The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra has begun a new era under Music Director Stéphane Denève, and he’s already started to shape his legacy in St. Louis. During his Music Director Designate season in 2018/2019, Denève made six musician appointments to the string section of the orchestra, infusing the orchestra with new talent that comes from Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, as well as some of the nation’s top music schools.
The viola section adds three new members: Michael Casimir, Andrew Francois, and Leonid Plashinov-Johnson. Jennifer Humphreys joins the cello section. Two new additions join the doubles basses: Aleck Belcher and Brendan Fitzgerald.
All six began their positions with the SLSO on September 1. Here’s more about the newest musicians, the first in the SLSO’s new era:
Michael Casimir – viola
Michael Casimir returns to St. Louis as full-time member of the SLSO after holding a one-year position with the orchestra in 2018/2019. He’s no stranger to performing with the world’s best orchestras, performing regularly with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra while still a student, as well as guesting as Principal and Co-Principal Viola of the London Philharmonic. His musical interests are varied: he is the newest member of The 442s, a genre-busting St. Louis music ensemble; he recorded for the “Lion King” (2019) soundtrack; and he’s composed the music for a mobile game.
Andrew Francois – viola
Andrew Francois is returning to his Midwest roots as a member of the SLSO’s viola section. Originally from Kankakee, Illinois, he joins the orchestra after being named to the inaugural class of fellows with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Resident Fellows program. His musical pursuits have taken him as far as Europe and Alaska, the latter as an artist faculty member with the Anchorage Chamber Music Festival. Outside of the orchestra, find him on the tennis court or practicing yoga.
Leonid Plashinov-Johnson – viola
Although a recent graduate of the New England Conservatory, Leonid Plashinov-Johnson has years of professional-level experience as a laureate of multiple competitions. His recent engagements have included tours across Europe and Asia, as well as concerts with Jacob Collier, the Parker and Verona quartets, and the Covent Garden Soloists Ensemble. He started on the violin at age three, and after switching to viola studied with the principal violist of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Andriy Viytovych, until moving to the United States.
Jennifer Humphreys – cello
Jennifer Humphreys brings a wealth of orchestral experience to the SLSO, previously holding positions with orchestras in Dallas, Atlanta, and Charlotte. Also a product of the Midwest, she began taking cello lessons at the age of six in Owensboro, Kentucky, after seeing Yo-Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. In the summers, find her out West, performing at the Grand Teton Music Festival (Jackson Hole, Wyoming) and Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music (Santa Cruz, California). In addition to teaching and performing chamber music, she enjoys cycling, cooking, gardening and yoga.
Aleck Belcher – double bass
A recent graduate of Indiana University, Aleck Belcher brings more Midwest flavor to the SLSO. Recently, he performed with orchestras at the Pacific Music Festival throughout Japan and at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. He has also performed as a substitute bassist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, his hometown orchestra. In St. Louis, he looks forward to promoting music education through the SLSO’s community and education programs.
Brendan Fitzgerald – double bass
Brendan Fitzgerald began his musical studies on piano and trumpet, ultimately focusing on bass beginning in eighth grade. The San Diego native played in multiple punk, metal, and acoustic folk bands before deciding to devote himself more fully to the study of orchestral literature. A graduate of Northwestern University, he comes to the SLSO after two seasons with the Seattle Symphony. He is excited to begin work with Stepháne Denève and the rest of his SLSO colleagues, as well as enjoy the finest (his words, but we agree!) barbecue in the country.
See these musicians during the 2019/2020 season. To see a listing of concerts, head here.