Faculty

Denis Evstuhin, piano

Russian-born pianist Denis Evstuhin has earned international acclaim for his vibrant artistry, remarkable sound quality and brilliant virtuosity by audiences and critics alike. Denis has performed in major cities throughout Europe, Russia, and the USA. He has appeared on stages of the world's most prestigious venues, including Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the great Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff Halls in Moscow, the Mariinsky Theater and Philharmonic Halls in St. Petersburg, as well as Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Evstuhin appeared as a soloist with the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, San Diego Symphony, Fairbanks Symphony, and the Sioux City Symphony. Denis has earned prizes in a number of international competitions around the World. In 2010 Denis was a guest on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion.

Denis holds a B.M and M.M. from the St. Petersburg Conservatory. While in the USA, he received DMA degree in Piano Performance at the University of Minnesota (studio of A. Braginsky). Evstuhin has participated in master classes, performing for some of the most distinguished pianists of our time.

After a successful performance at The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis in July 2009, Denis was invited to organize and serve as Artistic Director of Music at the Museum, a concert series featuring a wide range of Russian classics. Recent highlights include a performance with Osmo Vanska and Erin Keefe at TMORA and 2014-2015 US tour.

In 2020-2021 Dr. Evstuhin joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota School of Music. In 2023 Denis became an Adjunct Professor of Music at Crown College in Minnesota teaching piano, music theory and music history classes.

Anton Melnichenko, piano

Russian-born pianist Anton Melnichenko has been performing on several continents since his first solo recital at the age of twelve. His performances have always garnered him both public and critical acclaim. In addition to top prizes Melnichenko has received various special audience awards on numerous international competitions.

A graduate of the prestigious Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, Anton has also received an Artist Diploma at Hamline University, as well as his Master's and Doctoral degrees in Piano Performance from the University of Minnesota, where he studied with Professor Alexander Braginsky.

Melnichenko has earned top prizes in a number of international and national competitions, including first prizes at the International Competition "Citta di Fasano" (Italy), the Shubert Club Competition (USA), International Competition The Art of 21st century (Ukraine), Gavrilin International Piano Competition (Russia), as well as the fourth prize at the V International Piano Competition in Andorra. He has also appeared on many television and radio stations in Russia, US and Europe, such as Minnesota Public Radio, Russia K Channel (Culture), Russian National Television and others, performing works by Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Shostakovich.

Besides his solo career Anton Melnichenko is an established collaborative pianist and has been working with many instrumentalists and vocalists around the world. He is also a staff collaborative pianist at Hamline University.

Ekaterina Knyazeva, piano

Pianist Ekaterina Knyazeva has appeared in major concert halls across Europe, Russia and the United States, such as The Mariinsky Theater and Philharmonic Halls in St. Petersburg, The Rachmaninoff Concert Hall in Moscow, as well as at the Laeiszhalle, Tschaikowsky-Saal and Mozart-Säle in Hamburg, Germany, among others. Knyazeva has appeared as a soloist with the St. Petersburg Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, Novgorod Philharmonic Orchestra, Taurida Symphony Orchestra, and National Symphony Orchestra of Bashkortostan. Knyazeva has participated in number of music festivals, such as Musiksommeram Zurichsee in Switzerland, Kammermusik am Hafen and Schlossfestspiele Hohenpriessnitz Machern in Germany, Music Islands, as well as Three Centuries of Art Song in Russia. In 2018 Ekaterina participated in the Weltklassik Am Clavier concert series in Zurich and served as a visiting professor at the Pianoonline Academy in Alpnahstadt, Switzerland.

Ekaterina has premiered several works by Sergey Slonimsky and Igor Vorobiev. In 2013 she was featured on CD, released by the Composer Publishing House, performing music by Sergei Slonimsky.

Irene Merz, violin & guitar

Academically trained musician, performer, and teacher, Irene Merz was born in Tbilisi, Georgia and received her Master's and Doctoral Degrees at Tbilisi Conservatory of Music. She is a Third-place winner of the 7th Annual Competition for Caucasus region musicians. While in Georgia, Irena was a member of Kutaisi Symphony Orchestra and Tbilisi Conservatory Symphony Orchestra.

Irene enjoys sharing her professional skills with students of all levels, from beginners to advanced, using a unique combination of 35 years of educational and performance experience.

Irene is also an experienced music therapist. She organized and participated in various musical programs at hospitals, orphanages, and nursing homes.

