DSO appoints two new musicians and announces endowment of three orchestra chairs

Cornelia Sommer (Second Bassoon) and Luciano Valdes (Percussion, African American Orchestra Fellow) join DSO in the 2023–2024 season

New chair endowments include Principal Horn (David and Christine Provost Chair), Principal Trombone (Shari and Craig Morgan Chair), and Cello (Mary Lee Gwizdala Chair)

Detroit, (October 5, 2023) – Following successful auditions, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and Music Director Jader Bignamini are pleased to announce the appointment of two new orchestra musicians: Cornelia Sommer as Second Bassoon and percussionist Luciano Valdes as one of the DSO’s two African American Orchestra Fellows. Sommer and Valdes have joined the DSO for the start of the 2023–2024 season, joining previously announced new DSO musicians Peter Hatch and Vincent Luciano (basses), Austin Williams (Second Trumpet), and Harper Randolph (violist and African American Orchestra Fellow).

“Together with Jader, I am thrilled to welcome Cornelia and Luciano to Detroit to contribute to the outstanding sound of our orchestra,” said DSO President and CEO Erik Rönmark. “Thank you to all our candidates, the orchestra operations team, and audition committees for working to ensure we found the right musicians for these roles. We look forward to them making beautiful music together!”

Sommer most recently served as Principal Bassoon of the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra and Valdes most recently served as the Principal Timpanist of the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra. Valdes and Randolph succeed previous fellows Jaquain Sloan (bassoon) and Shantanique Moore (flute). Sloan’s fellowship drew to a close at the end of the 2022–2023 season, and Moore now serves as Principal Flute with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.

With support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the DSO inaugurated its African American Orchestra Fellowship in 1990, which is designed to enhance the career development of African American musicians. Previous fellows have gone on to land full-time roles at prominent orchestras around the world. Current DSO musicians who have held the fellowship include Kenneth Thompkins (Principal Trombone) and Cole Randolph (cello).

The DSO is also pleased to announce the new endowment of three orchestra chairs: Principal Horn (David and Christine Provost Chair), currently open; Principal Trombone (Shari and Craig Morgan Chair), currently held by Kenneth Thompkins; and Cello (Mary Lee Gwizdala Chair), currently held by Cole Randolph.

“As we celebrate new faces, we also feel appreciation for the dedicated supporters who share our vision,” said Rönmark. “Inspiring, educating, and transforming lives in Detroit and around the world through artistic excellence is not possible without our community, and we are so grateful to David and Christine Provost, Shari and Craig Morgan, and Mary Lee Gwizdala for their generous support of our mission through their endowment of orchestra chairs.”

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s endowed chair program is a generous and personalized way an investor can support the artistic excellence of the orchestra. To learn more and view the full list of endowed and available chairs, click here.

About Cornelia Sommer
Cornelia Sommer joined the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as Second Bassoon in 2023. Sommer is a versatile performer, arranger, and educator dedicated to sharing music with diverse audiences and expanding the bassoon’s repertoire. Her recent performance and research projects have focused on music inspired by fairy tales, including a forthcoming album, New Enchantments: Fairy Tale Music for Bassoon, which combines newly commissioned pieces with her own arrangements of classic fairy tale works. Sommer’s doctoral dissertation on fairy tale music was awarded the Richard F. French Prize for an outstanding dissertation, and she has a large following on Instagram as @pulcinellie_ for her weekly videos of bassoon excerpts from fairy tale music.

During the 2022–2023 season, Sommer was a frequent guest contrabassoonist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with concerts at Symphony Hall, Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood, and on tour in Europe. She was previously Principal Bassoon of the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra and has regularly appeared with the Seattle Symphony, International Chamber Orchestra of Puerto Rico, and, on historical instruments, American Bach Soloists and Juilliard415. As a chamber musician, Sommer has performed with the Breaking Winds Bassoon Quartet and at The Kennedy Center, Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, and Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. She has played concerti with the Coeur D’Alene Symphony and the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra and was a Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition Semi-Finalist. She is also the recipient of the Yale School of Music Alumni Prize and Benzaquen Career Grant.

