Featured Artists


Elmira Darvarova

Solo Violin and Concertmaster

(Former Concertmaster, MET Orchestra)

Indra Thomas

Indra Thomas



Sarah Heltzel



Sean Panikkar



Soloman Howard


HJB headshot (68.8 KB)

Montclair State University Chorale

Dr. Heather Buchanan, Conductor

Grammy®-nominated recording artist, a concert violinist since the age of four, and an award-winning performer (2017 & 2018 GOLD MEDAL at the Global Music Awards), Elmira Darvarova caused a sensation, becoming the first ever (and so far only) female concertmaster in the history of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. With the MET Orchestra she toured Europe, Japan and the United States, and was heard on the MET’s live weekly international radio broadcasts, television broadcasts, CDs and laser discs on the Sony, Deutsche Grammophon and EMI labels. As concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera she has performed with the greatest conductors of our time, including the legendary Carlos Kleiber. She studied with Yfrah Neaman at the Guildhall School in London (on a British Council scholarchip), with Josef Gingold at Indiana University in Bloomington (as one of his assistants), and with Henryk Szeryng (privately). An award-winning artist (Gold Medal at the 2017 and 2018 Global Music Awards, the Gold Quill Award by Classic FM Radio, and the Boris Christoff Medal), and hailed by American Records Guide as a “marvelous violinist in the Heifetz tradition”, Elmira Darvarova can be heard on numerous CDs, recorded for several labels (recent releases include the world premiere recording of Vernon Duke’s violin concerto with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, and a CD with world-premiere recordings of chamber music by René de Castéra, named by MusicWeb International a RECORD OF THE YEAR 2015). Several of her albums have been selected as Record of the Month by the prestigious publication MusicWeb-International. Her CDs have won critical acclaim in such esteemed publications as The Strad Magazine, Gramophone, Fanfare, American Records Guide, BBC Music Magazine. She has appeared on the most prestigious stages of five continents, and has performed concertos with the Moscow State Symphony, the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony, and numerous other orchestras. Well-versed not only in opera, symphonic and chamber music repertoire, she performs and records in many other genres and styles, including tango, jazz, blues, folk, world music, contemporary/ electronic music, Stroh violin, and Indian Ragas. She has partnered for chamber music performances with music giants such as Janos Starker, Gary Karr, Pascal Rogé, Vassily Lobanov, with tango and jazz legends such as Octavio Brunetti, Fernando Otero and David Amram, and with the world-renowned Indian classical musician, the superstar of the Sarod: Amjad Ali Khan, with whom she recorded a trilogy of CD albums, based on traditional Indian Ragas (released in the United States, and separately, on the Indian sub-continent). She has recorded 2 CD albums of Baroque music (world-premiere recordings) with the world’s most renowned double bassist Gary Karr, and she has performed with him Bottesini’s Gran Duo Concerantein the United States and Canada. She has also recorded 3 CDs of music by Astor Piazzolla, two of them with the late great tango pianist and arranger Octavio Brunetti (named by the New York Philharmonic “the inheritor of Piazzolla’s mantle”), and she has performed in a duo with Octavio Brunetti at festivals in the US and Europe. For the Naxos label she has recorded 3 CDs of chamber music by Franco Alfano (world-premiere recordings). Her recital at Bela Bartok’s memorial house in Budapest was broadcast live throughout Europe. A documentary film about her life and career was shown on European television. She performs in a duo with Grammy®-winner, pianist/ composer Fernando Otero, and is a founding member of The New York Piano Quartet, the Delphinium Trio, the Quinteto del Fuego and the Amram Ensemble. She is Jury President of several international chamber music competitions in Europe, and she is the President & Director of the New York Chamber Music Festival. Praised by Gramophone Magazine for her “ultra-impassioned performances”, and in The Strad for her “intoxicating tonal beauty and beguilingly sensuous phrasing” and “silky-smooth voluptuous tone”, she was featured in Gramophone Magazine with an interview about her world-premiere recording of Vernon Duke’s violin concerto (written for Heifetz in 1940), which she recorded recently with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. For more information please visit her website www.elmiradarvarova.com

Photo Credit: David Finlayson

Known for her lush and warm voice, Indra Thomas has performed at many of the world class opera houses and venues, such as the Metropolitan Opera and the Vienna State Opera; she has performed at prominent venues here in the US, France, Germany, Spain and England, including the Royal Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall. Among numerous top orchestras with which she has appeared are the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony and Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra – as well as leading orchestras in Paris, Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, Japan, Finland, South Korea, Malaysia, Abu Dhabi, Boston, Cleveland and Detroit. Ms. Thomas has graced several famous music festivals such as the Bregenz Festspiele in Bregenz, Austria, Chorégies , d’Orange in France and the Proms Summer Festival in London.

