Meet the Staff

Executive Director – Janet Kuester

Meet Staff - Janet KuesterIn 2009, I approached the SYSO Board with the idea of the Incredible Opportunity Program. Suburban Youth Symphony had been having a hard time recruiting good school age string players who wanted to explore more challenging orchestral repertoire.

I felt the shortage of good string players was not due to the fact children are too overbooked, but rather that school string programs had been eliminated in many of our area schools such as Chicago Heights, Park Forest, and Crete. Many other area schools including Lockport, Palos Heights, Palos Park, Homer Glen, Mokena, and some areas of Frankfort have never had them.

In February 2010 we began our Incredible Opportunity Program. Over 50 essays were submitted by children who wanted to play a string instrument. We selected 20 children to learn to play.

Our Suburban Youth Symphony Orchestra began rebuilding in 2010 with a handful of children. Last year we had 28 children who played with the orchestra! Some of the more advanced did the Do It Yourself Messiah, conducted by Frederick Kuester, former conductor of Chicago Heights Symphony and Suburban Youth Symphony and principal bass of Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra. In February all of them participated in a unit of chamber music and famed violist Matt Lipman and cellist Sonia Mantell helped with coaching. In May of 2012, Quinton Morris coached the kids in master classes and performed Vivaldi a minor concerto with the orchestra. The children showed amazing progress in just one short year.

The time had come for me to step down as artistic director. Though I have been playing music professionally and taught children for over 40 years, I felt a strong desire to become SYSO’s Executive Director. Fortunately for me, the SYSO board agreed.

As Executive Director, I think that I will be able to devote more time to spreading the word about this fantastic jewel of the south and southwest suburbs, the Suburban Youth Symphony. There are still so many children and parents who do not know the scope and excellence of the programs we are providing for such a low fee. I would be happy to talk with any group to spread the word!

I would also like to devote myself more to planning more successful fundraising activities. Many of these talented children need to study privately and will need assistance to take lessons and in finding an expert teacher. We will need more instruments to take on more children. These children deserve expert coachings and we need to provide excellent professional coaches. Fortunately, we have been able to find many professionals in the area who are as passionate as I am about string education.

And finally, we would like to have a full orchestra again. When? As soon as we have a vibrant large group of string players who are advanced enough to tackle some Beethoven, Brahms, and Mozart symphonies. It’s just around the corner now!


Benjamin Leonard-White – Conductor

Meet Staff - Benjamin WhiteBenjamin Leonard-White received his Bachelor of Music Education from Valparaiso University, where he served as the principal cellist of the Symphony Orchestra. Having served as the Music Director for the South Shore Youth Orchestra in Porter County, Mr. Leonard-White consistently forwards arts education in the Northwest Indiana Region. Most recently, Benjamin directed programs for the CODA Youth Orchestra (Portage, IN) as well as pit orchestras for productions of Shrek the Musical and The Wizard of Oz. He has performed with various groups in both Indiana and Ohio, including the LaPorte County Symphony Orchestra and the Tuscarawas Philharmonic Orchestra. As a cello student of David Machavariani, Patricia White, and Elaine Anderson, Benjamin studied and performed in regional tours of the Midwest. He has also performed in orchestras for shows such as Hansel & Gretel, Clue: The Musical, and Jesus Christ Superstar.


Emily Mantell as Director of SYS

Cellist Emily Lewis Mantell is a busy freelancer in the Chicago area with her husband, violist/violinist, Matt Mantell. She is currently principal cellist with the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra and is a member of the Chicago Sinfonietta. She has also held principal positions with Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, and the Bolshoi Ballet, and subbed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. For over twenty five years, she has been on the faculty of Birch Creek Music Performance Center each summer in Door County, Wisconsin. Ms. Mantell teaches adjunctly at Saint Xavier University (Chicago) and Trinity Christian College (Palos Heights) as well as from her home studio in Orland Park, Illinois. She is a longtime board member of the Suburban Youth Symphony Orchestra which serves the southwest suburbs of Chicago. Her daughter Sonia is also a freelance cellist in Chicago, having received degrees from New England Conservatory and DePaul School of Music.