The Brasiles Ensemble is an elite group of vocalists offering unique performances. Here is a snapshot of our success since our inception in late 2016. We strive to be a very versatile group, now singing in eleven languages with an ever-growing repertoire ranging from Early music to opera to folk to pop. We are mainly an a cappella group with a central focus on Early music, though we have also had multiple instrumentalists accompany us over the years for various repertoires. Among our accomplishments, we have a recorded a CD with Yo-Yo Ma’s sound engineer, Jody Elff, performed with Tommy Tune, and were the first musical program at Magazzino Italian Art. We have held concerts at multiple venues around the Hudson Valley ever since. Currently, we are growing to offer new repertoire as an octet as well as expanding our radius of venues in which to perform in the future.
Our CD sold on Amazon includes 16 holiday tracks. We are also streamed on Spotify, iTunes, Tidal, Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music and Deezer
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THE PROVENANCE OF OUR NAME
The first question people often ask us is about where the name of the group originated, so here is a bit of background…
It was on July 4th in 1921, that Salvatore and Madeleine DeNitto arrived in the harbor of New York City with the Statue of Liberty being the very first thing that Madeleine saw from the bow of her ship from Algeria. With her, Madeleine brought a very ill baby and a wealth of education and appreciation for the fine arts. She left Old Algiers and parents she would never see again in hopes of great opportunities in a new world. She later bore three more children who all recall her singing opera in her kitchen while baking her famous French loaves. Madeleine had left behind her native country, her beloved family and her Italian maiden name; Brasiles. It is in her honor that I lend my grandmother’s given name to a group of fine musicians for whom she would certainly have adored.
With the “Nocturnal” concert receiving such wonderful acclaim in November of 2013 at St. Philip’s Church in the Highlands, I am very happy to invite everyone to future performances from The Brasiles Ensemble. As the mission of this group is to provide audiences with unique concerts, we are thrilled to have had great success in our first year with many more opportunities underway for the future.
Pronunciation guide for Brasiles = “BRAH-zee-lez”
~Madeleine DeNitto, Founder
Meet the Performers
During her decade of performance with Capitol City Opera Company, Madeleine was on stages regularly in major productions, including such great operas as Suor Angelica, Don Pasquale and The Merry Wives of Windsor. In addition, she was chosen to perform in two special school touring shows. She was also very honored to have been chosen to perform in rare works, including Riders to the Sea, as well as special opportunities to perform in honor of Queen Anne and Princess Sophie of Romania. Proficient in sacred and early music, Madeleine was also one of eight members of an elite madrigal group for several years. In late 2012, Madeleine had a role in The Beggar’s Opera with fellow singer, Laura, in which they performed the “infamous cat fight” at The Philipstown Depot Theatre. Madeleine soon met Ed, Paul and Kim when they were all members of the former choir at St. Philip’s in the Highlands Episcopal Church, which is how the concept of founding The Brasiles Ensemble became a reality. Since late 2021, Madeliene joined the Christ Episcopla Church in Poughkeepsie where she continues to meet and work with new musicians. For nearly 23 years, Madeleine has been a professional organizer and is proud owner of Garrison Concierge. Most recently, she has also made he decision to return to her work the visual arts as a multimedia artist. Her work can be found on DeNIttoArt. She and her husband, Clayton, relocated to the Hudson Valley permanently in 2010 and have two adult children; one daughter, a wife and mother for two, living in Raleigh, NC working in HR recruitment , and a son, recently married and working in DC as a U.S. trial attorney for the Dept. of Justice. As one of the founding members, her son, Speare performs with The Brasiles Ensemble whenever he can spare the time. For his bio, see Speare Hodges below.
We applaud our instrumentalists!
Rachel Evans ~ violin / viola
Rachel Evans has been a member of the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra, the contemporary music ensemble Continuum, and the Meridian Quartet. She has performed across the globe with ensembles whose repertoire spans medieval to contemporary. Recently taking part in Ars Antiqua’s acclaimed recording Francois Philodor’s “L’art de la Modulation” with Elizabeth Wallfisch, she was a principal player and recitalist at the Carmel Bach Festivalfor many years and appeared in various ensembles at the Boston, Berkeley, and Utrecht Early Music Festivals, Charles Ives Festival in Germany and the Victoria Festival in Australia with ensembles such as, the medieval ensemble Sequentia, the baroque ensembles Rebel and Pegasus, Continuum, and others. She has appeared in the ongoing NYC Cable series “The Facts”, (also online at 1687inc). As a sound and movement artist, Rachel collaborated with Elaine Colandrea in “Venus” (2009) and “On the Nature of the Body” (2012), in Rhinebeck, NY and is a member of Watermark Arts. A recipient of the Coleman Chamber Music Award, she earned B.Mus. and M.Mus. degrees at The Juilliard School of Music. She teaches locally violin, viola giving private lessons in Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester, Orange and Ulster counties.
