Founder and Artistic Director
Danielle Merlis is a Connecticut based cellist, teacher, and film composer. As both a composer and performer, her music spans traditional and contemporary styles including classical, world, electronic, pop, and jazz. Danielle has composed music for numerous films and documentaries, including The Kidnapping of a Fish (Philip A. Ramos and That Storm Films), which was accepted into Cannes Film Festival, The Tokyo Lift Off Festival, The New York City International Film Festival, and The Big Island Film Festival. In addition to her film work, she composes music for ABC Television.
Danielle has won numerous awards and competitions for her cello playing. She was invited to perform with the Norwalk Symphony as a featured soloist with renowned jazz musician Chris Brubeck and his band Triple Play. She also performed with Glenn Frey at Town Hall to promote his solo album After Hours and with the entire Eagles band at the Beacon Theater.
Danielle studied music at the Manhattan School of Music, Boston University's Tanglewood Institute, McGill University’s Schulich School of Music, in addition to New York University's Steinhardt school. She earned her bachelor's degree in cello performance under the instruction of Matt Haimovitz and Marion Feldman and her master's degree in film composition at New York University. While she was a student at Staples High School Danielle studied cello with Lois Errante and was a member of the Norwalk Youth Symphony Principal Orchestra. Danielle has performed as a soloist, orchestra member, chamber musician, and band member at various venues including Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall, The Beacon Theater, Ozawa Concert Hall, Town Hall, CAMI Hall, The Shed at Tanglewood, Joe’s Pub, Lowe Theater, Provincetown Playhouse, and the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Read an article about Danielle here.
Assistant to the Artistic Director
Long-time Westport resident Joan Merlis has a background as a music educator and choral conductor. She was on the music faculty of the Calhoun School in New York City, and at The Walnut Hill School of Performing Arts in Massachusetts. Founder of the TCS chorale in 1994, she has served as its music director for 23 years. She also sings with the Boston based choirs "Koleinu" and "Zachor."
Joan holds an MBA from Columbia University and worked in finance in New York City. She is also a certified teacher of the GYROTONIC® method of movement, used by many musicians, dancers and others to maintain free movement of the body to enhance their professional and daily activities.
Senior Cello Faculty
Lucas de Valdivia is a cellist who teaches in the Greater New Haven area and at the New Canaan School of Music. He is graduate of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami as well as Manhattan School of Music PreCollege. While attending Staples High School Lucas studied cello with Lois Errante and chamber music with Asya Meshberg. He is passionate about chamber music and loves sharing his ideas about playing in an ensemble with his students. In addition to his active teaching schedule, Lucas is also an audio engineer.
Tristan Rais-Sherman is the co-founder and Artistic Director of the newly formed Stamford Youth Symphony. He also has recently been named Artistic Director and Conductor of the Hilltop Music Collective in Greenwich, CT. In January 2018 he served as Assistant Conductor of the Syracuse Opera’s production of La Traviata. He is also the Conductor of the West Connecticut Youth Orchestra String Ensemble. Tristan has become one of the most sought after young conductors in New York/Connecticut area, and is becoming known for his vivid and thrilling music-making. This August, he appeared as part of the Kaufman Music Center’s Summer String Fest at Merkin Concert Hall. In early 2017, Tristan appeared as a Guest Conductor with the Chelsea Symphony in New York City, and was a finalist with both the Naples Philharmonic and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra to become Assistant Conductor and Music Director of their respective Youth Orchestras. He previously served as Assistant Conductor and David Alan Miller Fellow of the New York Youth Symphony from 2015-2017. Tristan recently performed as part of the Lamont Conducting Workshop in Denver, CO and the Aurora Festival in Vänersborg, Sweden. He is passionate about creating inspiring musical experiences for people of all ages, from 6 months to 60 years, and beyond.
