New Works Featured Artists

Dr. Sonja D. Branch, D. Mus.A., holds degrees in music performance from Ithaca College and Arizona State University. She directs West African percussion ensembles at the Glendale and Scottsdale Community Colleges, and accompanies dance classes at Arizona State University. Sonja has a special fondness for Senegalese sabar drumming that she discovered during a 1998 excursion to Senegal. Since then, she has devoted years of study and the establishment in 2014 of Ensemble Ndeye Soxna, dedicated to Senegalese sabar drumming in Phoenix. 

An active freelance musician, Sonja appears with the MusicaNova Orchestra, Kawambe Omowale African Drum & Dance Theater, Crossing 32nd Street Contemporary Music Ensemble, and the funk band, Dr. Delicious. Besides percussion, Sonja plays guitarrón with Mariachi Luz del Sur, and the all-female Mariachi Rubor. Building and repairing drums is a long-time pursuit. A recent commission, a set of Rainbow Tube Toms, is on display in the Experience Gallery at Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum.

Soprano Sarah Smith holds a Master of Music from ASU and a Bachelor of Music from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Following her professional debut as a soloist with the Phoenix Symphony in 2010, Sarah has continued her concert work throughout the state, most recently as the soprano soloist in Brahms’s A German Requiem with the Arizona Philharmonic in January 2022.  Prior appearances include in 2019 as the soprano soloist in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Symphony of the Southwest at Mesa Arts Center, and in Handel’s Messiah with the North Valley Chorale and chamber orchestra.

Sarah has also been a featured soloist with the Arizona Bach Festival, Colorado New Music Ensemble, Classical Revolution Phoenix, and Concerts on the Desert at St. Barnabas Church in Paradise Valley.

With a deep passion for choral repertoire, Sarah has served as soprano section leader for the St. Barnabas Choir, North Valley Chorale, Arizona Masterworks Chorale, and the Arizona Musicfest Chorus; and as a chorister in many all-professional ensembles, including the Arizona Bach Festival, the Arizona Opera Chorus, Inspirare Nova, Canticum Novum, and Solis Camerata.

Mezzo-soprano Claire Penneau has most recently toured Germany as a featured soloist in the Schumann Liederfest. She has performed solo and ensemble work throughout Europe. Locally, she actively performs as a soloist in concerts and recitals. Recent operatic roles include: as Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Così fan tutte and The Mother in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors with Phoenix Opera; as Third Lady in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and as Mimi in a mini production of Puccini’s La Bohème with Three Oaks Opera.

In addition to her work with the Arizona Masterworks Chorale, Ms. Penneau has appeared as soloist with the Arizona Bach Festival, Phoenix Opera, Musica Nova Orchestra, Canticum Novum, Solis Camerata, Arizona Musicfest, San Tan Performing Arts, North Valley Chorale, and many others. She teaches music and also holds a private voice studio.