Colburn School Announces First National Cohort of Fortissima Fellows

(Tuesday, June 22, 2021, Los Angeles) – The Colburn School, a renowned performing arts school based in Los Angeles, today announced the first national cohort of its recently expanded Fortissima program. Housed under Colburn’s Center for Innovation and Community Impact, Fortissima is an artistic and leadership development program for high school age young women from underrepresented minorities in classical music who demonstrate excellence on an orchestral instrument and have an interest in pursuing a career in music.

The 2021 Fortissima Fellows are:

Gabriela Salvador Riera, 14-year-old violinist from Wilmington, Delaware
Gabriela identifies as Latina and has previously participated in PMAY (Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth), Delaware Youth Orchestra, Settlement Music School Ensembles, and the Sphinx Performance Academy. She also teaches in MELODY (Music Enriching the Lives of Delaware Youth), an after-school program providing string and percussion instruction.

Suubi Laurent, 14-year-old cellist from Attleboro, Massachusetts
Suubi identifies as Hatian and is a student in Project STEP in Boston and is associate principal cello in New England Conservatory’s Junior Rep Orchestra. She is a peer mentor in her home program and tutors younger students in music theory.

Anagha Kapsi, 15-year-old violinist from Exton, Pennsylvania
Anagha identifies as Indian, is a student at Settlement Music School, and participates in PMAY (Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth), Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, and Delaware County Youth Orchestra. She is also an alumna of From the Top and BUTI. In addition to violin, Anagha also studies conducting and composition and is passionate about combining her love of music with science, filmmaking, and other genres.

Leena Hocutt Duarte, 17-year-old violinist from Cary, North Carolina
Leena identifies as Hispanic/Colombian. She is an alum of NYO-USA, North Carolina Chamber Music Institute, and the Sphinx Performance Academy. Leena is passionate about using music as a tool for healing and connection and gives frequent community engagement performances in retirement homes, hospitals, and elementary schools.

Genesis Garay, 16-year-old trumpet player from Los Angeles, California
Genesis identifies as Latina and is currently a student in Colburn School’s Jumpstart program and an alum of Colburn’s Summer Encounter program. She is part of the Salvadoran American Leadership Educational Fund, where she regularly organizes food and clothing drives for low-income families.

Valeria Serrano, 17-year-old violist from Arlington, Virginia
Valeria identifies as Hispanic/Venezuelan and is a member of the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestra and the NSO Youth Fellowship Program. Valeria immigrated to the US from Venezuela in 2017 and is a product of El Sistema. She is also a singer-songwriter and is passionate about traditional Venezuelan music (Joropo).

Leah Marcelle, 16-year-old pianist from Los Angeles, California
Leah identifies as Black and is a student in the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (ICYOLA). Leah is involved in several ensembles at her school, Glendale Academy, including the Jazz Band, and is deeply involved in her church music groups.

Bianca Quddus, 14-year-old clarinetist from Richmond Hill, New York
Bianca identifies as Indian/South Asian and is a student in Juilliard’s Music Advancement Program. In addition to her musical studies, Bianca has interned at the Global Mental Health Lab at Columbia’s Teachers College, and is part of the Girls Empowerment Movement in Mathematics.

Lauren Edwards, 16-year-old violinist from Owings Mills, Maryland
Lauren identifies as African American and is a student at Baltimore School for the Arts and Peabody Preparatory, where she was also part of the Young People’s String Program. Lauren is passionate about community engagement and supporting her unhoused neighbors.

Esme Arias Kim, 15-year-old violinist from Hoffman estates, Illinois
Esme identifies as Latinx/Asian and is a Merit Scholarship Fellow at the Academy at the Music Institute of Chicago. She was the Sphinx Junior Division Grand Prize winner in 2020 and has also won competitions such as the New York International Artist Association, Sejong Music, Lisker Music Foundation Young Artists Scholarship, Enkor International, Confucius, Depaul Concerto Festival, and Chicago Chamber Music Festival Concerto Competition.

Fortissima’s innovative leadership curriculum, paired with rigorous artistic development and one-on-one mentorship, is designed to inspire, equip, and empower young women from underrepresented minorities to pursue professional training and careers in the classical music field. Now a national model, Fortissima will be a six-month experience for 10 young women that will consist of two components, beginning online with innovative leadership curriculum and one-on-one mentorship, and culminating in a week-long residential intensive on the Colburn campus, October 30 – November 6, 2021.

The program is provided at no cost to participants.

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.

Fortissima program overview:

Virtual Learning
Students will participate in three virtual learning sessions in the areas of career development, arts leadership, and community engagement, leading up to the residential intensive.

Students will be paired with a distinguished mentor and will meet monthly (virtually) with their mentor from June–October 2021

Colburn School Campus Intensive
Students will convene for a week-long residential intensive on the Colburn School campus from October 30 – November 6, 2021. Throughout this week, students will receive intensive leadership training and chamber music coaching while experiencing conservatory life firsthand. Students will have the opportunity to arrange trial lessons with Colburn faculty, observe conservatory classes, and experience campus life in Los Angeles. Daily workshops include critical listening, performance psychology, networking and personal branding, mindfulness and movement, and more. The week will culminate with a final performance at Colburn directed and curated by Music Director Jannina Norpoth, which will feature works by women and BIPOC composers.

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, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, and USC Thornton School of Music. Findings from the pilot informed the new model which will concentrate the program into a 7-day residential intensive, recruit nationally, and serve a larger cohort of students each year.

Fortissima Mentors

  • Karla Donehew Perez – violinist, Co-Founder of the Catalyst Quartet
  • Jennifer Arnold – violist, Director of Artistic Planning & Orchestral Operations, Richmond Symphony
  • Stephanie Matthews – violinist, Founder of StringCandy and Co-Founder of the Re-Collective Orchestra
  • Monica Ellis – bassoonist, founding member of Imani Winds
  • Angelica Hairston – harpist, Founder of Challenge the Stats, Artistic Director of the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble

Fortissima Program Leadership

  • Jazmín Morales – program director
  • Jannina Norpoth – music director

The Fortissima program is made possible through the generous support of The Tippet Rise Fund of the Sidney E. Frank Foundation, Visionary Women, the Lawrence Morton Fund, the Southern California Chamber Music Fund at the California Community Foundation, Raulee Marcus, Beverly Ryder, and the many donors who support our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives at the Colburn School. If you would like to learn more about supporting Fortissima or any of our community engagement programs, contact the Philanthropy Office at

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 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 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 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, musical theater, and modern genres as part of a comprehensive dance education.
  • 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.
  • 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. Learn more at
Instagram and Twitter: @ColburnSchool

PR Contacts:
Jennifer Kallend

Lisa Bellamore