...The FYO pretty much made me who I am today!

Welcome to our alumni page. The Fairbanks Youth Orchestras have brought together hundreds of children and teens since the inception in 1968. If you are an alum, and would like to share your story of your experience in the Fairbanks Youth Orchestras, please let us know. We would love to hear where you are now, whether you pursued music or another career.

Sam Quintal, violin (Currently violist with the Jasper String Quartet)

During my time in the orchestras I progressed from Prepatory Group through Youth Symphony, where I eventually became concertmaster. The orchestras provided me with an incredibly rewarding musical experience, perhaps most importantly by exposing me to great music, but also by providing a sense of musical community. Some of my best musical memories are of watching the Youth Symphony play after finishing my performace in Prep Group. I was amazed by the more advanced players, and this really inspired me. In addition to all of that, the skills of ensemble playing are something that I learned a great deal about in FYO. Considering that I now play full time in a String Quartet, you can imagine how important this was for me. For me, there were also non-musical benefits to my time with the orchestras. I learned stage managing, and have been able to use that skill in several jobs.

The fact that a community as small and remote as Fairbanks can support such a vibrant musical scene is testament to the creativity and dedicatoin that resides there. I have been to larger towns, where the professional symphony struggled to play as well as the Fairbanks Youth Symphony. Since leaving Fairbanks, I have always remembered fondly how enjoyable and rewarding my experience was in FYO.

Jaren Atherholt, oboe (Principal Oboist of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra)

Jaren Atherholt earned her bachelor's degree in music performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music where she studied with John Mack and a master's degree from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University where she studied with Robert Atherholt. Prior to obtaining her position with the LPO, Jaren spent two seasons as Principal Oboist of the Sarasota Opera Orchestra. She has performed as guest Principal Oboist with the Detroit Symphony, Florida Orchestra and Syracuse Symphony. She has also performed as guest Associate Principal Oboist with the Pittsburgh Symphony. She has been with the Louisiana Philharmonic since 2007. Jaren has been a featured concerto soloist with the LPO, Tulane University Orchestra, Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, Washington Chamber Symphony at the Kennedy Center, and the Fairbanks Symphony. Jaren currently serves as the adjunct instructor of oboe at Tulane University where she teaches private oboe lessons and coaches chamber music ensembles. She spends her summers performing in the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Riley Witte, oboe, Youth Symphony

Well, I think you know that the FYO pretty much made me who I am today! Specifically, the mentoring of George, Candy, and Dr. Zilberkant (among others)... it was hugely important in my personal development and teenage years. Also, I wouldn't be in Russia now if it weren't for FYO. I failed the Spanish placement test when I got to college and randomly decided to study Russian because I liked Rachmaninoff! The FYO taught me a ton about music, group work, and communication. Playing in the wind section was probably the best preparation for college and working life that I had; giving me responsibility and teaching me that hard work pays off. Also, there was no shortage of role models in the FYO community. As a young player, I was in awe of the musicians older than me. Then, when I grew older I had to live up to their example and take a leading role. Basically, for me the FYO was a community and a very positive identity that put me on a good path and helped me to become the person I am today. Though I haven't kept up my music since college coursework made playing impractical, I hope to start playing again soon, and if I have children I will definitely encourage them to play in an orchestra.

Eliesha Gabrielle Nelson (Currently a violist with the Cleveland Orchestra)

It's funny to me how people like to assume that I wasn't exposed to much having grown up in Alaska. They're always amazed that I learned to play violin and piano there, and I played well enough to get into prep programs in the Lower 48. When I won my job in the Cleveland Orchestra, the education department was thrilled that I was the first Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra (COYO) member to "graduate" from the youth orchestra to the professional orchestra. However, before COYO was FYO, and that was my first introduction to the great orchestral repertoire. I'm glad to see how much it's thriving, and the amazing opportunities it offers.

Charly Akert (Currently a professional cellist in San Francisco)

Charly Akert, originally from Fairbanks, Alaska, began playing the cello at age 5. At age 13, he became one of the youngest members of the Fairbanks Symphony as well as the Arctic Chamber Orchestra. He holds a Bachelor's degree from the University of Northern Colorado where he served as principal cellist of the award winning UNC Symphony, and a Master's degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as an Osher Scholarship winner. His primary teachers include Mark Kowser, Mark Sokol, Jennifer Culp, Hans Jensen and Keith Robinson. Passionate about chamber music, Mr. Akert has been an active chamber musician for over 15 years and has performed in venues throughout the U.S. and Europe. In 2000, Mr. Akert founded the Douglas String Quartet and is one of the few musicians to win the Angie Southard award in both chamber music and cello solo. Mr. Akert joined the Nexus String Quartet in 2008 and has had the honor of working with world-renowned artists; Peter Frankl, Kim Kashkashian, Menahem Pressler, Joel Krosnick, Robert Mann as well as members of the Takacs, Concord and Kronos Quartet. As a member of the Nexus String Quartet, Mr. Akert won the national Plowman Chamber Music Competition in 2010 and studied at the Banff Centre and the Aspen Music Festival as Quartet in Residence. He regularly comes back to Fairbanks as a guest artist for the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.

James Czyzewski, cello, 1990-1999 (Currently a cellist with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra)
It was an invaluable experience for me as it served as an introduction to the dynamics of a symphony orchestra. Saturday rehearsals were also a chance to catch up with my many friends in the orchestra, many of which I had grown up with through the Suzuki program. My fond memories of the 9 years I spent in the FYO helped me decide to pursue a career as an orchestral musician. After I left Fairbanks I attended Northwestern University and received a Bachelor's degree in music in 2003. I spent a year post graduation in the Civic Orchestra of the Chicago (the training orchestra of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) and then won a position with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) in the spring of 2004. I'm currently enjoying my 6th season with the SLSO.

Zachary Spontak, violin
Zachary Spontak is a violinist from Fairbanks, who was in the Youth Orchestras for many years. Zach is a violinist in the esteemed Quartet Danae, which was awarded a bronze medal at the 2009 International Fischoff Competition. He is a three-time winner of the Fairbanks Symphony Association's Concerto Competition. He has played in masterclasses for Elisa Barston, Paul Rosenthal, Midori, Pamela Frank, Giora Schmidt, Almita and Roland Vamos through the Music Institute of Chicago, and David Kim. He has performed recitals in Minneapolis, Chicago, Germany, and New York where he played in the stage of the prestigious Meadowmount School of Music. He is a graduate of the Shepherd School of Music. He won the Skokie Valley Young Artists Compotition in 2010.