Symphony Faculty Biographies

2017 faculty is listed below.

Symphony Faculty

Ricardo Castañeda

Ricardo CastanedaProgram Director; Oboe, Oak Park, Ill.
Mr. Castañeda is principal oboist with the Lake Forest Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Sinfonietta. He is also a member of The Chicago Ensemble, a Chicago-based chamber music group. He has played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera Orchestra, Grant Park Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Opera Theater, as well as numerous national touring Broadway shows and ballets. Mr. Castañeda is adjunct professor of oboe at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Mr. Castañeda has been a member of the faculty at Birch Creek since 1998 and Program Director of Symphony session since 2001.

Brian Groner

Brian GronerConductor, Glenwood, Ill.
2017 marks Mr. Groner’s 24th season as conductor of the Birch Creek Symphony Orchestra. He is conductor of the Fox Valley Symphony in Appleton, Wis., the Harper Symphony in Palatine, Ill., and is a member of the faculty of Northeastern Illinois University. He has served as guest conductor for the San Diego Symphony, the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and has worked with the Moscow Classical Ballet, the Nashville Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet Orchestra. Website:


Renée-Paule Gauthier

Renee-Paule GauthierConcertmaster, Willowbrook, Ill.
A passionate and dedicated teacher, Dr. Renée-Paule Gauthier is part of the faculties of North Park University, North Central College, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, and the Birch Creek Performance Center, as a violin instructor and chamber music coach. An experienced lecturer and clinician, she has led masterclasses in Canada and the United States, and is the author of the performance and personal growth blog, Mind Over Finger. A graduate of the University of Montreal, the Eastman School of Music, and Northwestern University, Dr. Gauthier was Concertmaster of the New World Symphony, in the first violin section of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Assistant Concertmaster of the Calgary Philharmonic, and is the Founding Artistic Director of the Rendez-vous Musical de Laterrière, a chamber music festival in the province of Québec. She made her Kennedy Center solo debut in April 2014. Maintaining a busy performance schedule, Dr. Gauthier currently is a member of the Elgin Symphony, Chicago and Illinois Philharmonic orchestras, Joffrey Ballet orchestra, is Principal Second Violin with the Northwest Indiana Symphony, performs as guest Concertmaster for several orchestras, and is an active member of the Chicago area chamber music scene. For more information on her career, visit


Marcia Henry Liebenow

Marcia Henry LiebenowViolin, Peoria, Ill.
Ms. Henry Liebenow is Concertmaster of the Peoria Symphony Orchestra and Professor of Music at Bradley University, where she teaches violin, viola and chamber music. She frequently performs throughout the United States, and is a member of the Concordia String Trio and Peoria Lunaire chamber ensemble. Website:


Betty Lewis

Betty LewisViolin, Wilmette, Ill.
Ms. Lewis is a violinist and violist in the Chicago area, performing with groups ranging from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to Broadway shows. Ms. Lewis is also a member of the Peninsula Music Festival Orchestra in Door County and teaches violin and viola at the Francis Parker School in Chicago. This is Ms. Lewis’ 24th year at Birch Creek.



EmmaLee Holmes-Hicks

EmmaLee Holmes-HicksViolin Associate Faculty, Providence, RI
Armed with a performance degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music and a doctorate from SUNY Stony Brook, EmmaLee Holmes-Hicks serves on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and as principal second violinist with the New Bedford Symphony. She co-directs Rhode Island’s Newport String Project, an innovative program that combines chamber music performance with music education for underserved children.


Gregory Thompkins

Violin Associate Faculty, Greenville, SC
Gregory is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at New England Conservatory with Mrs. Lucy Chapman. He recently earned degrees in violin performance and psychology from the University of Rochester and the Eastman School of Music, where he was a member of the class of Charles Castleman. Gregory has performed solo and chamber recitals in a variety of venues in the eastern United States, including the Young Artists’ series at the Niagara-On-The-Lake International Chamber Festival and the FoodLink benefit series in Rochester, NY.


Matthew Mantell

Matthew Mantell

Viola, Orland Park, Ill.
Matthew Mantell holds a Bachelor of Music degree in viola performance from the American Conservatory of Music, at which time he studied the violin with George Perlman and viola with Richard Ferrin and Adia Ghertovici. He is currently principal violist with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra and acting principal violist with the Chicago Sinfonietta.  He also performs with the Joffrey Ballet and substitutes with Lyric Opera of Chicago.


Emily Lewis Mantell

Emily MantellCello, Orland Park, Ill.
Ms. Mantell is principal cellist with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra. She is a member of the Chicago Sinfonietta. She teaches at St. Xavier University, Trinity Christian College, maintains a private studio and is a freelance cellist. This is Ms. Mantell’s 28th year at Birch Creek.


Alan Steiner

Alan SteinerString Bass, Buffalo Grove, Ill
Mr. Steiner is a former member of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, L'Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec and the Canadian Opera Company. He was a soloist in the world premiere of Likht un Shotn with the Park Ridge Civic Orchestra. He maintains a private studio and teaches at A.E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL. Mr. Steiner has been with Birch Creek for 17 seasons.


