Victoria Gau, Music Director
Lauded by critics for her “strong sense of style and drama” (The Washington Post) and her “enthusiastic and perceptive conducting”, conductor Victoria Gau brings a wide range of musical experience and expertise to her work. In addition to her role as Music Director of Cantate, she is in her 22nd season as Artistic Director and Conductor of the Capital City Symphony (DC). She was Co-founder and Artistic Director of the Takoma Ensemble (MD), and recently completed a 9-year tenure as Associate Conductor and Director of Education for the National Philharmonic (MD). Orchestral guest conducting includes the Alexandria (VA) Symphony, Akron (OH) Symphony, the Friday Morning Music Club Orchestra, and the Kennedy Center Messiah Sing-Along. She is the former Conductor and Music Director of the Richmond Philharmonic Orchestra in Richmond, VA.
As the National Philharmonic’s Associate Conductor, Gau was involved in preparation of the 150-voice National Philharmonic Chorale for approximately six concerts per season and served as Co-Director of the 30-voice National Philharmonic Singers and Director and Co-Conductor of the National Philharmonic Summer Choral Institutes. During her tenure at National Philharmonic, she prepared and conducted the chorale and orchestra in highly successful performances of works ranging from Bach’s St. John Passion and Mozart’s Requiem to Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky and Lutoslawski’s Trois Poèmes d’Henri Michaux. In 2017, she launched the Capital City Singers, an occasional chorus for the Capital City Symphony. Gau has also guest conducted such choruses as The Metropolitan Chorus, Capitol Hill Chorale, and the Congressional Chorus.
Known as a strong advocate for American composers and for fostering ongoing expression in music, Ms. Gau has conducted premieres of works by Jorge Martin, Charlie Barnett, Scott Pender, Joel Friedman, and Alistair Coleman. Most recent world premieres include Beside the Golden Door by Kim Allen and Kathryn Kluge; a new version of Illuminismo, a concerto for percussion and saxophone by Andrian Pertout; and in spring 2019, the world premiere of Scott Pender’s Oedipus: Suite for Large Orchestra.
Maestra Gau is well-known in the Washington DC area for her work as an opera conductor. She has served as Artistic Director and Music Director/Conductor of the Other Opera Company in Bethesda, Maryland, which she co-founded in 1992. She has also served as music director for such Washington area companies as The Washington Savoyards, Victorian Lyric Opera Company, Annapolis Opera Musicales, the Eldbrook Opera Ensemble, and IN Series. Ms. Gau has served on the opera faculty at George Mason University and worked as a vocal coach privately and in the Crittenden Opera Studio. She has toured with Odyssey Opera Theatre and the Baltimore Opera Company, performing educational outreach in schools throughout the state of Maryland.
Gau is in demand as a conductor and string educator at youth orchestra festivals from coast to coast. She was Director of the National Philharmonic’s Summer String Institutes and continues to conduct the Junior Institute Orchestra. She is the former conductor of the Young Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, an elite group of string players from the DC Youth Orchestra Program, as well as the Akron Youth Symphony, and has conducted youth orchestra festivals in Virginia, Ohio, and New York. Recently Gau has been seen conducting Side-by Side events with DC-area youth orchestras and the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, the SOGO Conservatory Orchestra (Olympia, WA), the Vermont All-State Orchestra Festival, and the Maryland (2018) Senior All-State Orchestra.
Known for her ability to connect with audiences both on and off the stage, Ms. Gau is also a popular lecturer on music. She gave pre-concert lectures before all National Philharmonic performances, where she tripled the size of the lecture audience in her first three years. She has been on the faculty of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of Johns Hopkins University and has been a guest lecturer for the Alexandria Symphony. Ms. Gau began leading classes for the Monday Morning Music Club in Alexandria in January 2019.
Gau holds degrees in Viola Performance and Conducting from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she won the Phi Kappa Lambda Prize for Musicianship.
Andrew Earle Simpson, Keyboard Artist, Cantate Chamber Singers
Andrew Earle Simpson, Cantate Chamber Singers’ keyboard artist since 2007, is ordinary (full) professor and founder/director of the Master of Music, Stage Music Emphasis Composition program at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art at The Catholic University of America and a composer whose most recent projects reflect an interest in theatrical music and humanistic subjects.
Simpson’s chamber, opera, choral, vocal, and orchestral music have been performed across the United States and abroad. An active composer and performer of new scores for silent film, he is the House Film Accompanist for the Library of Congress Mount Pony Theater in Culpeper, Va., and performs frequently at the National Gallery of Art. Simpson also created and currently directs the Master of Music in Composition, Stage Music Emphasis program at Catholic University, an innovative program that teaches composers to write for the stage.
