Piano virtuosi join New Horizons for March performance


Director and conductor of the New Horizons Orchestra in Las Cruces, Jorge Martinez-Rios, an associate professor at New Mexico State University, came across an idea. Having been introduced to a man who is a remarkable piano player but who chose to be a professional businessman, together they decided it would be fun for this individual to perform one movement with the orchestra.

“He proposed a movement of a Mozart concerto,” Martinez-Rios said. “Then I asked him if he knew anyone else who might be interested.”

Ultimately, he found five individuals from across the country, including one from Canada, who wanted to come to Las Cruces and play.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t we do a piano fest,’ so I named it ‘Piano Virtuosi,’” he said. “Each of them will play one movement. They are excited to be here. They’ve never been to Las Cruces.”

“They are not music professionals, but they are professional people from all over and will be just playing movements of piano and concertos like Rachmaninoff, Mozart and Beethoven,” said New Horizons member Kathryn Ray.

The concert plans have come together, and it all happens at 3 p.m., March 24 at the Atkinson Recital Hall on the NMSU campus. 

The nonprofit New Horizons Symphony was founded at NMSU in 2003. It provides opportunities for adults to either return to their musical roots or explore their artistic side for the first time. For Martinez-Rios, who stepped in when the previous director passed away in 2018, it has been the inspiration to follow through with his conducting dreams.

“I love conducting and that’s why I became a musician – because I wanted to be a conductor,” he said. “Then I became a performer, I play the viola, and loved it so much, for so many years.”

Directing and conducting came naturally for Martinez-Rios, who started getting a feeling for how it works quickly.

“We put things together, tune, listen to each other, find who has the melody, and who is accompanying,” he said.

He found a university with an online conducting course, did a lot of writing theory and reading about conducting and, thanks to the NMSU Philharmonic and New Horizons, is getting all the experience he needs to work on a doctorate.

“So now conducting is my passion number one,” he said.  “We always have a really good time – I am patient, they are patient. We try to keep a program that we know sounds good, challenges the orchestra and bring soloists to interact with the performers.”

Ray said the group’s goal is to make the music available to the community. The concerts are always free.

So, on March 24, New Horizons will present movements from five different piano concerti featuring the guest pianists David Lee, Sean Sutherland, Darren Lee, Ricker Choi and Carl Di Casoli.

David Lee works as a software engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area and enjoys playing the Pokémon theme with his 7-year-old twins on the piano and teaching them from Bartok’s Mikrokosmos.

Although Sean Sutherland currently works as a product manager in Toronto, he continues to pursue his passion for classical piano and has performed solo recitals in the United States, Canada, France, Germany and throughout the Caribbean.

Darren Lee is based in Toronto, Canada and his professional career as a CPA involves roles as an income tax and financial advisor as well as an accounting and finance instructor.   

Ricker Choi’s career is in financial risk management.  He began studying the piano at 13, after his family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong.  Having earned the ARCT diploma in piano performance at 18, Ricker enrolled in York University’s Schulich School of Business, where he earned BBA and MBA degrees.  He is also a certified chartered financial analyst and financial risk manager.

A citizen of both the USA and Italy, Carl Di Casoli studied statistics at North Carolina State University, earning both his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in statistics in 2006 and 2009, respectively. Although he currently works as a director of biostatistics at Sumitomo Pharma America in Marlborough, Massachusetts (Boston area), he finds time to indulge his passion for piano by performing recitals and entering amateur competitions.

Piano virtuosi, New Horizons Symphony, March performance, NMSU Music