Sommer actively seeks to expand the bassoon’s repertoire through her collaborations with composers and her own arrangements. In addition to the new works on her forthcoming album, her arrangements have been performed around the world by members of the New York Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Several of her arrangements, including Stravinsky’s Pulcinella for bassoon and piano, are published through TrevCo Music Publishing.

An experienced educator, Sommer currently teaches bassoon at Oakland University. She has served as an adjunct professor at The Juilliard School, teaching Music History and Ethics, and as a Teaching Fellow in arts education at Juilliard, Teaching Artist in Yale’s Music-In-Schools Initiative, bassoon instructor in the Yale Department of Music, and faculty member at Seattle’s Vivace Chamber Players. She has presented masterclasses and lectures at the University of Alabama, Colorado State University, University of Central Arkansas, and International Double Reed Society Convention.

A graduate of The Juilliard School (D.M.A.), Yale University (M.M.), and Indiana University (B.M.), Sommer has studied bassoon with Frank Morelli, Kathleen McLean, William Ludwig, and Francine Peterson, and baroque bassoon with Dominic Teresi.

About Luciano Valdes
Luciano Valdes is a percussionist and timpanist originally from Miami, Florida. He currently serves as the Principal Timpanist of the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra and holds a fellowship with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Valdes is pursuing a Master of Music degree at the University of Southern California, Thornton School of Music, where he is studying under Joseph Pereira and Jim Babor.

Valdes holds a Bachelor of Music degree from New York University, Steinhardt Music and Performing Arts Professions, and has studied under notable teachers such as Jonathan Haas, Eriko Daimo, Sean Statser, Joshua Quillen, Valerie Naranjo, Javier Diaz, and James Saporito. He was awarded the Ida Bodman Service Award upon graduation from NYU in recognition of his leadership qualities.

Valdes has been recognized as an emerging young instrumentalist by the New World Symphony and has performed on the side-by-side New World Symphony concert series under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. He has also served as Principal Percussionist of the New York Youth Symphony under Music Director Michael Repper. In addition, Valdes contributed to the album Works by Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, Valerie Coleman as part of the NYYS. This achievement marked a significant milestone as the NYYS became the first youth orchestra to win a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance in 2023.

In addition to his classical music pursuits, Valdes has also played the marimba chair for Players Theatre in the Beauty and the Beast Off-Broadway show. He is an alumnus of the Aspen Music Festival and School and Texas Music Festival. 

About the African American Orchestra Fellowship
The DSO inaugurated its African American Orchestra Fellowship in 1990 and is proud to be a leader in celebrating the contributions of African American composers, nurturing the talents of young African American classical musicians, and increasing access and opportunity for African Americans within classical music.

The African American Orchestra Fellowship is designed to enhance the career development of African American musicians. Fellows perform in the orchestra, work closely with coaches and mentors, participate in mock auditions, and represent the DSO in the community. Previous fellows have gone on to land full-time roles at prominent orchestras around the world.

The African American Orchestra Fellowship is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In 2018, the DSO was pleased to announce the expansion of the program from one Fellow position to two positions, thanks to the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

About the DSO
The acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra is known for trailblazing performances, collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists, and a deep connection to its city. Led by Music Director Jader Bignamini since 2020, the DSO makes its home at historic Orchestra Hall within the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, offering a performance schedule that features the PVS Classical, PNC Pops, Paradise Jazz, and Young People’s Family Concert series. In addition, the DSO presents the William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series in metro area venues, as well as eclectic multi-genre performances in its mid-size venue The Cube, constructed and curated with support from Peter D. & Julie F. Cummings. A dedication to broadcast innovation began in 1922, when the DSO became the first orchestra in the world to present a live radio broadcast of a concert and continues today with the groundbreaking Live from Orchestra Hall series of free webcasts.

Since its first school concerts a century ago, and particularly since the founding of the Civic Youth Ensembles in 1970, the DSO has been a national leader in bringing the benefits of music education to students, teachers, and families in Detroit and surrounding communities. The DSO remains committed to expanding its participation in the growth and well-being of Detroit through programs like its Detroit Neighborhood Initiative—cultural events co-created with community partners and residents—and Detroit Harmony, a promise to provide an instrument and instruction to any student in the city who wants to learn. With unwavering support from the people of Detroit, the DSO actively pursues a mission to impact lives through the power of unforgettable musical experiences.