In the wake of her professional debut at Carnegie Hall in Messa di Requiem by Verdi, her work has been marked by rapturous public and critical acclaim.  She soon blossomed into one the world’s truly great operatic and concert sopranos, with a particular affinity for Verdi roles. In constant demand, her performances are consistently distinguished by the striking vocal beauty and deep emotional impact of her singing—as well as her smoldering intensity as a singing actress.

While in her teens, she first came to wide-spread attention when she sang “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” in the funeral scene of the Academy Award-winning film “Driving Miss Daisy”. Later, Ms. Thomas was Emmy nominated for her performance of the “Porgy and Bess Suite” on the New Year’s Eve Broadcast Live from Lincoln Center and also was Grammy Nominated for her recording of Michael Tippett’s “A Child Of Our Time” with the London Symphony Orchestra.

A minister’s daughter whose mother was a nurse and gifted, amateur singer, Ms. Thomas was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a graduate of Shorter College and of the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. Ms. Thomas is now Visiting Professor of Voice and Director of Opera at Shorter University.

Sarah Heltzel is being noticed for her “potent star performances” coupled with a “rich, powerhouse voice.” For recent performances in Houston, the Chronicle raved “Heltzel sets the stage ablaze with her vocal and dramatic pyrotechnics,” while the New York Times noted of her role in The Saint of Bleecker Street, “Sarah Heltzel, vocally striking and visually appealing, walked away with the second act as Desideria.”

Ms. Heltzel made her debut with Seattle Opera while still a Young Artist, as Siegrune in their acclaimed Ring cycle. She reprised the role twice, adding covers of Flosshilde in Das Rheingold,and Waltraute, Zweite Norn and Flosshilde in Götterdämmerung. A recipient of grants from The Wagner Society of New York, she has also sung Fricka in Minnesota Concert Opera’s Mini-Ring.

A compelling actress with a true Zwischenfach voice, in recent seasons Ms. Heltzel has been noticed in roles from Principessa d’Eboli in Don Carlo (Wichita Grand Opera) to Suzuki in Madama Butterfly (Indianapolis, Amarillo, Syracuse, Nevada, Opera on the James), from der Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos (Winter Opera St Louis) to Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana (String Orchestra of Brooklyn), to Desirée and Charlotte in A Little Night Music (Syracuse Opera, Phoenicia Festival). Other recent roles include Jo in Little Women and Musetta in La Bohème for Opera on the James, Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi for Opera in the Heights, Flora in La Traviata for Seattle Opera, Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana for Amarillo Opera, the Ugly Duchess in Chin’s Alice In Wonderland and Trio Alto in Angels in America for New York City Opera, Azucena in Il Trovatore with Opera in the Heights, Carmen for Tacoma Opera and Skagit Opera,  Desideria in The Saint Of Bleecker Street and the Marquise de Merteuil in The Dangerous Liaisons for New York’s Dicapo Opera Theatre, Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus with Mississippi Opera, Dryade in Ariadne Auf Naxos with Toledo Opera, Cherubino in Le Nozze Di Figaro for Chautauqua Opera, and covering Dalila in Saint-Saëns’ Samson Et Dalila for Washington Concert Opera. A lover and proponent of new music, Ms. Heltzel has created roles in multiple new one-act operas for American Lyric Theater in New York and American Opera Projects.

Concert performances include Verdi’s Requiem with Symphony Syracuse, Wichita Symphony, Back Bay Chorale and at Carnegie Hall, Handel’s Messiah and Janacek's Glagolitic Mass with Seattle Symphony, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Boston Philharmonic and Minot Symphony Orchestra, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder with the Gordon College Symphony, and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with the Boston Chamber Music Society, as well as numerous recitals with collaborator Miloš Repický, including for the Wagner and Mahler Societies of New York.

As a member of the Seattle Opera Young Artist Program, she appeared as Cherubino in Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro, Miss Jessel in Britten’s Turn Of The Screw and Despina in Cosi Fan Tutte. She has been a grant recipient and prizewinner from The Wagner Society of New York, The Liederkranz Foundation, The Gerda Lissner Foundation, the Career Bridges Competition, and the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition.

