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Carter Brey

Principal Cello

The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Chair


Carter Brey was appointed Principal Cello, The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Chair, of the New York Philharmonic in 1996. He made his official subscription debut with the Orchestra in May 1997 performing Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations under the direction of then Music Director Kurt Masur. He has since appeared as soloist almost every season, and was featured during The Bach Variations: A Philharmonic Festival, when he gave two performances of the cycle of all six of Bach’s cello suites. Most recently, he was the soloist in performances of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C major at David Geffen Hall in February 2020 and at the Bravo! Vail Music Festival in July 2021, with Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducting on both occasions.

He rose to international attention in 1981 as a prizewinner in the Rostropovich International Cello Competition. The winner of the Gregor Piatigorsky Memorial Prize, Avery Fisher Career Grant, Young Concert Artists’ Michaels Award, and other honors, he also was the first musician to win the Arts Council of America’s Performing Arts Prize.

Brey has appeared as soloist with virtually all the major orchestras in the United States, and performed under the batons of prominent conductors including Claudio Abbado, Semyon Bychkov, Sergiu Comissiona, and Christoph von Dohnányi. He is a member of the New York Philharmonic String Quartet, established in the 2016–17 season, and has made regular appearances with the Tokyo and Emerson string quartets, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and at festivals such as Spoleto (both in the United States and Italy) and the Santa Fe and La Jolla Chamber Music festivals. He and pianist Christopher O’Riley recorded Le Grand Tango: Music of Latin America, a disc of compositions from South America and Mexico released on Helicon Records.

Carter Brey was educated at the Peabody Institute, where he studied with Laurence Lesser and Stephen Kates, and at Yale University, where he studied with Aldo Parisot and was a Wardwell Fellow and a Houpt Scholar. His violoncello is a rare J.B. Guadagnini made in Milan in 1754. An avid racing and cruising sailor since childhood, he holds a Yachtmaster Offshore rating from the Royal Yachting Association.

My most important musical influences were Judy Garland, Jascha Heifetz, Mstislav Rostropovich, Glenn Gould, and The Beatles.

Interview with Carter Brey

THE FACTS: Born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Attended the Peabody Institute, studying with Laurence Lesser and Stephen Kates, and Yale University as a Wardwell Fellow and Houpt Scholar, studying with Aldo Parisot. Prior to the Philharmonic: soloist, and prize winner in major competitions. Most recent recording: the complete cello and piano works of Chopin, with Garrick Ohlsson. At the Philharmonic: Joined in 1996; solo debut in 1997 in Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations with Kurt Masur.

EARLIEST MUSICAL MEMORIES: My mother singing lullabies to me, and my parents taking me to a revival of Porgy and Bess when I was five

WHEN DID YOU START LEARNING AN INSTRUMENT? I began the violin at 9, switched to the cello at 12, and began private lessons at 16. I thought the violin sounded shrill. I regret that decision every time I hear a Mozart violin concerto!

WHO WERE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT MUSICAL INFLUENCES? Judy Garland, Jascha Heifetz, Mstislav Rostropovich, Glenn Gould, and The Beatles

HOW MANY CELLOS DO YOU HAVE? Three: a 1754 Guadagnini for most of my concert use, a 2010 James McKean for backup, and a Yamaha folding electric for practice and travel

YOU HAD A MAJOR SOLO CAREER — WHY DID YOU JOIN THE PHILHARMONIC? It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join one of the great orchestras of the world, and it gave me more time to spend with my family. And I still occasionally go back on the road as a recitalist, soloist, or chamber musician.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT WITH THE ORCHESTRA: Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony with Kurt Masur in Cologne in 1998

WHAT ARE YOUR DUTIES AS PRINCIPAL CELLO? Playing solos to a high standard, and taking care of section bowings and divisi assignments

WHAT ARE YOU ESPECIALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS SEASON? John Adams’s Absolute Jest. I’m part of the New York Philharmonic String Quartet, and we’re making our official debut as the solo ensemble in this piece.

WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? k.d. lang’s album of Canadian ballads, Hymns of the 49th Parallel. I always learn something about lyric phrasing from gifted pop artists like her.

WHAT WOULD YOU BE IF NOT A MUSICIAN? An airline pilot or a delivery captain for offshore yachts

HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR SUMMERS? I sail alone along the Atlantic coast in my 38-foot sloop. It clears my head and connects me to the primal power and beauty of the natural world.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO OUTSIDE OF WORK? Running, dancing, and sailing

As of March 2017

Upcoming 2023-2024 Performances

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