Artistic Staff

Benjamin Klemme

Benjamin Klemme

Music Director, Vermont Youth Orchestra

Conductor and educator Benjamin Klemme leads an active career dedicated to engaging audiences and performers of all ages with the transforming power of orchestral music. As Music Director of the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association, he conducts the organization’s flagship ensemble—the Vermont Youth Orchestra—and provides artistic leadership and vision for orchestral and choral programs that serve over 300 students in grades 1-12 from across Vermont and neighboring states. Before coming to Vermont, Klemme served as Associate Conductor of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, Music Director and Conductor of the Quad City Symphony Youth Ensembles, Orchestra Conductor at Augsburg College (Minneapolis), and Concert Orchestra Conductor at the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies. Previously he has held conducting posts at the National Repertory and Cleveland Pops Orchestras, University of Minnesota, Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association, and MacPhail Center for Music. His guest conducting appearances include performances with the Minnesota Orchestra, Cleveland Pops Orchestra, Quad City Symphony Orchestra, National Repertory Orchestra, Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra, and University of Minnesota Opera Theatre.

Klemme earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting from the University of Minnesota, where he was a James Sample Conducting Fellow. He holds a Master of Music degree in orchestral conducting from the Cleveland Institute of Music and Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Northern Iowa. His principal conducting teachers include Mark Russell Smith, Carl Topilow, Louis Lane, Rebecca Burkhardt and Ronald Johnson.

Klemme‘s passion for and commitment to music education is displayed through his work both on and off the podium. As Director of Education and Community Engagement at the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, he connected community members throughout southeast Iowa and northwest Illinois with opportunities to hear, perform, and engage with orchestral music in traditional and innovative contexts. In New Mexico, he helped bring classical music to life for elementary and middle school students as Artistic Advisor and Outreach Concert Host for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival’s "Music In Our Schools" program, and chaired the music department at New Mexico School for the Arts, a statewide, public, boarding high school for the arts. In Ohio he co-founded the Scordatura Chamber Orchestra, a Cleveland-based ensemble designed to support classroom learning objectives in language arts, math, science, and social studies through interactive orchestral performances.

Yutaka Kono

Yutaka Kono

Conductor, Vermont Youth Philharmonia

The Artistic Director of the Burlington Chamber Orchestra, Dr. Yutaka Kono has quickly gained a high reputation as an effective leader of professional, higher education and selective youth orchestras. Dr. Kono also serves as the conductor of Vermont Youth Philharmonia and the Director of Orchestra/Associate Professor of Music at the University of Vermont. Prior to moving to Vermont, he was the Assistant Conductor of the Kingsville Symphony Orchestra (TX). Dr. Kono previously taught at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, The University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and The University of Texas at Austin. He has been recognized as a finalist for The American Prize for Orchestral Conducting College/University Division (2014), Professional Division with BCO (2015), and Youth Division with VYP (2016). He has studied conducting with Jerry Junkin, Mark Kelly, Eugene Dowdy, Peter Bay and Silas Huff. Dr. Kono was selected to attend the Summer Conductors Institute at the Eastman School of Music where he studied with Maestro Neil Varon and conducted the Rochester Philharmonic.

As a composer and arranger, Dr. Kono’s composition “Mamma at the Gate” for Dancers and Electronics earned Bronze Medal of the Global Music Award. His music and arrangements have been performed in multiple countries and are published by Tuba-Euphonium Press, Cimarron Press, SMP Press, and Linus Publications. He studied composition with Alex Lubet, Stephan Paulus, and Donald Grantham, and orchestration with the Pulitzer winner Dominic Argento, Judith Lang Zeimont, and Donald Wilson.

A highly active performer on tuba, Dr. Kono has been seen across the genre. As a soloist, he is the winner of the concerto competition held at the University of Minnesota and soloed with many orchestras and bands in Vermont, Ohio, Minnesota, Texas, and Tokyo. He was the principal tubist of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra (TX), and his orchestral credits include the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Corpus Christi Symphony Orchestra, Kingsville Symphony Orchestra (TX), San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, Austin Symphony Orchestra, and many others. His diverse interest has led him to perform with non-classical ensembles ranging from Jazz, Dixieland to Rock and Klezmer. He studied the tuba with Ivan Hammond, Ross Tolbert, Steven Bryant, Robert Lindahl, Daniel Perantoni, Harvey Phillips, Donald Little, David Zerkel, David Saygers, Paul Hunt, and Eichi Inagawa. He currently performs with a local tuba-euphonium quartet, MetalWerx.

Internationally recognized as a pedagogue and a strong advocate of music education, Dr. Kono has taught hundreds of private students and provided countless clinics and masterclasses. His students have received awards in regional, national and international competitions. He received Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and Masters and Bachelors from University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Bowling Green State University respectively.

