2019 Fellows & Scholars

The N.E.O. Voice Festival is proud to announce the Composition and Vocal Fellows & Scholars that will be in residence at the festival this summer. These established composers and vocalists will be working on our final “Exploratorio” project as well as giving concerts and performances to the greater Los Angeles community during the festival. You may find information about them, as well as why they are excited for the N.E.O. Voice Festival, below!

Amanda Achen-Keenan

Soprano Amanda Achen-Keenan is a multi-genre vocalist who specializes in concert work and jazz. Equally at home on the symphony stage, the opera stage, the nightclub, and in the studio, Amanda has performed at various venues in LA and beyond including the Dolby Theater, the Microsoft Theatre, the Ambassador Auditorium, the Hollywood Bowl, and Disney Concert Hall. She regularly performs in Hollywood with her unconventional jazz band “Citizen Kitten.”

“What excites me most about the new N.E.O. Voice Festival is the chance to connect and collaborate with passionate and creative musicians in my innovative hometown of LA. There have been a few ideas swirling around in my brain regarding new pieces to perform and create, and this festival seems like the perfect opportunity to make and take part in some Los Angeles magic!”

Sarah Grace Graves

Voice artist Sarah-Grace harnesses everyday, unconscious, and residual vocal sounds, intensifying them into vivid explorations of embodiment, resonance, and vocality. In addition to her work as a contemporary vocalist, she is also a composer and is pursuing her PhD at UC Berkeley.

“I am looking forward to hands-on collaboration with other adventurous vocalists and composers who are as in love with the voice as I am! Along the way, I hope to discover some new sounds and gain a deeper connection with my craft.”

James Hayden

James Hayden, bass, is happiest when he’s performing experimental operas, comedic art song, and lending his voice to movie and video game soundtracks.  Offstage, you can find him playing board games and arranging pop a cappella music in Los Angeles.

“I’m excited to collaborate with other passionate artists as we question and expand our approach to modern vocal repertoire. I’m looking forward to applying cutting edge voice science to my own work as a performer-composer.”

Robbie LaBanca

Robbie LaBanca is a vocalist and composer based in Austin, Texas. As a vocalist he performs with Panoramic Voices, Texas Early Music Project, Chorus Austin, La Follia, Texas Bach Festival, Victoria Bach Festival, Austin Opera and the Grammy award winning Conspirare under the direction of Craig Hella Johnson. He is also Managing Director and Co-Founder of Inversion Ensemble a choral collective made up of composers and singers formed to give voice to innovative choral works and to encourage the creation of new music. As a composer he has had works premiered by Chorus Austin, Inversion Ensemble, Austin Cantorum and renowned soloist including Laura-Mercado Wright, Kelly Rhodes, Thann Scoggin and Steven Soph.

Lorna Moore

Lorna Moore is an MA and BMus graduate hailing from the shamrock shores of Ireland. She is currently specializing in conducting, vocal and piano performance. She is a full time vocal and piano tutor, performs with European prize winners ‘Guys and Dolls’ Barbershop Quartet and is a conductor of Irish college and community choirs. 

Al-Jabril Muhammad

Al-Jabril Muhammad is a vocalist and composer from East Orange, New Jersey. As a vocalist he performs with company’s such as Garden State Opera, Victor Herbert Renaissance Project, and the Unity Ensemble of New Jersey. As a composer he has premiered works with The First Baptist Church of Vienna, and has upcoming premieres with the Colorado Springs Chamber Orchestra. His main focus in composition is vocal works the first of which he sung and premiered entitled “Colors”.

“I am excited be attending the N.E.O. Festival this year not only to sing and contribute to new music being performed there but also to meet new people and compose in a new environment from a new perspective.”

Molly Pease

Molly Pease is an eclectic vocal artist and composer. She sings professionally in a wide array of settings around LA, creates works for voices, strings and other combinations, and leads experimental art-rock project ACKLAND. Her music explores extended techniques, improvisation and individuality, with an emphasis on raw emotional expression.

“As a compositional fellow and section leader in the upcoming N.E.O. Voice Festival, I’m eager to collaborate with other singers and composers to explore new ideas for vocal music. I have a bit of a non-traditional background as a composer, and I’m excited to offer my unique perspective and learn from all the other artists involved in the festival as we create together. I’m hoping to write a piece that incorporates improvisation and chance-based composition, and I want to encourage the performers to use their individuality when singing my music.”

Lauren Spavelko

Lauren Spavelko is a composer, teacher, performer, and visual artist. Her most notable work is Baby Book, a six-movement song cycle on miscarriage, pregnancy, and motherhood (winner of the 2017 G.C. Menotti Competition for Young Composers in Spoleto, Italy and finalist for the 2019 NATS Art Song Composition Award). Most recently, she collaborated with the Central Ohio Symphony and nature photographer Frank Lee Ruggles on her rhapsodic work Kéyah. Lauren teaches voice, piano, violin, and composition in her independent studio Musical Life.

“As a composer, singer, and teacher of voice, I am excited to come to N.E.O. for experiences and tools to strengthen all three! I connect with the voice and the storytelling aspect of song in a deep, meaningful way, and I love collaboration with fine minds, fine talent, and bright, friendly personalities who are mutually invested in one another’s work. Can’t wait to see what we’ll create together!”

Jasper Sussman

Jasper Sussman is a music researcher, voice artist, collaborative composer, and educator pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of California, San Diego where she studies the in- and exclusionary aspects of vocal performance and practice. She has served as composer-in-residence for numerous ensembles including the Gateway Opera Company and the Madison Choral Project, has performed with San Diego New Music, the Crossing, Sacra/Profana, Gateway Opera, the Madison Choral Project, and the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, and is an alumna of the University of Michigan (M.M.), Lawrence University (B.M.), the Atlantic Music Festival, the National Puppetry Conference, and the Brevard Music Center.

“I am equally excited about a few different aspects of NEO, namely its focus on contemporary vocal music, its inclusion of both composers and performers (or composer-performers) that are specifically given time to collaborate, and its grounding in voice science. It’s a truly unique model that unites several important aspects of contemporary classical voice that are rarely seen together. I truly hope it becomes a historic example of our craft’s future!”


Kristjan Virtič

Kristjan Virtič has a passion for harmonies and is a part of the internationally renowned Vocal Group/Choir Perpetuum Jazzile.  The group is considered by some as one of the most famous choirs in the world. A rapidly growing passion for harmony led Kristjan to set up the a cappella group Bassless and he’s also a part of the gospel quartet 4Given. While performing professionally, he has also uncovered his love for teaching and coaching.

“I am looking forward to learn from and collaborate with a group of talented musicians that share the same passion for the voice, singing, music, harmonies and learning about the voice.”