Eastman School of Music undergraduates Dylan Price and Michael Staffeldt established the Empire Film Music Ensemble (EFME) in fall of 2013, pursuing a dream to perform film music in concert settings. Now, the ensemble aims to strengthen the value of film music as legitimate concert repertoire through education, community outreach, collaborative performances, and recordings of artistic merit. Under the guidance of its founders and with the dedication of over 70 passionate musicians from across the Eastman School and University of Rochester, EFME has put on six multimedia performances in various venues across Rochester, Grand Rapids, and Detroit. The orchestra has collaborated to create unique concert experiences with composers, filmmakers, and musicians from the University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and Berklee College of Music. Two successful Kickstarter campaigns in 2013 and 2014, as well as generous private and corporate donations have made these projects possible. In 2015, the orchestra recorded for the online TV series Star Trek Continues, composed by Juilliard faculty member and composer at Duotone Audio Group, Andy Farber. Their most recent performance was a collaboration with Emmy Award winning composer and Eastman alumnus Jeff Beal.
Born and raised in the metro-Detroit area, MAX BERLIN (Artistic Director 2016-present) began piano lessons at the age of eight. Almost immediately, Max began to enjoy and find creative expression in the piano, with an even greater interest in music theory and composition. This soon developed into a great passion for musical improvisation and the jazz idiom. Since then, Max has written professionally for several kinds of ensembles and musical genres, orchestras and quartets alike. As a pianist, he has led three piano trios, regularly performing with professional and touring jazz orchestras, and was the founding member of a Detroit-based Klezmer band. As a composer, he has also scored several films and live-stage productions, recently scoring an award-winning RIT short film, Into the Microscope. Max was named Resident Composer at the 2015 Southeast Asia Music Festival, held annually in the Philippines. Max is currently studying under Bill Dobbins and Harold Danko at the Eastman School of Music as a jazz pianist with an emphasis in composition.
BEN ESCOBAR (Assitant Director 2016-present) is a multi-instrumentalist/producer at the Eastman School of Music. He is currently specializing in piano performance and pursuing an independent study degree, presented as a critical analysis of Venezuela’s controversial music education program, “El Sistema.” Ben was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and currently resides outside Washington D.C. when home from school. His beloved grandmother is responsible for beginning his piano lessons at the age of 4, and since then he has studied under three incomparable professors: Darya Gabay, Dr. Anna Balakerskaia, and Dr. Natalya Antonova with whom he studies currently. As a pianist he has participated in renowned international music festivals, including the Boston University Tanglewood Institute and the Orfeo International Music Festival in the Italian Alps where he won the Piano Prize. Additionally he has performed in masterclasses and recitals in concert halls throughout the DMV including the National Art Gallery and the Kennedy Center. Aside from his exploits as a concert pianist and chamber musician, Ben has also self-produced, recorded, and released his original music under the moniker Bedroom Hijinks and plans to pursue a career in music production, especially in conjunction with various multimedia platforms, most notably film. He joined the EFME team in early 2016.
Grant O'Brien (Music Director 2017) is in his 3rd year of studying tuba performance at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He began studying the tuba at the age of twelve and has studied primarily with Steve Curtis in Houston, Texas and is currently a student of Don Harry at Eastman School of Music. He has frequently performed with community orchestras in his home state of Texas and continues to play regularly in church services, weddings and Eastman ensembles in Rochester. Grant also has a passion for conducting and has been doing so since his days as a drum major in his high school marching band. Currently at Eastman he regularly conducts ensembles such as a weekly reading orchestra and Eastman's tuba euphonium ensemble. Grant regularly arranges music for the tuba euphonium ensemble as well. As a lover of film and its music, Grant is very excited to be apart of the Empire Film Music Ensemble team.
Michael Staffeldt (Founder, Ex-officio) holds a BM in Viola Performance from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. A native of El Paso, TX, he was a three-time TMEA All-State musician and has held creditable positions at festivals throughout North America, including the National Orchestral Institute, Orford Music Academy, the Castleman Quartet Program, and Interlochen Arts Camp.
In addition to his experience on the viola, Michael studied conducting for three years while at the Eastman School of Music under the tutelage of Eastman Wind Ensemble conductor Mark Scatterday and world renowned contemporary conductor Brad Lubman. In 2013, Michael was founding co-artistic director of the Empire Film Music Ensemble. In 2015, he worked as a studio intern at film composer Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions in Santa Monica, CA. Michael currently runs a flourishing private music studio, produces music, and scores films from his home studio in San Antonio, TX.
DYLAN PRICE (Executive Composer, Founder, Director 2013-2014) is a pianist and film composer from Syracuse, NY. In 2013 he co-founded the Empire Film Music Ensemble with Michael Staffeldt. He served as Director and Conductor of the ensemble alongside Michael until his move to Los Angeles in 2014. Since his move he has composed for several award-winning short films and commercials for companies such as Full Circle and Haze Collection. He currently serves as Accompanist and Choir Director at the performing arts college AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy) and as a studio assistant at film composer Hans Zimmer's Remote Control Productions. He graduated from the Eastman School Music in 2014 with a BM degree in Music Theory. More information and examples of his work can be found on his website, dylanpricemusic.com.