Tristan graduated from the University of Michigan with a Master’s degree in Orchestral Conducting as a student of Kenneth Kiesler in 2015. While in Michigan, he served as Music Director of the Michigan Pops Orchestra—the United States’ oldest collegiate Pops orchestra, and one of Ann Arbor’s most cherished musical organizations. Under his direction, the orchestra performed a wide variety of music—ranging from Mendelssohn and Prokofiev to Game of Thrones and Video Games Live. He performed with the University Symphony and Philharmonia Orchestras on the stage of Hill Auditorium, and served as Assistant Conductor of all active ensembles. He led premieres of music by Keith Allegretti, Sam Saunders and organized a performance of music by Brahms, Haydn, and Rameau. Since completing his graduate studies at the University of Michigan, Tristan has been a Conducting Fellow at the Dartington International Summer School in the UK, and participated in the Seventh International St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic Masterclass with Alexander Polishchuck and Sian Edwards in September 2015.
Julian Shively started piano lessons at age 4 and cello at 5½. After years of classical piano playing studying with Erika Schroth in New Haven, Julian has turned his focus to jazz and is currently studying with Rex Cadwallader. On cello, his early studies were through the Suzuki method but as he advanced, he started traditional lessons with Rebecca Patterson and currently with Philip Boulanger. Julian serves as principal cellist in the Principal Orchestra of the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras. He also plays in a string quartet coached by Asya Meshberg in Darien. He is a senior at Trumbull High School and wishes to pursue a dual degree in music and the sciences. The highlights of Julian’s musical achievements include solo/concerto opportunities with Danbury Symphony (2012, 2014), Greater New Haven Youth Ensembles (2013), Greater Bridgeport Symphony (2016), Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras (2016), Hamden Symphony (2017), American Chamber Orchestra (2017) and Wallingford Symphony Orchestra (2018). He has been lucky enough to have participated in master classes and workshops given by such celebrated musicians as cellists Narek Hakhnazaryan and Nicholas Cannellakis, pianists Andrew Tyson and Vadym Kholodenko, as well as the Carducci, Harlem, Ying, and Miro Quartets, to name a few. Julian is especially passionate about chamber music. His summers are typically filled with camps and institutes that focus on chamber music. In his spare time Julian likes riding his bike, listening to Led Zeppelin, and expanding his knowledge of astrophysics and other curiosities online.
Isabella Palacpac, from Wilton, Connecticut, is currently an undergraduate student at The Juilliard School, where she studies with Natasha Brofsky. Her previous teachers include Andre Emelianoff and Minhye Clara Kim at Juilliard Pre College, and Alexander Russakovsky at the University of Southern Mississippi. She has performed as a featured soloist with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, American Chamber Orchestra, Danbury Symphony Orchestra, and the Eastern Connecticut Youth Symphony Orchestra as a winner of concerto competitions, and has also won prizes from competitions such as the New York Music Competition and the National YoungArts Foundation, among others. She was selected and participated twice as a semifinalist in the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians, held in Montreaux-Vevey, Switzerland (2012) and Moscow, Russia (2014). In previous summers, she participated in the Orford Arts Festival in Canada and the Yellow Barn Young Artists Program in Putney, Vermont. In 2015, she was chosen to be a member of Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the USA, where she participated in a month-long concert tour with performances in Carnegie Hall and seven cities throughout China. She was a private cello teacher throughout high school, a summer volunteer teacher at the Harmony Program in New York City, a guest speaker and soloist at the 2015 Fairfield County String Teachers Association Festival, and is the co-founder and former director of both the Roots of Music Camp in Wilton and the Congers Summer Music Camp in New York, two music camps which have been running since 2012. As a Gluck Fellow at Juilliard, she has performed in various hospitals, youth centers, and other venues throughout New York City, and is also a part of the Columbia University Pops Chamber Ensemble. Her other professional interests include literature, journalism, and medicine; she spent a previous summer working for an independent literature organization, and she is looking forward to conducting developmental and cognitive psychology research this summer before teaching at The Cello Camp.
Sarah Sommer attends Boston University, where she studies Social Anthropology and Public Health. She hopes to pursue a Master's Degree in Public Health, and work as a communications specialist for Public Health agencies. She graduated from Staples High School in Westport in 2016. Sarah has been playing cello for 12 years—six of which she spent studying with Danielle. She also plays guitar and spent four years as a Music/Talk show host on Staples High School's radio station, WWPT. Sarah is a layout editor for Daily Free Press, Boston University's student newspaper, and teaches health classes at Boston high schools through Peer Health Exchange.