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Introducing the Newest Members of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

With the opening of a new season at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra comes the excitement of introducing the orchestra’s newest members. The BPO welcomes five new musicians to its roster this year, and we did a brief Q&A with them to learn more about their background, their favorite pieces, and their most memorable experiences thus far in the world of performance.

Nikki Chooi, concertmaster (principal violin)

Canadian violinist Nikki Chooi, praised for his passionate and poetic performances, has established himself as an artist of rare versatility. He has been described as “vigorous, colorful” by the New York Times. He has served as concertmaster of New York’s MET Orchestra for the 2016-2017 season, where he worked closely with singers and conductors, including Renee Fleming, Elīna Garanča, Eric Owens, Fabio Luisi, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. In 2015, Nikki was a violinist in the cross-over ensemble Time for Three (which will appear with the BPO on February 21 and 22, 2020), performing in genres ranging from bluegrass to pop. In collaboration with From the Top and Universal Music, the group released a rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” to record-breaking views on YouTube. Nikki also performs selective projects with his brother, violinist Timothy Chooi, including a feature performance at the 2018 International G7 Meeting held in Whistler, British Columbia. A passionate educator, Nikki has presented many masterclasses and has been an advocate of the Sistema Program. He began his studies at the Victoria Conservatory, Mount Royal Conservatory, and completed his formal studies at the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School.

Xiofan Liu, second violin

Chinese Violinist Xiofan Liu began studying violin at the age of six. At the age of eleven, he was awarded first prize in violin performance from the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music. He later won the China National Violin Competition Division Championship in 2006. In 2008, he won a scholarship to the Idyllwild Arts Academy in California. He was the winner of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Jules C. Reiner Violin Prize. In 2017, he was invited to participate in Yo-Yo Ma’s Grammy Award-winning Silk Road project. He is a graduate of the New England Music Academy and holds a MMA from the Yale University School of Music.

Anya Shemetyeva, viola

Anya Shemetyeva has performed as a soloist and chamber musician throughout Russia, Europe and the United States. Solo appearances include the Mendelssohn concerto with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and Ravel’s Tzigane with the Longy Orchestra at Sanders’ Theater in Cambridge. Her European tours were under the auspices of the Spivakov foundation. In the U.S., she has collaborated with distinguished artists such as Bayla Keyes, Robert Merfeld and Peter Zazofsky, and has performed in chamber concerts at Tanglewood with members of the BSO. She has appeared at festivals such as the Heifetz International Festival, the Perlman Chamber Music Workshop, and the San Diego Chamber Music Festival. She is currently principal violist with the Cape Cod Symphony, a member of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, and plays regularly, both as a violinist and violist with orchestras such as Symphony NH, the Portland Symphony, and Indian Hill. She is violist with Nth degree, a chamber ensemble that performs in the Cape Cod area, and has performed frequently on the chamber music series at Marlboro College in Vermont.

Hunter Gordon, bassoon

American bassoonist Hunter Gordon is originally from Port Angeles, Washington. He holds a master’s degree from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and both a bachelor’s of music and psychology degree from Oberlin College and Conservatory. Hunter has served as the Charlotte Symphony’s acting section bassoon, and was the second bassoon/assistant principal of the Symphony of Southeast Texas. Hunter has previously appeared with the Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera, Louisiana Philharmonic, and as guest principal of the Jacksonville Symphony.

Felipe Pereira, trombone

Brazilian bass trombonist Filipe Alves Pereira studied at the Music Academy of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra and the Juilliard School, studying with Blair Bollinger. As a child, he was musically influenced by his father who played the valve trombone at their local church. Pereira was sent to music lessons to avoid violence on the streets, where he started playing the euphonium. He was eventually given a trombone to play at church and fell in love with the instrument. He soon auditioned for the local music school and played in a local marching band. At age 18, Felipe enrolled at the Escola de Música e Belas Artes do Paraná (EMPAP), but had to drop out due to financial hardship. He worked for years to earn money for his family, and soon had a chance to embrace music again when the Military Police Band of Paraná held an open audition. Felipe has performed with acclaimed orchestras such as the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil and Jalisco Philharmonic Orchestra in Mexico. He was the 2017 winner of the Maestro Eleazar de Carvalho Prize in São Paulo.

