Vera Wilson

Founder

Vera Wilson was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After her marriage she  lived in Australia and England, and arrived in the United States in 1968, devoting the first twelve years to raising three children. Passionate about classical music and young musicians, over the course of her career Mrs. Wilson was Foreign Press Translator for The Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh and Boston symphonies and the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition, and held various positions at the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and the Curtis Institute of Music among others.

From 1983 to 1991 Vera Wilson served as Executive Director of the Astral Foundation, which provided individual grants for exceptionally gifted young musicians and dancers and became a Trustee on its Board of Directors. It was during this period that she recognized emerging musicians’ need for direction as they prepared to launch their professional careers. Mrs. Wilson is the Founder of Astral Artists which opened its doors in 1992. The careers of many of today’s celebrated musicians such as guitarist Jason Vieaux, cellist Clancy Newman, violinists Soovin Kim, Kristin Lee and Benjamin Beilman, flutist Jasmine Choi, pianists Simone Dinnerstein, Natalie Zhu and Henry Kramer, clarinetists Igor Begelman and José Franch Ballester, saxophonists Doug O’Connor and Jonathan Wintringham, harpist Bridget Kibbey, bass Eric J. Owens and soprano Angela Meade, accordionist Lidia Kaminska, string trio Time for Three and the Jasper and Rolston string quartets, had their start at Astral Artists.

Vera Wilson currently serves on the boards of The Presser Foundation, the Kingston Chamber Music Festival and the Bicentennial Committee of the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia. She is on the recommendation boards for the Avery Fisher Artist Program Career Grants and the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia Career Grants. She is a member of the Cultural Cabinet of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. She has also served on the panel of adjudicators for the Philadelphia Orchestra Albert M. Greenfield Competition and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. Earlier board appointments were with The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, Orchestra 2001 and Young Audiences of Greater Philadelphia.

Lourdes Starr-Demers

Executive Director

Lourdes Starr-Demers, a trained musician with degrees in performance and composition, joins Astral with more than 23 years of experience in the classical music world and a strong track record of supporting highly talented young musicians.  For nine years, Starr-Demers, a woman of color, held senior positions with the Curtis Institute of Music, most recently as Senior Vice President of Artistic Operations, where her work included broadening access to performances through technology and collaborations, diversifying repertoire and guest artists to include more women and people of color, and co-chairing Curtis’ Council for Inclusive Excellence, an initiative she co-founded to explore and address systemic racism in Philadelphia, the Curtis community, and the classical music industry.  Starr-Demers was also the driving force behind the Curtis Summer programs, including the highly successful Young Artist Summer Program and Sphinx Performance Academy at Curtis. She also worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra Association as both the Director of Special Events and Director of Orchestra Personnel and Operations during her 11 years there.

In her volunteer work, Starr-Demers serves organizations in both the musical and education worlds; for the past 12 years, she has sat on the board of Network for New Music, has served board roles for Montessori Schools in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, N.J., and is a member of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee of the Greater South Jersey Chorus, of which she is an active member.  Additionally, she is a sought-after speaker nationally, having presented on the topic of addressing systemic racism in a conservatory setting and on career opportunities in classical music for students of color.

Photo credit: Sue B Photography

Dan Visconti

Artistic Director

Composer Dan Visconti is updating the role of the classical musician for the 21st century. For his work, he was awarded a 2014 TED Fellowship and delivered a TED Talk for the conference’s 30th anniversary. Commissions have come from the Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, Opera Philadelphia, JACK Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, and many others, and his music has been performed in Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Walt Disney Concert Hall, London’s Barbican Theatre, and Sydney Opera House. He has held residencies at the Metropolitan Opera and the California and Arkansas symphonies, and his work has won the Rome Prize, Berlin Prize, and awards from the Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Congress, the Fromm Foundation at Harvard, the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Dan is a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and has had speaking engagements at the Clinton School of Public Service, the National Archives, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is the Director of Artistic Programming at Chicago’s Fifth House Ensemble, and works with young musicians at the Ensemble’s fresh inc festival. To learn more, visit danvisconti.com.

Stefanie Wakeman

Director of Community Partnerships

A longtime volunteer for Astral, Stefanie Wakeman now serves in the role of Astral’s Director of Community Partnerships. She brings expertise in the areas of training and education, project management, community engagement, and program evaluation. Prior to coming to Astral, she developed innovative pilot programs that support survivors of violence, individuals experiencing serious physical and mental illness, and children and families involved with child welfare and juvenile justice systems. She has provided training and facilitation services for multiple city, county, and state social service organizations, and has worked on federally funded grant projects through the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). She holds a Master of Social Work degree from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, where her focus of study was Children and Youth, with a specialization in Non-Profit Management.

Thomas Schuttenhelm

Auditions Manager & Concert & Artist Services Coordinator

Thomas Schuttenhelm is an American composer, guitarist, and scholar. His compositions have been performed in the U.S. and abroad and are praised for their embodied programs and allusions to the musical, literary, poetic, visual, and theatrical influences that resonate throughout his music. For over a decade he has been performing with soprano Sarah Armstrong and has given collaborative concerts with poet Rafael Oses. His research focuses on American and British Music and he has published three books on Sir Michael Tippett. He is also the Artistic Director at Network for New Music.

Nicholas Masters

Manager of Institutional Advancement

Nicholas Masters brings to Astral a decade of experience as a professional singer, having worked across the United States and in Europe. Personal highlights include performances in three consecutive seasons with English National Opera, being named a National Grand Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, stepping in for an ailing colleague, mid performance, in Verdi’s Don Carlos with Houston Grand Opera, and singing in performances of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the banks of Lake Como, Italy. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from McGill University, a Master of Music degree from the Yale School of Music, and an Artist Diploma from the Academy of Vocal Arts.

Gina Bixler

Office Administrator

Gina Bixler has worked with numerous Philadelphia cultural organizations throughout her career. Before joining the Astral team, she served as a project consultant with the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music. In this role she partnered with such prestigious organizations as the Mann Center for Performing Arts, Piffaro: The Renaissance Band, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, the National Museum of American Jewish History, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Barnes Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia to create exhibits demonstrating the interdisciplinarity of history and the arts. She is a certified secondary education teacher; however, she endeavors to take learning beyond the traditional classroom. This goal has set her on her current career path. After studying education, social studies, and music history as an undergraduate, she earned a Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies from La Salle University in order to assist cultural organizations share their missions beyond their traditional audiences and better connect with the general public.