Spencer McKnight, tenor

Tenor Spencer McKnight has been described as “one of the finest tenor voices” in Canada.

McKnight began singing at the age of 17. He was encouraged to pursue music by an adjudicator who heard him sing at his local music festival. His passion for music finds him frequently immersed in the music of Handel, Rossini, and Britten.

Spencer has garnered much attention both in concert and in competition over the course of the last six years, including multiple awards at a national level, and the 2018 winner of the Gordon C. Wallis Opera Competition.  Though early in his career, Spencer has had the opportunity to sing a wealth of oratorio repertoire and had recent engagements with the Regina and Saskatoon Symphony Orchestras.

He recently toured with a recital program entitled Songs of the Great War.  An artistic project many years in the making, the recital featured songs, both popular and art, from the World War One era, including the Canadian premieres of two songs by composer William Dennis Browne.

Spencer had the pleasure of making his international opera debut in Vicenza, Italy in 2019 as Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He was reviewed as having a “clear timbre” by the Giornale di Vicenza.

McKnight will tour a new recital programme called “Within a Dream” in 2024 with longtime collaborator Mark Turner.

Spencer studied with teacher and mentor Lisa Hornung for many years, and now he studies with Toronto-based vocal pedagogue Mark Daboll.

His voice is described as fresh and brassy with stratospheric high notes.

Cosette Justo Valdés, conductor

With her gorgeous, passionate style and firecracking energy, Cuban-born and raised conductor Cosette Justo Valdés has garnered acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic and is a rising star on the world’s concert stage. She is presently Resident Conductor of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (Canada) where she won the hearts of musicians and audience alike with her “unique style, full of flaming energy and human warmth.” Recent highlights include a “mindblowing” (Ottawa Citizen) collaboration with Esperanza Spalding and the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, and a praised Così fan tutte with the Edmonton Opera, conducted from the harpsichord.

Cosette maintains strong ties to her native Cuba, where she is celebrated as Honorary Director of the prestigious Orquesta Sinfónica de Oriente in Santiago, Cuba’s musical heartland, which she led for 9 years. During that time, she single-handedly (with a team formed by an administrator and a librarian) managed and directed the 80-musician ensemble, developing an extensive repertoire of classical and contemporary music, jazz and pop, while championing Cuban music both new and traditional. A frequent guest conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba in La Habana, she premiered works by Cuba’s musical luminaries including Leo Brouwer, Alfredo Diez Nieto, Roberto Valera, and many more.

With the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Cosette is equally at ease leading programs from the Masters, Pops, or Kids series, garnering praise from critics, audience, and musicians alike for her “incisive presence,” “vivacity,” and “inspiring, precise, fiery” conducting. Her position with the orchestra since 2019 includes the role of Community Ambassador, through which she has developed an exceptionally warm and rewarding relationship with orchestra patrons as well as the city’s arts community. Cosette is also the Artistic Director of the Youth Orchestra of Northern Alberta, the ESO’s Sistema-based program that provides free music education to some 200 children from Edmonton’s priority neighborhoods and surrounding First Nations.

Cosette holds her bachelor degree in conducting with Prof. Jorge López Marín at the Instituto Superior de Arte (La Habana, Cuba) and her master degree with Prof. Klaus Arp at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst (Mannheim, Germany). As part of her training, she has assisted many conductors in Europe and the Americas, including Klaus Arp (Germany), Francesco Belli (Italy), Alexander Prior (UK), Alexander Shelley (UK) and Mario Venzago (Switzerland).

She has guest-conducted with dozens of orchestras in Germany and Eastern Europe, such as the Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra, Theater und Orchester Heidelberg, and Nationaltheater Mannheim. In addition to her duties with the Edmonton Symphony, Cosette has upcoming engagements from coast to coast in Canada, as well as across the Americas. Some highlights include two concerts with Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, 5 concerts with Thunder Bay, a collaboration with the Against the Grain Experimental Opera in Toronto and a repeat invitation with NACO in Canada, Orquesta Sinfónica de la Universidad de Guanajato (Mexico).

