Class of 2015 Ready to Shape the Future of Music

By 
Mike Keefe-Feldman
April 22, 2015
Berklee commencement ceremony; photo by Kelly Davidson
Graduates at last year's Berklee commencement
Photo by Kelly Davidson

Berklee’s undergraduate class of 2015 came to Boston from more than 60 countries and more than 40 U.S. states, eager to explore every genre and aspect of music imaginable. Forming lifelong bonds through music, this graduating class, now entering the ranks of Berklee’s esteemed alumni, will no doubt continue to collaborate in the years and decades to come, building upon the foundation in music that they solidified at Berklee.

Each graduating student has an interesting story to tell, but here we offer quick snapshots of just 10 graduating seniors, representing each of the 12 undergraduate majors available at Berklee. While these vignettes can’t possibly encapsulate a class composed of hundreds of rising young music professionals, we present the profiles below as a small slice of the class of 2015 at large, each member of which stands poised to shape the future of our music and our world.

Eren Başbuğ

Eren BasbugA double major in film scoring and electronic production and design (EPD), Eren Başbuğ hails from Ankara, Turkey and grew up listening to Dream Theater, the Grammy-nominated progressive metal band that formed at Berklee in 1985. As a Berklee student, Başbuğ, a classically trained pianist, composer, and conductor, wrote and recorded arrangements that his idols in Dream Theater used on their most recent album, a turn of events Başbuğ says was “almost too much to take in.” Başbuğ also conducted a Berklee student orchestra at Dream Theater’s Boston Opera House concert last year. One suspects it will not be the last time he leads an orchestra in a major performance.

Hear Başbuğ’s arrangement of Dream Theater’s “False Awakening Suite:”


Angelina Eugenio Mbulo

Angelina MbuloOriginally from Maputo, Mozambique, Angelina Eugénio Mbulo is a dual major in music education and music business/management. Prior to coming to Berklee, she joined the international relief organization World Relief in 2000, and, despite much good work being done, Mbulo decided that with so many young people infected with HIV, music might be the best way for her to reach children and youth, perhaps even before they got infected. Now, armed with a Berklee education, her ultimate aim is to open her own music school that will both help students excel in music and equip them with the tools they need to make healthy life decisions.


Ben Johnston

Ben JohnstonThe class of 2015 will likely never forget the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013. As the Berklee community struggled to cope with this horrible act in our campus neighborhood, a song, co-written by songwriting major Ben Johnston of Quincy, Massachusetts, gave voice to feelings many couldn’t yet verbalize. Johnston came to Berklee after two deployments to Iraq in the U.S. Army, where he rose to the rank of captain. While at Berklee, Johnston donated his kidney to a stranger and advanced his songwriting craft. Seeing the response to the song he co-wrote (with Jordan Lucero) about the Boston Marathon bombings, he says, “makes me want to keep writing more songs.”

Hear Berklee students perform an arrangement featuring lyrics by Johnston and Lucero:


Witness Matlou

Witness MatlouStudying with Danilo Pérez and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, Witness Matlou came to Berklee, where he has been a double-major in jazz composition and performance, from Johannesburg, South Africa. A composer and bandleader who has toured professionally throughout Europe and the U.S., at Berklee Matlou has learned from and/or performed with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Terri Lyne Carrington ’83 H’03, Joe Lovano, Antonio Sanchez ‘97, John Patitucci, and Pérez, among others. He has played at venues such as Dizzy’s Jazz Club at Lincoln Center, the Promising Artists of the 21st Century series in Costa Rica, and the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Watch Matlou perform with the Berklee Global Jazz Ambassadors and Joe Lovano:


Marianella Rojas

Marianella RojasA double major in contemporary writing and production and performance, Marianella “Nella” Rojas came to the college from Margarita Island, Venezuela, having already recorded vocals for several prominent commercial jingles. She further found her voice at Berklee and in the group 3 Sudacas, in which she sang alongside Colombian bass student Esther Rojas and Brazilian guitarist Eduardo Mercuri; a stellar track from the trio, “Tarde de Abril,” is available on Heavy Rotation Records’s Dorm Sessions 10). In addition, Marianella Rojas was one of several Berklee students who wowed audiences with a performance of “La Musica No Se Toca” live at the 2013 Latin Grammys with Latin music superstar Alejandro Sanz H'13.

Watch Rojas and other students perform at the Latin Grammys with Alejandro Sanz:


Max Wolpert

Max WolpertMax Wolpert has been instrumental in bringing many of Berklee’s popular student musical theater productions to life at the Berklee Performance Center, serving as music director for the college’s production of Footloose and concertmaster on productions of Legally Blonde: The Musical and Hairspray, among others. A professional music major hailing from Crookston, Minnesota, Wolpert is also a classically trained violinist and a composer, conductor, arranger, and theater orchestrator. Wolpert, who has composed chamber music for string quartets and served as concertmaster for Berklee World Strings (conducted by Eugene Friesen), is poised to expand his forays in music for theater beyond Berklee’s stages.


Jiyoun Lee

Jiyoun LeeJiyoun Lee, a pianist, vocalist, composer, arranger, singer-songwriter, and music director, came to Berklee from Seoul, South Korea, having played piano since age seven and dedicating herself to learning about jazz. At Berklee, Lee studied composition and performance and served as a Student Government Association representative. She released an album, Soar, in 2012 and, more recently, performed with her band at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. She’s currently at work on her next album. At Berklee, Lee delved into a diverse array of genres, from jazz, Latin, and Motown to classical, Afro-Cuban, pop, and gospel, ensuring a wide palette to work from in the years to come.


Jose Hector “Pepe” Portilla

Pepe PortillaA native of Veracruz, Mexico, Jose Hector “Pepe” Portilla had experienced significant radio success in Mexico but was interested in working in music beyond performance. At Berklee, Portilla majored in music production and engineering (MP&E) and began branching out from performance into songwriting and producing songs by other artists. He also hosted two Berklee radio shows and made a connection with Jesus Lopez of Universal Music Latin America, for which several artists have recorded songs by Portilla, including Playa Limbo, who are currently topping the iTunes Mexico charts with the Portilla-written song "Que Somos." Portilla refers to his time at Berklee as “the best experience I’ve ever had.”

Watch a music video for Pepe Portilla’s “Era:”


Natasha Brewer

Natasha BrewerWhile studying at Berklee, music therapy major Natasha Brewer of Kailua, Hawaii has been seizing numerous opportunities to put what she has learned in the classroom into action. Brewer, who took on a psychology minor at Berklee, has practiced music therapy in psychiatric, geriatric/assisted living, and special education settings in the Boston area. Growing up in a military family, Brewer witnessed the impacts post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had on many U.S. veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan; this vocalist, pianist, and guitarist aims to harness the healing potential of music in a psychiatric setting with veterans dealing with PTSD.


Nikolas Metaxas

Nikolas MetaxasProfessional diploma student Nikolas Metaxas first rose to the world’s attention after coming in second on the first season of the Greek version of the television show The X Factor. In releasing his debut album, Square One, he soon showed the world that his success on the show was no fluke. At Berklee, Metaxas, who is originally from Lemesos, Cyprus, majored in music production and engineering (MP&E). While studying at Berklee, Metaxas, joined by his band, has toured the U.S., Greece, Cyprus, and Italy and his videos have been met with widespread viewership on YouTube.

Watch Metaxas perform “Change the World” here:

Additional contributors: Kim Ashton, Nick Balkin, Lesley O'Connell, and Bryan Parys.