Three questions with our newest BPO musicians:

What excites you most about joining the BPO?


NC: I am excited to meet all the wonderful musicians of the BPO and to work with Maestro JoAnn Falletta.

XL: It is the history of the BPO. I’m kind of an orchestra history nerd, so I get extremely excited thinking about playing on the stage that so many great musicians and conductors have performed on. I grew up listening to recordings of Steinberg, Krips, Michael Tilson Thomas, Bychkov, and Falletta, with whom I get to perform on a weekly basis. Knowing that I get to play on their home court is extremely exciting for me.

AS: I am excited to work in such a friendly environment with this top-level orchestra.

HG: I’m excited to play with a great orchestra under the direction of JoAnn Falletta. It’s been fun so far and I’m excited for the rest of the season!

FP: Joining the BPO is especially exciting because of the orchestra’s fine artistry. Sharing the stage with these incredible musicians is inspiring for me. Also, Buffalo is a beautiful city and the people have been very warm and welcoming.

What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you on stage?


NC: An odd incident that happened to me during a performance is when the air conditioning in the performance hall broke down in 90-degree weather. Due to the heat and humidity, a seam on my violin violently opened while I was performing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

XL: One of the funniest moment happened to me in my first week at BPO. Before joining the orchestra, I had never owned a tail coat. The schools I went to had us wear a regular tux suit for orchestral performances. So I purchased my first tail coat, and the size was way off. I became extremely self-conscious on stage, and when my colleagues invited me to join them to the post-concert reception, the first thing I did was to take my coat off because I just looked like a kid who stole their dad’s formal wear.

AS: While playing the Mozart Requiem with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, another Russian said to me, “Listen to the Latin. In Russian, it sounds like, ‘For the sake of party, grab where it is not appropriate.’”

HG: One time, I accidentally inhaled a bug seconds before an important entrance, and proceeded to hack up a lung instead of playing bassoon. Fun times for the conductor and my fear of insects.

FP: I once dropped my mute during a very silent moment of The Rite of Spring. It wasn’t funny for me, but my colleagues couldn’t stop laughing.

What is a favorite piece of yours that you would like to perform with the BPO?


NC: I would love to perform Strauss’ Zarathustra with the BPO one day!

XL: Brahms’ Symphony No.4 is definitely one of my favorite pieces to perform and I get to play it in the last classic series of this season.

AS: I would love to play Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7.

HG: I would like to play Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It’s tacky in the best way, and hearing it in Disney’s Fantasia as a child is one of the main reasons why I chose to play bassoon.

FP: Gustav Mahler is my favorite composer. At this moment, a piece that I would like to perform with the BPO is Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. Its massive layers of sounds and colors in addition to the emotional and religious content, make this piece a breathtaking experience for the musicians and the audience.

To learn more about the performances that the BPO has in store for this season, visit

This content is part of a sponsored series in partnership with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Written by Sarah Maurer

Sarah Maurer

I moved to Buffalo to attend Canisius College in 2007 and began writing for Buffalo Rising as a journalism intern in 2010. Working with Newell and meeting numerous entrepreneurs, activists and everyday folks who were working to make their city better made a huge impact on my decision to stay here. After witnessing all the positive development and grassroots initiatives happening in neighborhoods throughout the city, I was inspired to pursue a term of service in AmeriCorps and a career in Buffalo's non-profit sector. I currently work in the housing department at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY and am excited to be a part of their ongoing efforts to revitalize the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. I also volunteer as the project coordinator for Artfarms Buffalo. I continue to write for Buffalo Rising because I love having the opportunity to stay connected to those working toward positive changes for the Queen City.

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