Avi Friedlander – Founder and Artistic Advisor

Avi Pic
Avi Friedlander, Cello,  is the founder and director of STEP Birmingham.  Mr. Friedlander currently teaches at both STEP Birmingham and the Alabama School of Fine Arts and formerly taught at Emory University.  He received his Master’s and Bachelor’s of Music performance degrees from The University of Michigan, and pursued his professional studies degree from The Cleveland Institute of Music. Mr. Friedlander is the former Assistant Principal cellist of the Atlanta Opera and member of The New World Symphony. He has been trained in the Suzuki methods with Dr. Tanya Carey, Pam Devenport, Rick Mooney and Gilda Barston. Mr. Friedlander has also studied Early Child Development with Ed Sprunger, teaching group classes with Carey Beth Hockett, Ed Sprunger and Terry Durbin, Music Mind Games with Elizabeth Cunha and cello pedagogy with Irene Sharp. Mr. Friedlander has studied improvisation with Ellen Rowe at the University of Michigan, Eugene Friesen from the Berkely College of Music in Boston and Stephan Braun from Berlin . His primary teachers have included Anthony Elliott, Stephen Geber, Tanya Carey and David Premo. He has also studied with Richard Aaron, Eric Kim, Yehuda Hanani, David Premo and Hans Jensen. Mr. Friedlander has taught at workshops and festivals around the world and has performed and recorded music from classical to rock. Mr. Friedlander currently performs with Sunday Jazz Night and String Theory Birmingham and writes his own arrangements for solo cello and ensembles from Jimi Hendrix to Pearl Jam.

Dr. Katerina Juraskova

Dr. Katerina Juraskova

Czech-born cellist Katerina Juraskova has been acclaimed for her “electrifying spells, natural intensity, beautiful phrasing and sonority” (Santa Barbara Independent), as “one of the great cellists of the future” (La Presse Montreal). 

She graduated from the Prague State Conservatory and holds performance diplomas from the International Menuhin Music Academy in Gstaad, Switzerland, Conservatoire européen de Musique de Paris, France, Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal, and Masters and Doctorate degrees in Performance from McGill University, Canada.

For nine years Ms. Juraskova was the principal cellist and soloist for the McGill Chamber Orchestra.  Her passion for Canadian contemporary music led to a collaboration with the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal with whom she served as the principal cellist and toured across Canada.  She was the soloist in the highly acclaimed contemporary dance and music collaboration Corps Secrets working with Canadian dancer/choreographers Isabelle Van Grimde and José Navas, performing with them in Canada, Sweden and Japan.  From 2006-2008 Dr. Juraskova served as the Principal Cellist and Artist in Residence of the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra.  As soloist and chamber musician, her career has taken her to major concert venues on three continents.

She has taught at the Montessori Academy and the Montgomery Music Project in Montgomery, AL, as an assistant chamber music teacher at the Internationl Menuhin Music Academy, and as a lecturer at the University of Montreal.  She has served as an adjudicator for the 2010 National Tour of the Canadian Music Competition, for the 2015 Sherbrooke Music Competition in Québec, Canada, and annually for the ACES competition in Montgomery.

Ms. Juraskova studied the cello with František Pišinger of the Dvorak Quartet, Radu Aldulescu, Denis Brott, Antonio Lysy and Christopher Rex, and chamber music with Yehudi Menuhin, Alberto Lysy, Mauricio Fuks, Bernard Greenhouse, Kathleen Winkler and Jerome Lowenthal.

She attended workshops in the Suzuki method with Elayne Ras in Canada, and Rick Mooney and Timothy Durbin in the USA, took her teacher training with Dr. Tanya L. Carey, and is now a registered Suzuki Cello instructor. 

Katerina lives with her husband Thomas Hinds, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra, and their 4-year old son Christopher in Montgomery where they are active in the city’s musical life. 


Dr. Laura Usiskin – Artistic Advisor

LauraPicLaura Usiskin, cello, has diverse musical interests spanning from early Baroque to 21st century music and solo to orchestral playing. Laura’s solo, chamber, and orchestral performing have taken her throughout the United States and Europe. In 2008 she received the Aldo Parisot prize at Yale University, given to gifted cellist showing promise in a solo career. Laura’s cello studies began at age five with Gilda Barston of the Music Institute of Chicago and continued with Richard Hirschl of the Chicago Symphony. She graduated from Columbia University cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience and Behavior and from Juilliard School with a Master of Music in Cello Performance, where she studied with Fred Sherry. Laura studied with Aldo Parisot at Yale University’s School of Music, where in 2009 she finished her doctoral coursework. Laura did her Suzuki training with Jean Dexter, Pam Devenport, Nancy Hair and Sally Gross.

Dr. Samuel Nordlund

Samuel Nordlund is cello and chamber music faculty at Samford University in Birmingham, AL, where he is also cellist in the Samford Quartet.  He frequently performs with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, and has been a member of the Huntsville Symphony, Kalamazoo Symphony (MI), and Illinois Philharmonic, among others.  Samuel is currently President of the Alabama Orchestra Association, and serves on the faculty of STEP Birmingham, the Alabama School of Fine Arts, Samford Academy of the Arts, and the Samford Piano and Chamber Music Institute.  He earned his DMA from The University of Alabama, a MM from Northwestern University, and has additional studies at summer festivals including the Music Academy of the West, the Meadowmount School of Music, the Kent/Blossom Music Festival, and the BrevardMusic Center.  Primary teachers were Hans Jørgen Jensen and Carlton McCreery, and Suzuki training with Avi Friedlander.

Prior to moving to Alabama, Samuel was a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and a substitute player with the Chicago and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestras.  He also served as Assistant Director of Performance Activities at the Music Institute of Chicago.  For several summers, Samuel taught cello and directed the Early Music Ensemble at the Lutheran Summer Music festival.  He is a previous Music Director of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestras of Central Alabama, and currently serves on their Board of Directors.




Peter Garrett

Peter and cello 2From Normal Illinois, Peter started cello lessons at the age of six. He was appointed to the cello section of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra in 2015 while pursuing a Master’s degree at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, where he studied with Brinton Averil Smith. Prior to his studies at the Shepherd School, Peter earned his Bachelors in Music from the University of Michigan. An avid teacher of the cello, Peter comes from a family of music educators. He has studied music pedagogy with Dr. Sohyoung Park and Cornelia Watkins, and has been teaching private lessons and masterclasses since 2013. His past teachers have included Richard Hirschl, Anthony Elliott, Amir Eldan, Brandon Vamos, Astrid Schween, and Nina Gordon.