Ms. Heltzel joined New York City Opera again last spring for Saleswoman in Brokeback Mountain and their Pride concert in Bryant Park, and the Knickerbocker Orchestra in New York City for the world premiere of a cantata on the topic of gun violence in America, Struggle to Forgive by Gary Fagin. Engagements this season include her Australian debut as Offred in A Handmaid’s Tale in Melbourne, a return to Wichita Grand Opera for the title role in Carmen, Bernstein’s SONGFEST with the Maverick Chamber Orchestra in Woodstock, NY, and Beethoven’s 9 with Music for Life International at Carnegie Hall, to benefit the Rohingya refugees.

Photo Credit: Tricia Leines Pine

Sean Panikkar continues “to position himself as one of the stars of his generation… His voice is unassailable—firm, sturdy and clear, and he employs it with maximum dramatic versatility” [Opera News].  The American tenor of Sri Lankan heritage made his Metropolitan Opera debut under the baton of James Levine in Manon Lescaut (commercially available on DVD on EMI), and his European operatic debut in Mozart’s Zaïde at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in a production directed by Peter Sellars and conducted by Louis Langrée (commercially available on DVD on Opus Arte).

Sean Panikkar made his Salzburg Festival debut this past summer as Dionysus in a new production of Henze’s The Bassarids directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski; the title also served the tenor his Madrid debut in concert performances with the Spanish National Orchestra and Choir, both presentations under the baton of Kent Nagano.  Highlights of the 2018-19 season include a Los Angeles Opera debut as Gandhi in the company’s new production of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha directed by Phelim McDermott led by Grant Gershon, and a return to the Festival d’Aix en Provence as Jakob Schmidt and Toby in Kurt Weill’s Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny directed by Ivo van Hove and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.  Core repertoire presentations include performances of La Bohème at Pittsburgh Opera, Carmen with North Carolina Opera, and Les Pêcheurs de Perles at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.  On the concert stage, the tenor is heard in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Seattle Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Highly prized as an interpreter of contemporary music on leading international stages, Sean Panikkar created the roles of Adam in Giorgio Battistelli’s CO2for a debut at Teatro alla Scala in a world premiere conducted by Cornelius Meister and directed by Robert Carsen, Wendell Smith in Daniel Sonenberg and Mark Campbell’s The Summer King in a co-production between Pittsburgh Opera and Michigan Opera Theatre, Agent Henry Rathbone in a co-production of David T. Little’s JFK at the Fort Worth Opera and Opéra de Montréal, and he garnered passionate acclaim in the title role of Jack Perla’s Shalimar the Clown for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.  Broadway World reported, “Sean Panikkar stands out above them all. This is truly his show… His pure, clear voice displays truly remarkable power. It shines like a beacon above the rest even when the entire cast are singing their hearts out. And his diction is superb. This is a longish opera and Shalimar is a tour de force role; Panikkar triumphs in it!”

Numerous engagements with the Metropolitan Opera feature the company premiere of The Death of Klinghoffer conducted by David Robertson in a powerful new production by director Tom Morris (War Horse), a new production of Guillaume Tell directed by Pierre Audi led by Gianandrea Noseda, Roméo et Juliette under the baton of Plácido Domingo, Lucia di Lammermoor conducted by Marco Armiliato, and Ariadne auf Naxos led by Kirill Petrenko. Highlights of past seasons also include a new production of Nabucco at Washington National Opera, La Bohème staged by Francesca Zambello at the Royal Albert Hall in London, at Cincinnati Opera conducted by Louis Langrée, and at Michigan Opera Theatre, Carmen with Madison Opera conducted by John DeMain, Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick at Pittsburgh Opera, and Silent Night at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.  He has sung Salome at Washington National Opera in the company’s new Francesca Zambello production and at the Saito Kinen Festival in performances conducted by Omer Meir Wellber, made a debut at the Santa Fe Opera in a new production of Menotti’s rarely produced The Last Savage directed by Ned Canty and conducted by George Manahan, bowed as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte at Pittsburgh Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival, and has been praised for what has come to be one of his signature parts, Nadir in Les Pêcheurs de Perles, for Fort Worth Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, and Opera Colorado.

Symphonic performances have featured Sean Panikkar with Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette, The Tristan Project with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Michael Christie and the Phoenix Symphony, Handel’s Messiah with Ragnar Bohlin and the San Francisco Symphony, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Raymond Leppard and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Sean Panikkar is a member of Forte, the operatic tenor group combining voices from different cultures into one incredible sound.  The trio was created and debuted for the first time ever on America’s Got Talent and had never met until only days before their first audition. During the summer 2013 broadcasts of America’s Got Talent, Forte was seen and heard by tens of millions of television viewers in national broadcasts on NBC.  Their self-titled debut recording on Columbia Records was released in November 2013 and a follow-up recording, The Future Classics, was released in 2015.