Simpson is the co-founder of the Snark Ensemble, an instrumental group devoted to creating and performing new scores for silent film whose music appears alongside that of Cantate Chamber Singers on the CD of Maurice Saylor’s The Hunting of the Snark. A Crown of Stars, Simpson’s visionary wedding oratorio commissioned by Cantate during his composing residency with the chorus, was recently released on the Albany Records label.
Jeff Kempskie, Assistant Conductor, Cantate Concert Choir
Jeff Kempskie is active in the Washington, D.C., area as a church musician, choral conductor, accompanist, educator, and singer. He has served as Director of Music and organist at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill since the fall of 2010, where he directs the Chancel Choir and manages all other aspects of the music program. Kempskie has been on the faculty of The George Washington University for nearly seven years, acting primarily as a piano accompanist and assistant conductor for the University Singers and Women’s Ensemble. He is currently the Interim Director of Choral Activities. He was Associate Director of the Reston Chorale and Director of its chamber group Camerata from 2019 to 2021. He has served as assistant conductor for the Cantate Concert Choir since the fall of 2021. As a singer, Kempskie regularly substitutes at the Washington National Cathedral and has sung at St. Paul’s K Street and with the early music ensemble Chantry. He sang with the Cantate Chamber Singers for eight seasons.
Prior to moving to Washington, D.C., Kempskie taught choral music at the Eaglebrook School and Quabbin Regional Middle/High School while serving as organist or director of music at a variety of churches of different denominations—Unitarian Universalist, Catholic, Episcopal, and Presbyterian—in Massachusetts and New York. He has been piano and organ accompanist for choirs at the Eastman School of Music, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In addition, he has music-directed or played keyboard for nearly 60 musical theater productions.
Kempskie received his Bachelor’s degree in Music Education and a Master’s degree in Choral Conducting from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, studying conducting with Dr. E. Wayne Abercrombie. He also earned a Master’s degree in Organ Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Dr. William Porter.
Carter Sligh, Keyboard Artist, Cantate Concert Choir
Collaborative pianist and singer Carter Sligh is an active performer in the Washington, D.C., area. He has worked as a collaborator with solo musicians of all stripes, and with local ensembles like the Choral Arts Society of Washington and CASW Chamber Singers. He is a proud graduate of Oberlin College, where he majored in theater with a concentration in music directing while working as an accompanist in the voice department of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Carter is also an active professional choral singer himself, being a member of the professional choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and singing with numerous local professional choral ensembles such as the Washington National Cathedral Choir, Cathedra, the Washington Bach Consort, and Chantry. He holds a Master’s in Ensemble Singing from the University of York (UK), where he was a Choral Scholar at York Minster. Carter is beyond thrilled to fill the role of Keyboard Artist for the new Cantate Concert Choir.
Gisèle Becker, Music Director Emerita
Gisèle Becker is one of the Washington area’s leading choral conductors. Her vision of musical excellence and her commitment to imaginative programming, including commissions and premiere performances of new choral works, have earned for her the highest admiration and respect from her professional colleagues and audiences alike. The Washington Post says Becker “has molded her group into a well-balanced and responsive ensemble … [presenting] focused, intelligent music-making.” Anne Midgette notes “[t]here is a lot of magic to be found…in the innovative programming of Cantate Chamber Singers.” The Post called her 2003 performance of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor “a version as transfixing as it was bold … riveting in its fresh, impassioned and personal vision.” Following Becker’s final performance with Cantate in 2019, the Washington Classical Review lauded her “sensitivity and control” and observed that “[t]he crowd reacted with boisterous applause, recalling Becker to the stage four times.”
Becker was the music director of Cantate Chamber Singers from 1994 to 2019. She served as director of choral activities at The George Washington University, where she conducted the University Singers and Chamber Choir. From 2006 to 2008 she was a conducting professor at The Catholic University of America, where she also conducted the Women’s Chorus.
Becker’s extensive experience in choral preparation has included the Folger Consort’s production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Handel’s Ode to St. Cecilia. She was chorus master for the Cathedral Choral Society for 10 years, preparing Hindemith’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d for guest conductor Robert Shaw and Haydn’s The Creation for Leonard Slatkin. She also sang with and served as assistant conductor of the Washington Bach Consort for 27 years, preparing the group for its performances of Handel’s Messiah with conductor Robert King, Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 with Harry Christophers, and Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 4 and Sofia Gubaidulina’s The Canticle of the Sun with the National Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin conducting. Becker also was a member and assistant conductor of the Oratorio Society, now the Washington Chorus, for 17 years.
Becker earned her bachelor of music degree from The Catholic University of America and master of music degree from George Mason University, and recently did additional graduate work at the University of Maryland. She has also served on the faculties of Trinity College in Washington and the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in Winchester, Va. She volunteers with Encore Creativity, a choral program for singing enthusiasts over the age of 55.