Resort and Club, Coconut Creek Casino, the Versace Mansion and the Biltmore Hotel, to mention a few. Julia received her English as a Second Language teaching certification in June 2017. Between 2015 and 2018, Julia enjoyed volunteering for the South Florida Hungarian Kids Club as an instructor and music teacher and served as the Honorary Chairperson of the Rotaract Club of Lynn University.

Julia is the General Music Teacher for Kindergarten-5th grade students at The Charter School at Waterstone in Homestead, a String Preparatory teacher for the Greater Miami Youth Symphony and also teaches private violin lessons. Julia has had the honor to be an invited judge at the Florida Federation of Music Clubs’ Junior Festival for the past three years, evaluating many young and talented string players. Julia’s goal in life is to bring joy to all people through the gift of music.

Preparatory Strings Instructor
Vera Nji
Preparatory Strings

Described as artistic, refined and passionate; Vera Nji succeeds in combining a vivacious energy with the resounding tone of the viola. She studied with Pamela McConnell and performed under the direction of conductor Thomas Sleeper as a member of the University of Miami Symphony Orchestra and accompanied them on a tour of Nassau, Bahamas. She also performed in the world premiere of Bernadette, a one-act opera by Ramon Dominguez at the Roca Center for the Performing and Visual Arts in Miami, Florida and the international debut at Sacre Couer under the direction of Dr. Candace Wicke.

Her performances have ranged from classical to new music premieres and popular music with artists such as Kanye West and Chaka Khan at the MTV Music Video Awards and Ricky Martin at the Latin Billboard Awards. She graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor’s of Music in Viola Performance and a minor in Broadcast Communications as a Bertha Foster Scholarship and Woodson Williams Scholarship Finalist recipient. During her studies she served as a Hurricane Staff Writer for the Miami Hurricane and as the Ensemble Librarian for the Frost School of Music.

Her love for education led her to the intern position of Assistant Orchestra Manager which involved working closely with young musicians in grades six through twelve, for the American Festival for the Arts from 2001-02. As a string instructor she has had the pleasure of working with ensembles from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy and the Greater Miami Youth Orchestra.

Jose Heredia Vigo
Young Sousas

I started my musical adventure at age 7 playing drums in church. When I turned 12 years old, I was accepted to study at the Escuela Libre de Música de Hato Rey, in Puerto Rico. This is when I discovered the saxophone. There I studied under Angel Marrero and Indio Martínez. After finishing high school, I went on to the University of Puerto Rico. In 1998, I became the recipient of a special talent scholarship and left for Berklee College of Music, to work on my Bachelor’s degree in Professional Music. While in Boston I was under the tutelage of Dino Govoni and Fred Lipsius, amongst other great professors. Since then, I have worked with many acts, in various musical genres, such as: Glenn Monroig, Victor Manuelle, Gilberto Santa Rosa, El Cano Estremera, Marlo Ruiz, Paquito Guzman, Paquito Acosta, Michael Stewart, Sammy Marrero, 33 D.C., Mario Ortiz Jr., Tito de Gracia/Naoka Jam, Andy Montañez, 509, Rene Gonzalez, Damaris Grillo, Plenealo, Eggie Castrillo Big Band, Batuke Samba Funk, PeeWee Ellis, Pedro Eustache, Humberto Ramírez, Marcos Vidal and more.

I am fortunate to have gained many experiences through my career as well enjoyed many highlights. Most recently my musical arrangement for Grammy® nominated group ¡Plenéalo! for song “La Novia Nueva” for was nominated for a Latin Grammy®. My major musical influences are Bob Mintzer, Yellowjackets, Richard Bona among MANY others. Iʼm currently working on my first album with my own group IQ Project.

Marie Burges Escobar
Marie Burges Escobar
MYami Band Conductor
Mrs. Marie Escobar is a native of Waynesboro, MS. During her high school years she
was a member of the All-District Band, 4 years, and All-State Band, 1 year, as a Trumpet player, and also earned Superior at all Solo & Ensemble Competitions 7th -12th Grade. Mrs. Escobar then attended Jones County Junior College where she held multiple leadership positions both in the Student Government Association and the Trumpet Studio. After obtaining her Associates of Arts Degree at JCJC she then attended The University of Southern Mississippi. Mrs. Escobar then obtained her Bachelor of Music Education from USM’s School of Music, one of the most prestigious Performing Arts and Music Education Universities in the Southeast, in May of 2017. Mrs. Escobar then moved to Miami and obtained a part-time position at West Miami Middle School in the Fall of 2017. During her 1 year at WMMS, she also worked with the non- profit organization, Achieve Miami’s Up!Music. While at Up!Music, Mr. Escobar and Mrs. Escobar helped form an elementary aged Wind Band and entered them into the MLK Parade. Mrs. Escobar obtained a full-time Band Director position at Horace Mann Middle School in theFall of 2018. While at HMMS, Mrs. Escobar has built the program from the ground up and has helped change the culture of the school to a positive one. The band program has grown from 10 members to 50 members, even during COVID. We have received multiple grants to revamp
our Band and have been able to purchase all new concert percussion and marching percussion
instruments. The program continues to grow under Mrs. Escobar’s direction and there are
many more plans in store!

Percussion Coach
Lucas Sanchez
Percussion Coach

Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Lucas Sanchez enjoys a multi-faceted career as a timpanist, percussionist, and teacher. Mr. Sanchez currently performs with the Palm Beach Symphony under the direction of Gerard Schwarz, the Florida Grand Opera, the Nu Deco Ensemble, and the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra; in the past he has appeared with the Houston Symphony and the Amarillo Symphony.

Mr. Sanchez is as comfortable in front of the orchestra as he is behind it; he has appeared as a soloist with the Texas Music Festival Orchestra, Frost Symphony Orchestra, Shepherd Percussion Ensemble, and the Albuquerque Youth Symphony. In 2018, Lucas was awarded first place in the Frost Concerto Competition with Johann Carl Christian Fischer’s Symphony with 8 Obbligato Timpani.

Lucas is an alumnus of the Aspen Music Festival and the Texas Music Festival and was awarded full-tuition fellowships at both for 3 summers each.  At these festivals, Lucas performed in masterclasses for Ed Stephan, David Herbert, Markus Rhoten, Joseph Pereira, Ted Atkatz, Paul Yancich, Mark Yancich, Jonathan Haas, and Jauvon Gilliam.

Mr. Sanchez began his studies in Albuquerque with Douglas Cardwell.  He received his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from Rice University under the tutelage of Richard Brown.  Lucas is currently writing his thesis for a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Miami, studying with Matthew Strauss and Svetoslav Stoyanov. Mr. Sanchez is proudly endorsed by Pearl/Adams instruments and Remo drumheads. He performs on Adams Philharmonic Dresden Classic Timpani with Remo Renaissance Hazy drumheads.