The New York Philharmonic

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Cynthia Phelps New York Philharmonic

Cynthia Phelps is the New York Philharmonic’s Principal Viola, The Mr. and Mrs. Frederick P. Rose Chair. Highlights of her solo appearances with the Orchestra have included the New York Premiere–Philharmonic Co-Commission of Julia Adolphe’s Unearth, Release, in 2016; performances on the 2006 Tour of Italy, sponsored by Generali; Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante in 2010 and 2014; and Sofia Gubaidulina’s Two Paths, which the Orchestra commissioned for her and Philharmonic Associate Principal Viola Rebecca Young and which they premiered in 1999 and reprised both on tour and in New York, most recently in 2011. Other solo engagements have included the Minnesota Orchestra, San Diego Symphony, Orquesta Sinfónica de Bilbao, and Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Ms. Phelps is a member of the New York Philharmonic String Quartet, established in the 2016–17 season, and performs with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Jupiter Chamber Players, and the Santa Fe, La Jolla, Seattle, Chamber Music Northwest, and Bridgehampton festivals. She has appeared with the Guarneri, Tokyo, Orion, American, Brentano, and Prague Quartets, and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. She has given recitals in the major music capitals of Europe and the U.S. She is also a founding member of the chamber group Les Amies, a flute-harp-viola group with Philharmonic Principal Harp Nancy Allen and flutist Carol Wincenc.

Ms. Phelps is a first-prize winner of both the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition and the Washington International String Competition, and is a recipient of the Pro Musicis International award. Under the auspices of this philanthropic organization, she has appeared as soloist in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Rome, and Paris, as well as in prisons, hospitals, and drug rehabilitation centers worldwide. Her recording Air, for flute, viola, and harp on Arabesque, was nominated for a Grammy Award. Her television and radio credits include Live From Lincoln Center on PBS; St. Paul Sunday Morning on NPR; Radio France; Italy’s RAI; and WGBH in Boston. Ms. Phelps has served on the faculties at The Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music. She is married to cellist Ronald Thomas.

“I spent four years looking for my viola. It has a very dark, throaty sound, which is what I’ve always liked. It’s quite big and very temperamental. I have to baby it!”

Q&A with Cynthia Phelps

THE FACTS: Born in Hollywood, California. Bachelor’s degree in music performance, the University of Southern California; master’s from the University of Michigan. Prior to the Philharmonic: principal viola, San Diego Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra. At the Philharmonic: Joined 1992. Solo debut with the Orchestra: spring 1993 in Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante, on a European tour.

EARLIEST MUSICAL MEMORY: Playing the violin with my four sisters. We had two violinists (in addition to me), a cellist, and a pianist. All of us became professional musicians. The first piece I really fell in love with was Dvořák’s American String Quartet. I was 11 and had just switched to the viola. The instrument has a sound and color I really responded to. It’s the alto sound of the orchestra.

IF YOU COULD PLAY ANOTHER INSTRUMENT, WHAT WOULD IT BE? I would love to sing, if I had a voice. I always look forward to our performances with great opera singers.

WHAT KIND OF VIOLA DO YOU PLAY? A Gaspar da Salo ca.1580, which the Philharmonic owns. I spent four years looking for it. It has a very dark, throaty sound, which is what I’ve always liked. It’s quite big and very temperamental. I have to baby it!

WHO WERE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT MUSICAL INFLUENCES? My teacher, William Primrose, with whom I studied in the last two years of his life, and my chamber music coaches at the Marlboro Music Festival — Felix Galimir, Rudolf Serkin, and David Soyer

WERE YOU INVOLVED IN ANY EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES IN HIGH SCHOOL? I was on the student council and also a cheerleader.

WHAT ARE YOUR DUTIES AS PRINCIPAL VIOLA? Coordinating bowings with the other string principals, using rhythmic body language to lead the section, and acting as an intermediary between the section and the conductor if there are questions. The fun part is playing solos and representing the section at the highest level I can manage.

WHAT PERSONAL TRAITS ARE REQUIRED OF A PRINCIPAL PLAYER? You have to really enjoy taking responsibility, making decisions, and being outgoing and a dynamic performer — having a profile that people can respond to.

MOST RECENT RECORDING: A Telarc CD for flute, viola, and harp called Air, which was nominated for a Grammy Award.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO OUTSIDE OF WORK? Spend time with my husband and three daughters; run 15-20 miles a week; and play a lot of tennis. I have a big viola and I try to keep fit and strong. I'm a California girl!

As of January 2010

Upcoming 2018-2019 Performances

Location: (Directions)
Price Range:


March, 2019 Sunday

Goerne and Trifonov at 92Y

3:00 PM Concert

Goerne and Trifonov at 92Y

Program To Include
Schubert Lieder tba
Eisler Ernste Gesänge
Beethoven / Arr. A. Schmalcz "Adelaide"
Beethoven / Arr. A. Schmalcz "Die Löwenbraut"
Brahms Zwei Gesänge, Op. 91
Brahms Piano Quintet
Frank Huang Violin
Sheryl Staples Violin
Cynthia Phelps Viola
Carter Brey Cello
Timothy Cobb Bass
Matthias Goerne Baritone
Daniil Trifonov Piano


April, 2019 Sunday

Philharmonic Ensembles at Merkin Hall

3:00 PM Concert

Philharmonic Ensembles at Merkin Hall

Program To Include
Piazzolla Three tangos
Beethoven String Quartet No. 2
Stravinsky L'Histoire du soldat
Joseph Alessi Trombone
Timothy Cobb Bass
Leah Ferguson Viola
Pascual Martínez Forteza Clarinet
Alexei Yupanqui Gonzales Cello
Lydia Hong Violin
Soohyun Kwon Violin
Judith LeClair Bassoon

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