Guest Conductors

Dr. Leon Burke III

A native St. Louisan, Dr. Leon Burke III holds music degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Kansas. He has conducted at the Aspen Music Festival and the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival and has studied with such distinguished conductors as Sir Georg Solti, Leonard Slatkin, Edo de Waart, and Jorge Mester. He has also been a Fulbright Fellow, teaching and conducting in Paraguay as the country was expanding its classical music infrastructure. He is the Principal Guest Conductor of the Asuncion Symphony. Besides serving as the Music Director of the University City Symphony Orchestra, Dr. Burke is currently Conductor for the Belleville Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Assistant Director of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and after 24 years as Choir Director for Eliot Chapel in Kirkwood, he is now Organist and Music Director for the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves.

Outside of the USA, he has been a guest conductor for orchestras and festivals in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Paraguay, Spain, and Italy. In this country, he has been a guest conductor for the St. Louis Symphony and various orchestras in Kansas, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, and Atlanta, Georgia. He has been Music Director for the Lawrence Chamber Players, the Hutchinson Symphony, the Metropolitan Ballet of Topeka, the Metropolitan Ballet of Wichita, and the Alton Symphony.

A lover of opera, Burke has sung roles for productions of Carmen (El Dancairo), The Magic Flute (Sarastro),  Tosca (Sacristan), Amahl and the Night Visitors (Balthazar) and sung in the chorus for Peter Grimes, Eugene Onegin, Fidelio, The Flying Dutchman, and Die Fledermaus. He has conducted Cosi fan Tutte, The Marriage of Figaro, The Barber of Seville, Das Rheingold, Carmen, The Love for Three Oranges, Bluebeard’s Castle, The Secret Marriage, Othello, I Pagliacci, The Old Maid and the Thief, Amahl and the Night Visitors, Slow Dusk, and others. He was the conductor for a revival of The Very Last Green Thing for Opera Theater St. Louis. Dr. Burke won the Arts for Life Award for Best Achievement in

Dr. Burke wants everyone to know that his inspiration to be a musician was his mentor, and GFO founder, Dr. William Schatzkamer and his musician friends.

Musical Direction for his work with Spotlight Production’s Titanic in 2003. Also, for Spotlight Productions, his Musical Direction of Chicago, Jekyll and Hyde, West Side Story each resulted in Arts for Life nominations for Best Musical Production, as well as two more nominations for Best Musical Director.

A multifaceted musician, Dr. Burke has been teaching voice at East Central College in Union, Missouri and at St. Louis University. He has appeared as a bass soloist for The St. Louis Symphony’s presentations of Bruckner’s Te Deum and Basso Profundo in Bartok’s Cantata Profana.

Dr. Christopher Kelts

Dr. Christopher Kelts is an active conductor, clinician and guest conductor.  He is the newly appointed Director of Orchestras at The University of Missouri-Kansas City, Conservatory of Music.  Concurrently, Chris is the music director and conductor of the Kansas City Civic Orchestra, Kinnor Philharmonic Orchestra and the Saint Joseph Symphony. 
Dr. Kelts is a member of the Conductor’s Guild, College Orchestra Director’s Association (CODA), National Association for Music Education (NAfME), Missouri Music Educators Association (MMEA) and the Missouri chapter of the American String Teacher’s Association. Guest conducting engagements have taken Dr. Kelts throughout the United States, Paraguay and South Korea. 
Chris is a native of St. Louis, having grown up in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, where he was first introduced to music.  Having performed in the St. Louis Youth Symphony and all things related to high school orchestra – it is understandable that being an invited guest with the Gateway Festival Orchestra is an honor.

Terrance Abernathy

Terrance Abernathy has recently led the Gateway Festival Orchestra (July 2022, 2023) and St Louis Civic Orchestra (December 2022.) He is an arranger, composer, conductor, and educator. He was granted a French horn performance degree from McKendree University in Lebanon, IL near to his hometown of St Louis, Missouri. Following graduation from McKendree, he was granted backstage access working closely with the St Louis Symphony forming a relationship that remains strong. He has been guided by conductors like David Robertson, Darwin Aquino, and Amy Kaiser, backed completely by the generosity of the IN UNISON graduate fellowship. He has been assistant band director (HCHS), taught masterclasses and judged around the St. Louis area. As a horn player, he is an alum of the Saint Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. He has played with many groups in the area. He sat first tenor horn in an internationally ranked brass band (STLBB.) He has studied with numerous fine horn players in the metropolitan area. As a composer and arranger, he has completed arrangements for small ensemble for the Saint Louis Symphony and Opera Theatre of St. Louis. His arrangements and performances have been heard by many St. Louisans in community concerts.