Concerto Competition Winners’ Concert

The Winners will perform the following concertos:
  • Apollo Murray (Cello):  Elgar Cello Concerto in e minor, Op. 85, Mov. 1
  • Ben Sessions (Piano):  Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 in C, Op. 15, Mov. 3
  • Ian Sun (Piano):  Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1 in e minor,  Op. 11, Mov. 2
  • Sasha Murray (Piano):  Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 in g minor, Op. 22, Mov. 3
  • Yoni Gartenberg (Violin):  Accolay Violin Concerto in a minor, Mov. 1
Winners’ Bios & Sample Performances

Ian Sun, Piano

  • Senior in High School
  • Studies with Dr. Anna Kislitsyna

“I don’t make mistakes. I make spontaneous creative decisions.”

What competitions or awards have you won?

  • Second Prize, American Virtuoso International Music Competition
  • First Prize & Excellence Nomination, Vivaldi Competitions: Young Artist Categories
  • Gold Award, Grand Metropolitan International Music Competition: Gold award (score of 93/100)
  • Second Place, Opus National Competition: Piano, age 14-18 category
  • Gold Award, North American Virtuoso International Competition (score of 91/100)

What are your interests outside of music?
Quite a lot – in addition to piano, I am also a percussionist in the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, and I played the drum set in my school’s honors jazz band. I’m also very involved with computer science, and I’m a part of my school’s robotics team which very nearly made it to VEX Worlds last year. In addition to robotics, I’m a part of my school’s refurbishing club where we tune up old computers and send them to communities in need, and I recently founded a student tech support program where students can help troubleshoot problems on people’s devices. On top of that, I manage the websites for three different nonprofits, and was involved in them in more than just web management; I wrote the curriculums for one nonprofit that taught English to ESL (English as a second language) students, and I participated in discussions about racism and discrimination in another. And on top of that, I wrote for my school’s newspaper and became the opinions editor for it, of which many of my articles were about issues affecting my community, such as racism.

What is one piece of advice about music practice that you would like to share?
I actually have two pieces of advice. My first is: don’t procrastinate! I know, you’ve heard this so many times from so many people, but it’s really important not to delay your practice until the day of your lesson or a performance. Just like with schoolwork and cramming before a test, you won’t get your piece firmly in your hands if you practice like that and you’ll probably forget it soon after. It takes consistent practice to get pieces firmly in your hands. I’ve learned this the hard way, mind you. My second piece of advice is not to obsess over a tiny mistake during a performance. When you’re practicing, definitely make sure that every part of the piece is firmly in your hands and neatly polished. But on stage, when you mess up, just keep playing.

How did serious music influence your life?
You know that old adage – “when words fail, music speaks.” And that adage perfectly suited me ever since I was young; music was how I expressed myself, and it was how I channeled my emotions. For example, whenever I did homework or any other tedious task, I would often listen to music to make the task enjoyable. But it also fits into my positivity, even when I’m overwhelmed — some songs I listen to put a smile on my face which makes me feel optimistic and confident during the day. Even when I practice piano, I still get the same feelings of confidence, calm, or optimism.

Are you planning to continue studying music in college?
I’m majoring in computer science, actually! But I might end up being a part of a band, orchestra, or some musical ensemble in college, and I’ll still find time to practice piano during then. I am applying to Princeton and Yale as music majors with an emphasis on piano performance, though.

Ben Sessions, Piano

  • Junior in High School
  • Studies with Dr. Anna Kislitsyna

Ben began his piano studies at the age of seven at the Oxford Arts Alliance. He was a student of Dr. Carl Cranmer of West Chester University from 2018-2021. In the summer of 2019, Ben attended the Philadelphia International Music Festival, where he studied with Ashley Hsu and Svetlana Smolina. He attended the Interlochen Center for the Arts High School Piano Program in 2021, where he studied with Dr. Michael Coonrod. Ben has been attending the Nelly Berman School of Music since November 2021, studying with Dr. Ronaldo Rolim and Dr. Anna Kislitsyna. He attended the Oberlin Piano Festival in the summer of 2022, studying with esteemed guest artists including Stanislav Ioudenitch and Peter Mack. He also enjoyed playing frequently in local retirement homes.

What are your interests outside of music?
I enjoy baseball, playing chess, and golfing with my grandparents.

What are your practicing habits or tricks to learning a piece?
It is hard to always be motivated to practice, so I find it helps when I have a competition or performance in mind that I have to work towards. I also like to watch videos that I find especially inspirational such as Yunchan Lim’s version of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto.

How did serious music influence your life?
It has taken up a lot of time in my life, but I am glad it has. I feel like it gave my an outlet for my emotions that I have a hard time expressing and gave me always something to work towards as well as teach me so many lessons about hard work and chasing a dream.