James Fitzwilliam ~ organ / harpsichord / piano
James M. Fitzwilliam holds the Bachelor of Music and Master of Music (BM ’85, MM ’88) degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, where he studied piano with Rebecca Penneys. He is frequently seen throughout the Hudson Valley area as a pianist, organist and composer. As a pianist, he regularly appears with the Gilbert and Sullivan Musical Theater Company, Cappella Festiva, and the Bard College Community Chorus. As an organist, he has served at several area churches including Trinity Lutheran in Brewster, NY and First Presbyterian in Poughkeepsie, and has made a number of performance appearances including the Old Dutch Church Organ Series in Kingston and the Hudson Valley Bach Festival. He is currently Organist and Cantor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Kingston, NY, a position he has held since 2003. As a composer, he has had works commissioned and/or performed by members of the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, the SUNY New Paltz College Chorale, and the Chancel Choir of First Presbyterian Church, Poughkeepsie. In the fall of 2000, his song cycle Eternity on texts of Emily Dickinson was featured on a concert of Hudson Valley composers including the late Robert Starer and Peter Schickele, and this same work will appear on a forthcoming recording on the Parnassus label. He is a dedicated year-round barefooter, which provides during performances the benefit of increased sensitivity to the instrument and better pedal control at both the organ and the piano. A native of Plattsburgh, NY, he now resides in Poughkeepsie with his wife Julie, son Benjamin and daughter Diana. For more information, please visit him online at http://fourpawsmusic.com.
Richard Kolb ~ lute / theorbo
Lutenist Richard Kolb has performed throughout North America and Europe as a soloist and with a wide range of Baroque ensembles, including Opera Atelier, New York City Opera, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Chicago Opera Theater, Waverly Consort, Handel & Haydn Society, Pegasus, and Concert Royal. Since completing a Ph.D. in musicology at Case-Western Reserve University in 2010, Kolb has combined his career as a performer with scholarly research and publishing in the field of 17th-century music. He is nearing completion of the first modern edition of the complete works of the 17th-century Italian composer Barbara Strozzi, the fifth volume of which has recently been published by Cor Donato Editions. This past summer he recorded a solo CD of the music of Robert Ballard, which is scheduled to be released in early 2018. Kolb is Scholar in Residence for the NY Continuo Collective, and has held teaching positions at the University of Toronto, the Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto), and Case-Western Reserve University.
Holly Mentzer ~ Medieval harp / viola da gamba / recorder / alto
Holly first fell in love with early music while in high school when she became obsessed with a Nonesuch LP of Elizabethan and Jacobean madrigals by The Scholars entitled “The Silver Swan,” followed by nearly wearing out a cassette of Renaissance dances by Calliope. The love affair intensified during her first music history class at The Juilliard School, where she was a flute student of Paula Robison, worked in the orchestra library, and secretly longed to play the crumhorn. After receiving her master’s degree in flute, she began a twenty-year career working in the music printing and publishing industry. She joined the New York office of the esteemed British music publishing company, Boosey & Hawkes, where she worked in music production and later became the Editor of Serious Music. As an escape from the stress of composers missing deadlines and constantly revising their scores, she joined Choraulos, an early music trio that performed in churches and medieval festivals in the New York area, and learned how to play recorder, rebec, and medieval harp. She was drawn to the soulful sound of the viola da gamba after seeing the film “Tous les matins du monde” and began studying viol with Martha McGaughey. Later she studied early flutes with Stephen Preston and Nancy Hadden in master classes, as well as historical harp and with Maxine Eilander. Holly was a member of New York Continuo Collective and has appeared with Early Music New York, Infiorare, Long Island Baroque, Polyhymnia, and ARTEK. She has performed in New York and Boston-based series including Boston Early Music Festival fringe concerts, SOHIP, New York Early Music Series, Music for the Spirit, and Music Before 1800. Holly is currently the alto section leader at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Larchmont, NY, and is a member of the Highlands Choral Society. Ms. Mentzer holds an MA in music therapy from New York University, where she is currently a PhD candidate, and works as a music therapist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Michael Shane Wittenburg ~ piano / organ / violin
Hailed as a “real virtuoso” by the late Ruth Laredo, pianist and conductor Michael Shane Wittenburg made his professional opera conducting debut with Amore Opera’s recent production of Faust and has served with multiple opera companies including in Nashville, Orlando and Sarasota. As an Assistant Professor of music at Lee University, he was Music Director of both the Chamber Orchestra and Opera Theatre. He has made solo appearances as pianist with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, The Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, the World Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Eastman Wind Ensemble and the Ocala Symphony as both pianist and conductor. He has also appeared in collaborative recital with such artists as Metropolitan Opera soprano Stell Zambalist and concert violinist Livia Sohn.