An alumnus of San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellowship, Sean Panikkar holds Master’s and Bachelor degrees in Voice Performance from the University of Michigan.

Photo Credit: Kristina Sherk

A recent graduate of Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, a program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Soloman Howard garners high praise from the press for his vivid performances on the great opera and concert stages of the world.  Soloman Howard’s voice is described as “sonorous” by The New York Times, “superhuman” by The Denver Post, and “a triumph” by The Guardian.

Soloman Howard’s 2018-19 season features returns to the Metropolitan Opera as The King in Aida conducted by Nicola Luisotti; to Los Angeles Opera as the Frate in Don Carlo under the baton of James Conlon; Santa Fe Opera as Colline in La bohème conducted by Jader Bignamini; and to Washington National Opera to reprise the title role he created for the company in The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me by Jeanine Tesori and J.D. McClatchy.  He makes a Canadian operatic debut on the stage of Opéra de Montréal as Fafner in Das Rheingold under the baton of Michael Christie.  Soloman Howard brings the roles of Somnus and Cadmus into his repertoire in an international tour of Semele with Harry Bicket leading The English Concert and makes a debut with the Handel & Haydn Society in performances of Mozart’s Requiem conducted by Music Director Harry Christophers.

Last season international opera house debuts were celebrated on three continents: at San Francisco Opera in Turandot conducted by Music Director Nicola Luisotti; at the Teatro Real in Aida; and at the Teatro Municipal de Santiago, Chile in Don Giovanni.  Other notable opera performances included Aida at the Washington National Opera, Rigoletto at North Carolina Opera, and Madama Butterflyat Santa Fe Opera.  In concert, Soloman Howard gave his first performances of Hunding in Die Walküre at the Miami Music Festival; he also sang Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony both with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on a European tour and with Christian Arming and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra on tour in Asia.

Highlights of the recent past include performances of Aida at the Metropolitan Opera; the role of Jacopo Fiesco in a new production of Simon Boccanegra at the Opéra national de Bordeaux conducted by Paul Daniel; Don Giovanni at Santa Fe Opera conducted by John Nelson; La traviata at the Los Angeles Opera under the baton of Music Director James Conlon; The Magic Flute and Macbeth at the Glimmerglass Festival; and the title role of Approaching Ali at North Carolina Opera and the Washington National Opera.  For the Washington National Opera, Soloman Howard bowed as Fafner in Der Ring des Nibelungen directed by Artistic Director Francesca Zambello and conducted by Music Director Philippe Auguin; as well as in leading roles of The Magic Flute, Show Boat, Don Giovanni, and Nabucco.  He was heralded for the roles of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the world premiere of the revised edition of Appomattox composed by Philip Glass in a production by Tazwell Thompson.

On the concert stage, he has been featured in performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra in debut appearances on many of Europe’s most famous stages.  These include El Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg; the Musikverein in Vienna as well as in Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht at Carnegie Hall with Kent Tritle and the Oratorio Society of New York; Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier – opposite Renée Fleming – with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christoph Eschenbach; Handel’s Messiah; Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass; and the Fauré Requiem with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

The Anti-Defamation League presented Soloman Howard with their “Making a Difference Award” in the summer of 2016 for raising awareness of voting rights though his performances of Appomattox at the Kennedy Center; and for bringing opera into the larger community.  Soloman Howard is a proud graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and of Morgan State University.

Australian-born conductor Heather J. Buchanan, PhD, is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Montclair State University (MSU) where she conducts the curricular choirs Chorale and University Singers, and the extracurricular project choirs Vocal Accord and Prima Voce. Choirs under her direction have won critical acclaim for their “heartfelt conviction,” “vibrant sound,” “grace and precision,” and for singing with the “crispness and dexterity of a professional choir.” During her tenure, MSU choirs have collaborated with a variety of renowned artists and composers including Meredith monk, Richard Alston Dance Company (RADC-UK), Chen Yi, Mícheál ÓSúílleabháin (Ireland), Tarik o’Reagan, members of the Vienna Philharmonic Strings (Austria), and conductors Neeme Järvi, Jacques Lacombe, Xian Zhang, George Manahan, Patrick Duprè Quigley, John Maucceri, Jeffrey Schindler, and Susie Benchasil Seiter with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO). Her choral-orchestral collaborations with the NJSO include Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Mozart Requiem, Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mahler Symphony No. 3, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream,Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, and Howard Shore’s Academy Award winning The Lord of the Rings Symphony, with Handel’s Messiahannually since December 2014.