Are you planning to continue studying music in college?
Yes I plan to Major in piano performance in college.

Sasha Murray, Piano

  • Junior in High School
  • Studies with Dr. Anna Kislitsyna & Dr. Marianna Prjevalskaya

What competitions or awards have you won?
I have won first place at the Triumph Music Festival in the Rachmaninoff category and 2nd prize at the London International Music Competition and Medici International Music Competition.

What are your interests outside of music?
Outside of music, I enjoy swimming, coding, and competing in Science Olympiad. I am involved with planning many events like the LM Girls Hackathon and CodeLM (a programming competition) for my school’s Computer Science Club. I am also the senior website editor for The Merionite, the Lower Merion school newspaper. My school’s Science Olympiad team recently qualified for our first in-person national tournament since 2018 with the lowest team score in history at the state tournament.

How do you deal with the pressure of performance?
To deal with the pressure of performance, I recommend playing at the weekly performance classes as much as possible. The only way to be comfortable with performing is to perform more! It is also important to make sure the piece is actively memorized, not just relying on muscle memory.

How did serious music influence your life?
Playing an instrument has taught me discipline since I learned the importance of practicing every day.

Are you planning to continue studying music in college?
Although I don’t think I’ll be a music major, I hope to continue studying music in college. I’m mainly interested in continuing to learn chamber music.

Apollo Murray, Cello

  • Eighth Grade
  • Studies with Jacques-Pierre Malan & Jeffrey Solow

What competitions or awards have you won?

  • Winner’s Recital, Golden Key Music Festival, Carnegie Hall (April 2022)

  • Silver Rating, Golden Key Music Festival (February 2022)

  • Third Prize, Kol Nidrei (Bruch), Classical Music International Competition, International Youth Music Competitions (IYMC) age group 10-13 (June 2021)

  • Platinum Rating, Nelly Berman School of Music, Music Technique Skills-Building Scales & Studies Competition (May 2021)

  • Gold Rating, Nelly Berman School of Music, Celebration of the Arts Festival (April 2021)

  • Honorable Mention, ODIN International Music Competition (Jan. 2021)

What are your interests outside of music?
Working out, swimming

What are your tricks to learning a piece?
Finding all the places that you have found that give you big problems and work out all the big details, then focus on fine tuning.

How did serious music learning influence you in your life?
I think music has given me a greater appreciation for everything in life, and all the details

Are you planning to continue studying music in college?
Probably not majoring, but will continue to play the cello

Yoni Gartenberg, Violin

  • Sixth Grade
  • Studies with Tanya Ivanova

What Competitions or Awards have you won?

  • NBS Celebration of the Arts 2022 & 2023

What are your interests outside of music?

I enjoy playing soccer and am a striker on the Lower Merion Soccer Club travel team.  I also enjoy playing in an orchestra.  I’m currently in a strings ensemble called Prysm Strings which is organised by the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra.  I love cooking for my family (my favorite dish to cook is salmon).  And I enjoy school, in particular Latin and Math.

What are your tricks to practicing/learning a piece?

I try to perform beforehand many times and in front of many people so I can try to simulate playing under pressure.

How did serious music influence you in your life? 

Studying music has taught me to be disciplined and organised, both when I am practicing and outside of music.  I also enjoy listening to classical music in my spare time.  My favorite violinists are Milstein, Oistrakh, Hahn, and Perlman.

Are you planning to continue studying music in college?

I don’t yet know whether I will continue to music school (I’m only in the 6th grade!). But I definitely plan to continue playing the violin in college.

Concerto Competition 2nd & 3rd Prize Winners, Honorable Mentions

2nd Prize/Alternate: Miles Zhou (Violin)
3rd Prize: Ben Roses (Violin)
1st Honorable Mention: Zoe Zhang(Violin)
2nd Honorable Mention: Suri Ahn (Violin)
3rd Honorable Mention: Ryan Ye (Violin)


2nd Prize/Alternate: Michelle Dou (Piano)
3rd Prize: Andrew Li (Piano)
1st Honorable Mention: Andrew Yu (Piano)
2nd Honorable Mention: Chloe Chen (Piano)
3rd Honorable Mention: Torsten Fras (Harpsichord)

Meet Our Illustrious Judges for the Concerto Competition!

Faina Lushtak: Steinway Artist, Chair of Downman Trust Fund at Tulane University, International Competition Judge

Dr. Timothy Vance Blair: Steinway Artist, Senior Partner & Distinguished Professor with Alexander & Buono International of New York, Dean Emeritus of West Chester University College of Arts & Humanities

Elina Kalendarova: Member of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2002

Dr. Nathaniel McEwen: Voice Faculty at the NBS, Member of the Philadelphia Opera Company

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