Colburn School Announces 2024 Fortissima Fellows

Eight high-school-age women of color will participate in an artistic and leadership development program to inspire, equip, and empower them for a future in classical music
Online Leadership Curriculum and Mentorship: April – September 2024
Colburn Campus Intensive: May 19 – May 25, 2024
Fortissima in Concert: May 24 at 7pm in Thayer Hall

(Wednesday, May 15, 2024, Los Angeles) – The Colburn School, a renowned performing arts school based in Los Angeles, today announced the 2024 cohort of its Fortissima program. Housed under Colburn’s Center for Innovation and Community Impact, Fortissima is an artistic and leadership development program for female-identifying high school-age participants from underrepresented minorities in classical music or who have a socioeconomic disadvantage. Selected participants demonstrate excellence on an orchestral instrument and have an interest in pursuing a career in music.

Fortissima’s innovative leadership curriculum, paired with rigorous artistic development and one-on-one mentorship, is designed to inspire, equip, and empower the Fellows to pursue professional training and careers in the classical music field. Now a national model, Fortissima is a six-month experience, April – September 2024, for 8 young women that will consist of two components: an online leadership curriculum with one-on-one mentorship and a week-long residential intensive on the Colburn campus, May 19 – May 25, 2024. All participants receive full scholarships which cover tuition as well as room and board while on campus.

The curriculum and mentorship are tailored to participants’ unique perspectives and provide specialized approaches to both personal and professional development. During their time on campus, these newly acquired skills will be put into practice in a deeply engaging residency that provides opportunities to explore all facets of artistry, including performance, the conservatory experience, and career development.

As a capstone to their on-campus intensive, the Fortissima Fellows will perform a program on Friday, May 24 featuring works by female-identifying and BIPOC composers curated by Jannina Norpoth, Fortissima Music Director and member of PUBLIQuartet. The concert is free, no tickets required, and will be livestreamed at

The 2024 Fortissima Fellows are:

Felicia Adizue, 17-year-old violinist from Knightdale, NC.

Felicia identifies as Nigerian/Taiwanese American. She currently attends the University of North Carolina School of the Arts High School. In 2023, she attended the Brevard Summer Institute and was a part of the El-Sistema USA National Symposium Youth Ambassador Cohort.

Kai Isoke Ali-Landing, 17-year-old violinist from Melbourne, FL.

Kai Isoke identifies as African American and is homeschooled. In 2023, she attended the Sphinx Performance Academy and the Heifetz International Music Institute.

Ryannah Blackman, 18-year-old violinist from Washington Township, NJ.

Ryannah identifies as Black and is a student at Camden County Technical Schools. She is a current member of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra and participated in the Sphinx Performance Academy and the NJ All-State Orchestra in 2023.

Merilyn Delgado Gameros, 16-year-old tuba player from La Puente, CA.

Merilyn identifies and Hispanic/Latina and is a student at the California School of the Arts. She is a Herbert Zipper Scholar at the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts and plays in the Colburn Concert Band, Wind Ensemble, and Chamber Ensemble.

Gabrielle Diaz-Alcantara, 17-year-old violinist from Stamford, CT.

Gabrielle identifies as Hispanic and is a student at Hackley School. She is currently in the Manhattan School of Music Precollege Program and recently attended the Boston University Tanglewood Institute and Sphinx Performance Academy.

Kendall Gonzales, 16-year-old cellist from Greensboro, NC.

Kendall identifies as Afro-Latina and attends the Manhattan School of Music Precollege Program. She attended the National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Institute in 2023 and recently participated in NPR’s 2024 From the Top, Daily Joy.

Tess Reed, 17-year-old violinist from Manvel, TX.

Tess identifies as African American and is a student at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She is the current concertmaster for the Kinder HSPVA Symphony Orchestra, recently served as  Stage Manager for Kinder HSPVA’s production of The Wiz and has been a member of the National Honor Society since 2022.

Abigail Regua, 18-year-old violinist from Idyllwild, CA.

Abigail identifies as African/Asian American and is a student at the Idyllwild Arts Academy. In 2023, she attended the Sphinx Performance Academy, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Young Artists program, and is a Sphinx 2023 MPower Artist.