Shannon Finney

Shannon FinneyFlute/Piccolo, Kansas City, Mo.
Ms. Finney is associate principal flutist with the Kansas City Symphony. She is also a member of the Kansas City-based chamber music ensemble, Summerfest. She has been with Birch Creek for 13 years.


Trevor O'Riordan

Trevor O'RiordanClarinet, DeKalb, Ill.
Trevor O'Riordan is currently the principal clarinetist of both the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra and the South Bend Symphony. He has been a featured soloist performing concertos by Mozart, Copland, Nielsen, and Weber. Trevor has also performed with the Milwaukee Symphony, Green Bay Symphony, Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, Elmhurst Symphony, New Philharmonic, and Chicago Civic Orchestra.


John Gaudette

John GaudetteBassoon, Chicago, Ill.
Mr. Gaudette began his career with the Dallas Symphony, then moved to Canada where he spent 28 years with the Vancouver Symphony and CBC Radio Orchestra. Since 2003, Mr. Gaudette has served as extra in the Lyric Opera Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony and the Lake Forest Symphony. This is Mr. Gaudette’s 11th year at Birch Creek.


Jim Westhoff

Jim WesthoffBassoon Associate Faculty, Ann Arbor, MI
Jim Westhoff holds a bachelor's degree in music performance from the Peabody Conservatory, and masters' degrees in performance and music theory/composition from Wichita State University. He has held positions with orchestras such as the Annapolis, Wichita, and Kenosha Symphonies, and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. Currently, he performs with the Jackson and Adrian Symphonies in southeast Michigan, teaches bassoon at Concordia University, and spends summers at the Birch Creek Music Performance Center for young musicians in Door County, Wisconsin as an Associate Faculty member and Assistant Program Director. Jim is also a full-time dad to his beautiful, yet goofy, daughter and adorable, yet stubborn, son.


Dan O'Connell

Joel BenwayFrench Horn, Naperville, Ill
Dan O’Connell is the horn instructor at North Central College, The Merit School of Music, and maintains a private studio. Dan taught at the Birch Creek Music Center in 2010. As a performer, he has played with most of the Chicago area’s great orchestras and ensembles. He received a BM from The New England Conservatory, an MM from DePaul University, and was a member of The New World Symphony.

Matthew Lee

Matthew LeeTrumpet, Elmhurst, Ill.
Mr. Lee performs with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chicago Sinfonietta and the Chicago Brass Quintet. He teaches at DePaul University and Elmhurst College. He performs with the Joffrey Ballet Orchestra and substitutes with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This is Mr. Lee’s 23rd year at Birch Creek.

Tom Stark

Tom StarkTrombone, Low Brass, Schaumburg, Ill.
Mr. Stark performs with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, Illinois Symphony Orchestra, Northwest Indiana Symphony, Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Trombone Consort.  Mr. Stark is also adjunct instructor at Concordia University, Elmhurst College and Harper College. This is Mr. Stark’s 14th year at Birch Creek.


Charles Schuchat

Charles Schuchat Tuba, Chicago, Ill.
Mr. Schuchat is a performer with the Elgin Symphony, the Chicago Sinfonietta, Tower Brass and the Joffrey Ballet. He is an associate professor at Northern Illinois University as well as an artist lecturer and head of brass at Roosevelt University. This year will be Mr. Schuchat’s fourth year on the faculty at Birch Creek.



Jodie DeSalvo

Jodie DeSalvoPiano, Naples, Fla.
Ms. DeSalvo is the Chair of Fine Arts at Seacrest Country Day School and is a regular soloist with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra. Ms. DeSalvo has performed internationally and has numerous CDs to her credit. This is Ms. DeSalvo’s 21st year at Birch Creek.



Robert Everson

Robert EversonPercussion, Oak Park, Ill.
Mr. Everson teaches percussion at Concordia University. He performs with the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, the Lake Forest Symphony and the Elgin Symphony Orchestra. This is Mr. Everson’s 17th year at Birch Creek.


Piero Guimaraes

Percussion Associate Faculty, Providence, RI.
Piero Guimaraes stands at the forefront of a new generation of international performers specializing in orchestral and contemporary music. A native of Brazil, Guimaraes presented the Brazilian premiere of several pivotal works by influential composers including Iannis Xenakis, Steve Reich and Peter Eotvos. Guimaraes concertizes extensively, having made his mark in halls across the United States, Brazil, Austria, Germany, Spain, and Holland.


Faye Seeman

Faye SeemanHarp, Palatine, Ill.
Ms. Seeman, principal harpist of the Chicago Sinfonietta and Joffrey Ballet orchestras, is adjunct professor of harp studies at Wheaton College, Northern Illinois University, College of DuPage and Northeastern Illinois University. 2017 marks Ms. Seeman’s 27th year as a Birch Creek faculty member.