Asiat (Ace) Ali

Asiat (Ace) Ali

Conductor, Vermont Youth Strings

Asiat Ali, a 1988 graduate of the VYO, is the String Instructor for the Essex Junction Public Schools where he teaches beginning through middle school strings and conducts the Essex High School Orchestra. A member of the Vermont Youth Orchestra Assocation’s artistic staff, he currently directs the Vermont Youth Strings, and he is the former director of the beginning string ensemble Presto. He also served as interim conductor of the Vermont Youth Sinfonia. He has guest conducted district string orchestras in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York. In addition he teaches a private studio of violin and viola students. As a violinist, Asiat is a member of the Burlington Chamber Orchestra and has performed with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra, the Vermont Philharmonic Orchestra, the University of Vermont Orchestra and the Burlington Choral Society. Asiat began his violin instruction in the third grade with Melissa Brown in the same school system where he now teaches. At the University of Vermont, he earned his Violin Performance Degree as a student of Thomas and Evelyn Read. He then continued his violin studies for two years with Phillipe Quesnel at the Conservatoire National de Region in Rouen, France.

Kathleen Kono

Kathleen Kono

Conductor, Presto & Prelude!

Kathleen Kono is a music educator both in private violin and violas lessons and group orchestra classes. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Kathleen attended Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music receiving her Bachelor of Music degree then attending The University of Texas at Austin graduating with a Masters of Music degree. She has been the Director of Orchestras at Deerpark Middle School in Round Rock, Texas where she was named Teacher of the Year. Kathleen also taught at Hamlin Middle School and Ray High School in Corpus Christi, Texas where she was also named Teacher of the Year for the Ray High School Campus and was a Semi-Finalist for Teacher of the Year in the Corpus Christi School District.

In 2011, Kathleen and her family relocated to Burlington, Vermont where Kathleen conducts the Presto and Prelude! Orchestras at the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association. She also teaches strings to all 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at the Integrated Arts Academy in Burlington, holds a private Suzuki violin and viola studio and was just named Orchestra Director at Burlington High School. Besides teaching, Kathleen performs with the Burlington Chamber Orchestra where she served on the Musician’s Committee. She also is an active parent in the Vermont Suzuki Violin Program and a parent of two VYOA musicians.

Caleb Pillsbury

Caleb Pillsbury

Conductor, Vermont Youth Chorus

Caleb Pillsbury is the choral director at Mount Mansfield Union High School in Jericho, Vermont where he conducts four choirs and advises on three student run a cappella ensembles. Caleb also teaches the guitar, piano and the AP Music Theory curriculums. After eleven years teaching Caleb has developed a choral program and music department regarded for its high amount of student participation and musical excellence. Under his direction the choirs perform regularly at Carnegie Hall in New York City, as well as in exchange concerts and workshops in Philadelphia and Princeton, New Jersey. Maintaining a rigorous performance schedule, the choral program focuses students on the development of musicianship and vocal technique.

Caleb holds an undergraduate degree in Choral Music Education from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in Choral Conducting from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. While in Cardiff, Caleb served as the American dialect coach for the Welsh National Youth Opera 2013 production of Paul Bunyon by Benjamin Britten, which received the Royal Philharmonic Society Opera and Musical Theater Award. He also performed with the BBC National Chorus of Wales, the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, and the London Symphony Chorus. In 2010 Caleb was named the University of Vermont Outstanding Educator of the Year for the Chittenden East Supervisory Union.

Billy Ray Poli

Billy Ray Poli

Conductor, Vermont Youth Chorale

Billy Ray is currently the Choral/Vocal director at Burlington High School. He conducts the Concert Chorus, Senior Chorus and Vermont Voices, Burlington High School’s select auditioned group. He also teaches Intro level Piano,Theory and AP Music Theory. Billy Ray graduated from the University of Rhode Island as a double major in both vocal performance and music education. During his time in Rhode Island he competed both at the state, and regional level, and performed as a guest performer in many of Opera Providence’s productions. Billy Ray moved to Vermont in summer of 2013 and began his teaching career at Chelsea Public School, where he taught K-12 Music, created and fostered an award winning after school theater program, and also implemented an in school private lesson program under the Steve Ibey Scholarship fund. Since being in Vermont he has been the music director for many different theater companies including; Chandler Music Hall’s Fourth of July Musical, Flynn Teen Summer Musicals, Burlington High School Musicals, South Royalton Players and is looking forward to conducting his first show for the Stowe Theatre Guild in the summer of 2017. He also sits on the board of ACDA as the Chair for Jazz and Show Choirs, and was just named District III Chair. Billy Ray is a frequent adjudicator, clinician, voice teacher and guest conductor at many choral festival in and around the state of Vermont.

Samuel Whitesell

Samuel Whitesell

Accompanist, Vermont Youth Chorus

Classical and jazz pianist Samuel Whitesell holds degrees in piano performance from the Crane School of music at SUNY Potsdam where he studied with Russian pianist Eugenia Tsarov. Samuel collaborates with some of Vermont’s finest classical and jazz musicians in concerts and performances around the state, serves on the musical staff at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, accompanies the Vermont Youth Chorus at the Elley-Long Music Center under the direction of Caleb Pillsbury, and maintains a private teaching studio in Burlington. To learn more about Samuel visit

Administrative Staff

Rosina Cannizzaro

Executive Director
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Brea Landberg

Office Manager
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Rachel Hershy

Development & Marketing Manager
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Art DeQuasie

Director of Operations
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Mia Fritze

Operations Assistant
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Brian Johnson

Facilities Manager
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