Casey Peden, soprano

Casey Peden holds a Master of Music in Vocal Performance and a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Alberta.  Her professional development continued through Tafelmusik’s Baroque Summer Institute, the Early Music Vancouver Vocal Summer School and private lessons.  Ms. Pedens’ teachers include Linda Perillo, Harold Wiens, Ellen Hargis, and Lisa Hornung.

Ms. Peden has been heard as a soloist with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Pro Coro Canada, Madrigal Singers, Alberta College Womens Choir, Da Camera Singers, Schola Cantorum, the Dutch Renaissance Ensemble Verboden Frucht and recently with the Saskatoon Symphony Chamber Orchestra.  She has been the soprano soloist in Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Bach’s Magnificat, Christmas Oratorio, and Coffee Cantata, Vaughn William’s Serenade to Music, Rutter’s Requiem, Allegri’s Miserere, and Haydn’s Missa Sancti Nicolai.  Most recently she was the soprano soloist in Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle with the Laurentian University Choir, under the direction of Robert Hall, and last year’s Candlelight Christmas with the Saskatoon Symphony.

Casey’s newest recital adventure has her partnered with harpist Keri-Lynn Zwicker as they explore Classical, Celtic, and Cowboy repertoire.  In addition to her recital singing, Casey has been giving duet recitals with contralto Lisa Hornung, staying active with her studio, adjudicating, and volunteering with the Community Youth Choir in North Battleford.  She is also part of the teaching team for the Summer School for the Solo Voice, a week-long summer intensive vocal camp for singers and choristers of all levels.

Casey lives with her husband and two sons on the family ranch near Glaslyn, Saskatchewan.

Lisa Hornung, contralto

Honoured as one of the University of Saskatchewan’s Arts and Science Alumni of Influence, Saskatchewan born contralto Lisa Hornung enjoys a singing career that has taken her across Canada, the United States and Europe. Lisa is always pleased to perform with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra with whom she has sung for over 30 years.

Most often heard in Handel’s Messiah, Ms. Hornung’s orchestral performances also include: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Mass in C major, Mozart’s Requiem, Coronation Mass and Vesperae solennes de Confessore, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, the Duruflé Requiem, the Canadian premiere of Ruth Watson-Henderson’s From Darkness to Light, Verdi’s Requiem, Bach’s Magnificat and Christmas Oratorio, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Vaughn William’s Magnificat, The May Queen by Bennett, and the Alto Rhapsody by Brahms.

In accordance with her belief that every one deserves the opportunity to sing, Lisa runs a non-audition Community Youth Choir and is the founder and director of Summer School for the Solo Voice. She is passionate about education, with a special dedication to inspiring seasoned teachers and mentoring young educators. In October of 2017 Ms. Hornung was presented with the Saskatchewan Music Educators Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award, and in July 2019 the Saskatchewan Music Festival Association’s Adjudicating Excellence Award.

Well known as a performer, teacher, adjudicator, clinician and choral coach, Lisa lives in North Battleford, Saskatchewan with her husband John. They have two grown children and are enjoying their new role as grandparents.

Jordie Hughton, bass

Jordie Hughton is excited to be back as a guest soloist with the SSO! Previous engagements include Mozart’s Coronation Mass (2017) On Broadway with the Fireside Singers (2016) and Handel’s Messiah! (2008-2010) Jordie has appeared in numerous productions with Saskatoon Opera including Fiorello/Officer in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” and The Imperial Comissioner in “Madama Butterfly”. On the musical theatre stage, Jordie’s favourite recent roles include Javert (Les Miserables-Fireside singers), Frollo (Hunchback of Notre Dame- Fireside Singers), Judge Turpin (Sweeney Todd- Saskatoon Summer Players) Franklin Hart ( 9 to 5 the Musical- Saskatoon Summer Players) and Professor Bhaer (Little Women- Saskatoon Summer Players). A teacher of voice for the past 15 years, Jordie recently established a private home studio for singers of all ages. Jordie is the artistic director of Music for the Gut, a benefit concert for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada featuring many talented local artists. In 12 years of performances, the concert has raised over $200,000 to support Research to find a cure for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. He is grateful for your support of the arts in Saskatoon!