Osip Nikiforov, piano

Osip Nikiforov is a Russian pianist, who studied under the tutelage of the world-renowned pianist Yefim Bronfman at Manhattan School of Music and is a Third prize-winner of the 2016 San Antonio International Piano Competition.

Born in the city of Abakan in Siberia to a family of musicians, Osip started studying piano with his father at age 6. Since 2010 Osip Nikiforov has been residing in the United States. In 2021 Osip was a finalist in the Jinji Lake International Piano Competition in Suzhou, China, and in 2020 he was awarded First prize at the San Antonio Young Artist Tuesday Musical Competition. In 2016 he became a recipient of the Adopt a Young Artist award, given to a young classical musician in Minnesota. He is also the Second prize winner of the 2014 Music Teacher National Association Competition in Young Artist Division in Chicago.

Osip is also regularly invited to perform at concert series as well as festivals, such as the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series in Chicago, the Memorial Classical Music Series in Houston, and Mozart Festival Texas in San Antonio and the Schubert Club Courtroom Concert Series in St. Paul, among others. Besides the United States, he has given solo recitals in Spain, Israel, South Africa, Russia, and Japan.

Osip has also frequently collaborated with national and international orchestras, including the St. Petersburg State Academic Capella Symphony Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Khakass Philharmonic Orchestra, the Incarnate Word Symphony Orchestra, and Golden Valley Symphony Orchestra. Osip graduated from Shattuck St. Mary’s School in Minnesota and the University of Minnesota, where he studied piano with professor Alexander Braginsky, who was the last student of Alexander Goldenweiser. Currently, he is a Malcolm W. Perkins Teaching Fellow in the Doctor of Musical Arts program at Rice University, studying with internationally-renowned pianist Jon Kimura Parker. He has also appeared on Minnesota Public Radio, WFMT Radio, GetClassical, and Classical Connect. In the fall of 2021, Osip’s first piano solo album, Russian Elegie, was released by Orpheus Classical Label on all major digital platforms.

Osip

Stella Sokolovsky, piano

Stella Sokolovsky has begun studying piano at age 6 and was accepted to the Music Lyceum at the State Conservatory in Minsk, Belarus. At the age 11 she started performing in major cities throughout Belarus, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Great Britain, Canada and the USA, performing works by J.S. Bach, W.A. Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Medtner, Liadov, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff and others.

Stella's musical education culminated at the State Academy of Music in Minsk, Belarus. In a summer of 1994 she had participated at the Interlochen Art Camp in Michigan, taking Master's level courses of piano and organ performance. In 1998 Sokolovsky participated at master-class of the celebrated pianist Daniel Pollack. She has also earned several honorable diplomas from various International piano competitions in Europe.

Her teaching experience has begun with coaching young students at the Belarusian State Academy of Music. For several years Sokolovsky has successfully taught piano for both young and adult students at Music for everyone School and the Millennium Center for performing arts in Minnesota. In her teaching style, Stella combines essentials of both Russian and American traditions and methods of teaching.

Brian Billion, piano

Pianist Brian Billion is a top-prize winner at many national and international competitions, including 1st prize at the Lancaster International Piano Competition (2015), The 1st Catholic University of America International Piano Competition (2014), The Mu Phi Epsilon Scholarship Competition (2015), the Aberdeen Civic Orchestra Young Artists Concerto Competition (2009), and the 2nd Annual Grant Competition (2012).

Mr. Billion began studying under Dr. Ivo Klatchev in 2012 at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. as the recipient of the Archdiocesan Scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship for university based on academic excellence. Upon graduation in 2016 he received the special award from the School of Music faculty for best undergraduate instrumentalist. In 2018 Mr. Billion completed his Master’s degree in piano performance at The Juilliard School in New York, studying with Hung-Kuan Chen. Currently Mr. Billion is pursuing his Doctorate in piano with Alexander Braginsky at University of Minnesota. He is also a Theory Teaching Assistant at UMN, teaching all four theory core classes to music majors. Brian has performed at such international venues as Carnegie Hall (Weill Hall), the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, Lincoln Center’s Paul Hall and Peter J. Sharp Hall, the Cascais Cultural Center in Lisbon, Portugal, the Teatro Comunale Degli Industri in Grosseto, Italy, Mariahilferkirche in Vienna, Austria, The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, among others. He has performed as a soloist with Orquestra de Camara de Cascais e Oeiras, the Aberdeen Symphony, and the Millersville University Orchestra.

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