Fortissima program overview:

  • Online Leadership Curriculum and Mentorship

From April 2024 to September 2024, participants will attend monthly meetings with a distinguished mentor and receive bi-monthly leadership and career development training sessions.

  • Colburn Campus Intensive

Participants will convene for a week-long residential intensive on the Colburn School campus from May 19 – May 25, 2024. Throughout the week, students will experience conservatory life first-hand, including trial lessons with Colburn faculty, Conservatory class observations, and access to Colburn facilities. Students will have the opportunity to explore the arts in Los Angeles by attending concerts on the Grand Avenue cultural corridor in Downtown Los Angeles and will learn from local arts leaders spearheading innovation in the field. Panels and workshops on topics such as navigating the world of classical music as a woman or a woman of color, wellness, self-care, personal development, conservatory audition and admissions processes, presentation skills, professional materials, and career development strategies will also be attended by students. Additionally, they will receive artistic development opportunities by learning and performing works by BIPOC, women, and living composers; chamber music coaching from Music Director Jannina Norpoth as well as Colburn School and visiting faculty; and give a culminating performance in Colburn School’s Thayer Hall. At the conclusion of the program, students will gain access to ongoing alumni programming.

Fortissima began as a local pilot program in 2017 and featured a cohort of six young women from Los Angeles. Those young women are now pursuing studies in music and other disciplines at schools such as Oberlin, Stanford, and UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. Findings from the pilot program informed the new model which will expand the program to recruit nationally and serve more students each year.

Fortissima Program Leadership

  • Jannina Norpoth – music director

Fortissima Mentors

  • Karla Donehew Perez – violinist, co-founder of the Catalyst Quartet
  • Lady Jess – violinist, session musician and soloing member of Beyoncé’s band
  • Chanell Crichlow – composer and multi-instrumentalist, founder of PitchBlak Brass Band
  • Titilayo Ayangade – cellist, member of Duo Kayo

Full Bios for Leadership and Mentors available here

The national Fortissima program is made possible through the generous support of The Tippet Rise Fund of the Sidney E. Frank Foundation, Visionary Women, Raulee Marcus, Beverly Ryder, and the many donors who support our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives at the Colburn School.

About the Colburn School

A performing arts institution located in the heart of Los Angeles, the Colburn School trains students from beginners to those about to embark on professional careers. The academic units of the School provide a complete spectrum of music and dance education united by a single philosophy: that all who desire to study music or dance should have access to top-level instruction.

  • The diploma- and degree-granting Conservatory of Music is distinguished by a unique all-scholarship model, renowned faculty, and outstanding performance opportunities. It prepares the very highest level of collegiate musicians for professional careers.
  • The Music Academy is a highly selective training program for gifted young pre-collegiate musicians, designed to prepare students for conservatory study and performing careers at the highest levels of achievement. This residential program balances performance, musical instruction, and academics.
  • The Community School of Performing Arts welcomes students of all ages, from seven months old to adults. It offers over 120 classes each year in orchestral instruments, piano, guitar, voice, jazz, music theory, drama, and ensembles including orchestra, choir, and chamber music.
  • The Trudl Zipper Dance Institute develops performers of all levels, from aspiring professionals in the Dance Academy to beginners starting in Youth Dance. Students of all levels receive training in ballet, tap, and modern genres as part of a comprehensive dance education.
  • Created to serve all units of the School, the Center for Innovation and Community Impact empowers the musical and dance leaders of tomorrow by nurturing students’ passion and ability to serve their communities, preparing them for sustainable careers, and embracing the development of new ideas. The Center embodies Colburn’s commitment to developing young artists with the curiosity, skills, and commitment to make a difference in their field.

Each year, more than 2,000 students from around the world come to Colburn to benefit from the renowned faculty, exceptional facilities, and focus on excellence that unites the community.

The Colburn School recently broke ground on the Frank Gehry-designed Colburn Center, a multi-faceted campus expansion of the Colburn School. Located across the street from the School’s existing campus at the intersection of Olive and Second Streets, the Colburn Center will enable the School to expand its mission of presenting programs for the public. Gehry’s design includes a 1,000-seat in-the-round concert hall named Terri and Jerry Kohl Hall, five professional-sized dance studios including a 100-seat studio theater, and gardens that bring fresh air and green spaces to the downtown landscape.

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Lisa Bellamore

Jennifer Kallend