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The Piedmont Chamber Orchestra gave its debut performance in July, 2017.  The concept was created to address the need for a local ensemble to challenge the skill and imagination of the most outstanding Spartanburg string students.  Violinist Mary Irwin, along with her colleagues Robin Els, Helen Tipton, and Kathy Foster, agreed that the best way to inspire students is to play alongside them in concert, to give them a better understanding of professional standards.  Since that time, the PCO has given 3 concerts each year, where every student is seated with an area professional and the resulting performances have thrilled both musicians and audiences alike.


Currently, the PCO has evolved to include a few woodwind and brass players, as well as some of the students who are now music majors in college; and with the added leadership of conductor John Concklin, more sophisticated and difficult music can be programmed.  Every concert always features music chosen from the standard classical repertoire that is played by professional ensembles; and opportunities are given to the students to perform as soloists with the orchestra as well.  The students who are invited to play with the PCO are chosen by recommendation from their private teachers, by their school orchestra directors, and also now by the newly formed Spartanburg Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.   

All Piedmont Chamber Orchestra concerts are given free of charge to the public, currently in the sanctuary of Southside Baptist Church in Spartanburg.  The students likewise are not charged a fee to participate.  The PCO is funded by enthusiastic parents and teachers, and  other generous Spartanburg music patrons.  At this time, the Piedmont Chamber Orchestra has a fund with the Spartanburg County Foundation, where tax-deductible contributions can be made to the Spartanburg County Foundation, Piedmont Chamber Orchestra Fund #2107.  

Mary C. Irwin
Founder and Director
John Young Shik Concklin

Violinist Mary Irwin is a native of Spartanburg, and comes from a long family heritage of amateur musicians.  She began piano lessons with her aunt Alice Irwin at age 4, and then took up her grandfather's violin at age 10.  She was invited to play in the (then) Spartanburg Symphony at age 15; before leaving Spartanburg, Mary had performed as both soloist and orchestra member of the Spartanburg Symphony, the Brevard Music Center Orchestra, the SC All-State Orchestra of 1976, and the Spoleto Festival 1980.   Mary continued to win state and regional competitions throughout her training years, and performed as soloist and concertmaster.  She earned a BMus with Distinction in Performance from Converse College, and a MMus in Performance from Northwestern University, and worked with Jerrie Lucktenberg, James Ceasar, Myron Kartman, Marge Pardee and Joseph Gingold.   She played professionally with the Wichita Symphony and the Knoxville Symphony before winning a full-time position with the Columbus Symphony in Ohio in 1986.  After a 30-year career as a symphony violinist, chamber musician, and soloist, with performances in Europe, Asia, and across the United States, Mary C. Irwin returned to her hometown of Spartanburg in 2011 to teach and perform in the upstate area.  She is currently the concertmaster of the Hendersonville Symphony, and plays with the Spartanburg Philharmonic, the Brevard Philharmonic and occasionally the Greenville Symphony.  In addition, Mary loves teaching, and in the last 20 years, has helped many students reach professional levels of skill; she currently has a studio of 20 students.   One of her students, Jeffrey Myers, is now first violinist of the internationally acclaimed Calidore String Quartet, and a number of her students now have professional music careers.   Since 1998, Mary has served as concertmaster and orchestral strings coordinator for the Masterworks Festival, an international summer music program created to mentor young Christian musicians, which is currently being held at Converse College.

Many of the competition and performance opportunities that Mary enjoyed as a high school student in Spartanburg have been eliminated over the years, and the ways to challenge gifted students have become more limited; in response, Mary joined with her colleagues in the summer of 2017 to create what is now the Piedmont Chamber Orchestra.  Just as old mentors Henry Janiec, Jerry Lucktenberg and Hans Schmettau raised her skills with their own higher expectations, Mary hopes to challenge today's students with the same professional standards, and pass on to them the joy and excitement of playing great classical music.

Yuriy Bekker

Yuriy Bekker, critically acclaimed violinist and conductor, has been a mainstay of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in Charleston, SC for 15 years.  He is incoming CSO Artistic Director for the 2022-23 season, after being named Principal Pops Conductor in 2016.  Bekker previously served as the orchestra's Acting Artistic Director from 2010-2014, playing a major role in the orchestra's successful resurgence.