Her publications include the landmark GIA choral series Teaching Music through Performance in Choir(Vols. 1-3), a book chapter “Body Mapping: Enhancing Voice Performance through Somatic Pedagogy” inTeaching Singing in the 21stCentury(Sprinter), a DVD Evoking Sound: Body Mapping & Gesture Fundamentals, and choral octavos in the Evoking Sound Choral Series(GIA). Guest conducting and residency engagements are wide-ranging and include US and international venues. Recent highlights include Passion of Italy2017 (Rome & Florence); The 2016 Fall for Dancefestival in NYC; Firenze 2015 (Florence, Italy); the Australian Voices across the Pacific choral festival (July 2014); the Queensland Conservatorium’s 2014 State Honours Education Program (Australia); Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb with RADC for Peak Performances10thAnniversary, again at Sadler’s Wells (London) for the RADC 20thAnniversary Season Opening; the 30thAnniversary Pacific Basin Music Festival(Hawaii); CODA Festivals at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Centre for the performing Arts; and headlining the 2017 Australian Choral Conductor’s Education and Training Summer School (Melbourne) where she will return in January 2020.

Dr. Buchanan holds degrees from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Griffith University (Australia), Westminster Choir College of Rider University, and the University of New England (Australia). A licensed Andover Educator since 2002, she specializes in the teaching of Body Mapping, a neuro-anatomical approach for enhancing music technique. In June 2017 she was awarded the Barbara Conable Teaching Award by Andover Educators in recognition of exemplary teaching, innovative ideas, support to colleagues, active involvement in Andover Educators & personal growth. A vibrant teacher, dynamic performer, and passionate musicians’ health advocate, Dr. Buchanan is in demand as a guest conductor, somatic educator, and choral clinician in the US and abroad.

Montclair State University Chorale is the core choral ensemble and symphonic choir in the John J. Cali School of Music. This semester it comprises 160 voices including music students majoring in performance, music education, music therapy, composition, music theatre, as well as non-music majors with choral experience. The Chorale’s 2018-19 season opened with three magnificent performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphonyunder the baton of Xian Zhang to celebrate the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s season opening. Their long-standing relationship with the NJSO features a range of masterworks, including Howard Shore’s Academy Award winning The Lord of the Rings Symphony, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony(Neeme Järvi conductor), Mahler’s Symphony No. 3and Verdi’s epic Messa da Requiemtwice with Neeme Järvi (January 2010) and Jacques Lacombe (April 2014). The Chorale’s highly acclaimed performances of Orff’s Carmina Burana and Verdi Requiemwith Maestro Jacques Lacombe were celebrated with limited edition CD releases in September 2011 and December 2015. The Chorale’s Alexander Kasser Theater performances have included collaborations with professional alumni soloists and instrumentalists, as well as regional youth choirs Newark Boys Chorus, Children’s Chorus of Sussex County, and the American Boy Choir. Choral repertoire highlights include an interdisciplinary performance of Carmina Burana(Orff) with the department of theatre and dance (April 2017), Ein Deutsches Requiem(Brahms), Duruflé Requiem, Saint Nicolas(Britten), Fauré Requiem, Chichester Psalms(Bernstein), the regional premiere of Parables(Aldridge) in collaboration with the MSU Symphony Orchestra for the 2011 Crawford Concert, Annelies(Whitbourn) for the April 2015 Holocaust Memorial Concert, and the Tri-state premiere of Alzheimer’s Stories(Cohen) for the 2015 Crawford Concert, and the New Jersey premiere performance of Jubilate Deo by Dan Forrest (May 2018). This season will conclude with Dona Nobis Pacemby Ralph Vaughan Williams featuring soloists Karen Driscoll (soprano) and John Hancock (baritone) with Steven W. Ryan pianist and guest instrumental artists. The concert will commemorate the 100thanniversary of the end of WWI and celebrate the 200thbirthday of America’s great lyric poet Walt Whitman. In December 2019 the Chorale will give the regional premiere performance (semi-staged) of the acclaimed new passion oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard(Hella Johnson) for the 2019 Crawford Concert. The MSU Chorale is supported by a dynamic group of 27 student leaders who serve as managers, section leaders, conductors, accompanists, and publicity/social media advocates.