Meet the Students

Meet the Students

We welcome young cellists from around the world to Sitka for the 2016 Sitka Cello Seminar. Here are this year’s participants!

Najem_Isa Al Isa Al Najem was born in Bahrain in 1994 and was initially taught by his father the oud, which is a traditional Middle-Eastern instrument that is similar to the lute, which was intended to be his primary instrument. With professional training on the oud, Isa has performed on stages all over the Middle East, and around the world. Over the years, he has been interviewed on a number of well-known television networks, participating in numerous competitions, both locally and internationally with the oud, winning first prize in the St. Christopher’s Young Musician of the Gulf 2011, touring the United Kingdom in Aberdeen’s International Youth Festival, and performing in Shanghai, China’s Expo 2010 representing Bahrain in it’s Pavilion, and reaching the semi-finals of the renown Arabs Got Talent.

Being a citizen of the Kingdom of Bahrain, a small Middle-Eastern country where music is not honored as much, Isa decided to pursue his studies in Western Classical music, which made him pick up the cello at the age of 18 (in 2012), which was considered exceptionally late. Given that the classical music scene in his hometown is almost non-existent, the struggle to find a music teacher, let alone a cello teacher, was extremely difficult. Cello teachers tend to leave the country after a short period of time, which resulted with learning more from the internet than teachers. After 7 months of playing cello, Isa got accepted, then later, graduating from Longy School of Music of Bard College and Emerson Collage, and is now continuing his studies at Boston University to advance his studies in cello performance under the mentorship of Boston Symphony Orchestra cellist Mihail Jojatu, meanwhile taking lessons with Grammy nominee Terry King, and Baroque cellist Dr. Phoebe Carrai.

Chris Beroes-Haigis, Beroes-Haigis_Chrisfrom New York, was self-taught on guitar until, at age 16, he switched to playing the cello exclusively and began to study classical music more seriously. He then became a student of cellist Misha Quint in the preparatory division at Mannes School of Music and spent many summers studying with Quint at the InterHarmony International Music Festival, where Quint serves as director.  Now a student of cellist Andrey Tchekmazov, Chris graduated from Bard College this past May where he studied composition with Joan Tower, conducting with James Bagwell and cello with Luis Garcia-Renart. During his time at Bard, he performed regularly with a self-formed piano trio, with the Bard Baroque Ensemble, and was a winner of the Bard College Orchestra Concerto Competition. This past year, together with fellow composer Daniel Meyer-O’Keeffe, he helped to form Innersections Ensemble–a new music ensemble dedicated to performing the music of composers under the age of 40. His love for composing–as well as performing–grows out of his appreciation for improvisation and his aspiration to share music with others. In September, he will become a part of the Bard Conservatory as a student of cellist Peter Wiley and continue to study composition with Joan Tower.

Eliza Fath, 21, has performed as a soloist aFath_Elizand chamber musician in numerous venues throughout the U.S, Korea and Europe. Eliza began her study of the cello when she was five and graduated from the pre-college division of The Juilliard School studying with Minhye Clara Kim in 2013 where she served as a Principal cellist of the Juilliard Pre-College Symphony. Eliza currently is a junior attending the Cleveland Institute of Music studying with Dr. Melissa Kraut.

Last summer Eliza attended Bowdoin Music Festival studying with Steven Doane.  She also gave a performance at Pequot Library raising money for an organization called “Music for Youth” and volunteered at a summer program sponsored by “Kids Empowered By Your Support” giving private and group cello lessons to children and assisting with their orchestral program. This summer Eliza will attend the Lev Aronston program in Dallas, Texas, ENCORE- achamber music program with Annie Fullard of the Cavani String Quartet and Paul Katz of the Cleveland String quartet, and finally the Sitka Music Festival where Eliza will be under the tutelage of Dr. Melissa Kraut and the renowned Zuill Bailey.  Eliza enjoys eating ice cream, singing and playing soccer.

Ignatjeva_KristianaKristiana Ignatjeva, is a Latvian cellist and scholar studying at the Royal College of Music in London (England) with professor Melissa Phelps, supported by the Big Give Award. In 2010 Kristiana joined the Purcell School of Music where she studied with professor Robert Cohen and received full scholarship by the National Music and Dance Scheme. She has participated in many masterclasses with professors such as Jérôme Pernoo, Christoph Richter, Hans-Jørge Jensen, Raphael Wallfisch, Zuill Bailey, Hillel Zori, Natalie Clein, Johannes Goritzki and many others. Kristiana has won many international and national competitions, recently being awarded the Muriel Taylor Scholarship (2016) and the First prize and Unaccompanied Bach Prize at the Violoncello competition in RCM (2015). She has given recitals across Europe in the major concert halls such as Wigmore Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Cadogan Hall, Buckingham Palace amongst many others. Kristiana recently gave performances of Tchaikovsky, Elgar and Saint-Saëns concertos in United Kingdom. This year she has also been playing in London Symphony Orchestra as part of their string experience scheme and English National Opera as part of their scheme. In her free time Kristiana enjoys dancing and playing board games. As a teenager she even entered the national championship in “The Settlers of Catan”. Kristina is the proud recipient of the Gloria Miner Fellowship, which has allowed her to attend this year’s seminar.