Bekker is an adjunct faculty member of the College of Charleston School of the Arts as a violin professor and as conductor of the school orchestra.  He has been Music Director of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival's Spotlight Chamber Music Series, and is co-founder of the Charleston Chamber Music Intensive.  During the summer, he also serves on the faculty of the Gingold Chamber Music Festival in Miami, FL.

In 2011, Bekker was given the Outstanding Artistic Achievement  award from the city of Charleston to honor his cultural contributions to the community.

Bekker has performed worldwide as a celebrated guest concertmaster, avid chamber musician, and critically acclaimed soloist.  Bekker has held the position of concertmaster for the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the AIMS Festival in Graz, Austria.  He has also held positions with the Houston Symphony and the Houston Grand Opera and Ballet Orchestras.

In addition to performing over a dozen concertos with the CSO, Bekker has performed as guest concertmaster with the Vancouver Symphony, Ulster Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, and Kansas City Symphony.  He has also performed in many notable festivals and venues including European Music Festival in Stuttgart, Germany; Pacific Music Festival in Japan; Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC; Aspen Music Festival; the Kennedy Center; Chicago Chamber Music Society; and in other cities spanning the US and around the world.

Bekker earned a Graduate Performance Diploma from the Peabody Conservatory under the tutelage of Herbert Greenberg.  He also holds Bachelor's and Master's degree from the Indiana University School of Music, where he studied violin with Nelli Shkolnikova and Ilya Kaler.  Bekker has also studied conducting with Christopher Wilkins, David Zinman, Imre Pallo, and David Effron.  He debut CD, Twentieth Century Duos, received worldwide acclaim and a nomination for the International Classical Music Awards.

Born in Minsk, Belarus, Bekker is now a US citizen, proud husband to his wife, Jenny, and father to their children Nathaniel and Charlotte.  

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John Young Shik Concklin is praised for his clear beat, strong sense of rhythm, inviting gravitas, and innovative mind. At age four, he began his musical training with the aim of becoming a conductor, receiving his first opportunity to lead an orchestra as a young teenager.

John has been invited to compete internationally at the Almaty Conducting Competition, the Nino Rota Conducting Competition, and the only American at the Città di Breschia Conducting Competition. He continues as Conductor with the Atlanta Music Project, and Chamber Orchestras in addition to serving as a guest instructor at Furman University. In addition, John will continue his presence in education, building on his relationship with the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University and statewide clinics.

John recently completed a one-year term as Associate Professor of Conducting at Vanderbilt University where he conducted the orchestra and taught conducting. While there, he was a frequent cover conductor with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.  John has served as Music Director of the Hendersonville Symphony Youth Orchestra, Associate Conductor of the Georgia Symphony Orchestra, Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, and has held teaching positions at Clemson University and Converse College. In addition, John and his wife, Lauren Maxwell, co-founded Mozart for a Cause, an annual benefit concert.

John is a frequent adjudicator, receiving invitations from institutions such as the Oberlin Conservatory, Kent State University, Furman University, South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, and the Indiana All-State Festival. In addition, he has continued his project from the Yale School of Music entitled "Music and Art" through which students utilize music and art as catalysts for creative writing.

John was trained at Vanderbilt University, Yale University, and the Cleveland Institute of Music. His mentors include David Zinman, Carl Topilow, Shinik Hahm, and Robin Fountain. In addition, he received further training from Lorin Maazel and Michael Tilson-Thomas, and had the great fortune to conduct members of the Berlin Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra. He has been a fellowship conductor at the Aspen Music Festival, a teaching assistant at the Brevard Music Center, and a finalist at the New World Symphony and Debut Orchestras.

An Active violist, John holds a tenured chair in the Greenville Symphony Orchestra and appears frequently in chamber ensembles.

James Fellenbaum

For our February and June programs, the PCO is excited to introduce to Spartanburg audiences a conductor whom many of our professional musicians already know and love. Maestro James Fellenbaum is the artistic director of the Brevard Philharmonic and orchestra director for the University of Tennessee. Jim’s friendly and easy style fits perfectly with the mission of the PCO.

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