Sarah Miller, 19, has been sharing her love for playing the cello for the past fifteen years. Originally from Long Island, NY, Sarah is currently a freshman at the Miller_SarahCleveland Institute of Music under the tutelage of Dr. Melissa Kraut. As a soloist, Sarah has won prizes in the New York Music Competition, the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition, the Island Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Competition, and had received the 2014/2015 Long Island Arts Alliance Scholar Artist Award of Merit. In the future Sarah aspires to become a chamber musician, as she loves the way this interactivity creates lasting friendships and memories. When she doesn’t have her cello in her hands, Sarah enjoys the outdoors and activities such as hiking and swimming.


Robyn Neidhold has performed professionally since age thirteen.  In eighth grade, Robyn auditioned for and won a contract with the Reno Philharmonic and in the same year won the Reno Philharmonic Youth Symphony Concerto Competition with the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations.  In the following years Robyn performed concertos again with the Youth Symphony and twice with the Reno Pops Orchestra. Robyn’s other accomplishments include earning principal cello positions with the Suzuki Youth Orchestra of America, Tanglewood (BUTI) Symphony Orchestra and Nevada All-State Orchestra. Robyn is the only cellist to have won Command Performance at the NMEA All-State Conference as the top low string student in Nevada four years in a row.  Robyn has attended nationally known summer programs including Meadowmount, Tanglewood, Marrowstone, Philadelphia International and Music at Menlo.  Many eminent teachers have influence Robyn’s life as a cellist. Robyn has performed on masterclasses for distinguished cellist such as, Hans Jørgen Jensen , Lynn Harrell, Wendy Warner, Alisa Weilerstein and Joan Jenrenaud.   Her past teachers include Dmitri Atapine, UNR professor and member of the Argent Trio, and noted Suzuki cello educator, Emily Ullman. In Robyn’s spare time she runs half marathons, raises money for the Nevada Humane Society by selling rubber ducks, and appreciates a good cup of coffee. Robyn is studying cello performance at Indiana University Jacob’s School of Music with Eric Kim as a Premier Young Artist.

Ogihara_EricaErica Ogihara was born in Rochester, New York, and began her cello studies at age ten. She is a graduate of Walnut Hill School for the Arts, where she studied with Judith Serkin through the New England Conservatory Preparatory School Program. A passionate chamber musician, she has participated in groups that were featured on From the Top, and competed in South Bend for the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. A recipient of the Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship, she has served the position of Principal Cello in festivals such as the Summer Music Institute with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C., and the Young Artists Orchestra at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute in Lenox. Erica currently studies at Oberlin Conservatory with Darrett Adkins, and lives in Miami, Florida with her family and two dogs. Her hobbies include Hot Yoga and knitting.

Benjamin Rogers, a native of Knoxville, TN,  first played cello in school at the age of 11 and began private studies theRogers_Benjamin following year. Having graduated this year from DePaul University with a Bachelor of Music, he will begin graduate studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music this fall under the instruction of Melissa Kraut. Previous studies have been with Stephen Balderston, Wesley Baldwin, and Ihsan Kartal. He has performed in masterclasses with renowned cellists Lynn Harrell, Amit Peled, Richard Aaron, Alan Rafferty, and Inbal Segev. An advocate for contemporary music, Benjamin has performed extensively with DePaul University’s contemporary music ensemble, Ensemble 20+ under the direction of Michael Lewanski.

Swong_SarahSarah Swong, 23, is from New Jersey and has lived in Sitka since September. She graduated last year with a B.A. in History from Yale College. There, she served as principal cellist of the Yale Symphony Orchestra, did community organizing for socioeconomic issues on campus and in the city, and wrote and performed in a feminist
sketch comedy group. Her primary cello teachers have been Marion Feldman, Ole Akahoshi, and Irene Sharp. She currently runs Sitka Story Lab, a free creative writing and storytelling program for youth ages 5-19, at the Island Institute through the Winter Fellows Program. In Alaska, she has come to love teaching cello, subbing for classical shows at Raven Radio, baking sourdough bread, and thinking about how to respect the earth. She is the only creature on Baranof Island who hasn’t seen a humpback whale (please help) and wants to learn to catch and clean fish this summer. In this photo, she is fiddling around on the staircase of Icy Strait Brewing, a craft brewery in Hoonah, AK.

Alexander Wagner is frWagner_Alexanderom Evanston, Illinois and began his studies at Age 5 through the Music Institute of Chicago. He studied with Steven Houser and Richard Hirschl. He was accepted into the Jacobs School of Music and was awarded the Premier Young Artist Award where he is pursuing a BM in Cello Performance. He currently studies with Peter Stumpf and frequently performs in his Master Classes. This summer he attends the Young Artist Program a part of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, as well as the Sitka Cello Seminar. Alexander hopes to continue to share his musical ideas with musicians and non-musicians alike, and to continue to expand his studies on all fronts.



Marza Wilks

By |2018-11-17T10:10:42-09:00June 8th, 2016|Top Page Feature, News, Summer Cello Seminar|2 Comments


  1. […] performance will include cello solos, small ensembles and a cello choir featuring eleven top cello students from around the world. Those who saw last year’s show can tell you this is not something to […]

  2. […] performance included cello solos, small ensembles and a cello choir featuring eleven top cello students from around the world. It was an evening to […]

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