Carter Brey  

The Universal Language: Evangeline Benedetti, Former Cellist with the New York Philharmonic, Puts It All into Perspective

Carter Brey
May 3, 2019

Carter Brey: After you played in the hall itself, you had your first meeting with Leonard Bernstein?

Evangeline Benedetti: Yes, well, you know, I didn’t “meet” him, it’s just that we had a little conversation from stage to the middle of the audience.

When I arrived at my preliminary audition, it was winter, and I had a coat on, and I had one of those new fiberglass cases; it was advertised that you could drop your cello from two stories, or have a cab run over it, and nothing would happen to the cello.

Well, what happened was, I thought I had placed my cello securely by the wall, but when I let go and turned around, I guess my coat hit the cello, and it fell over. I didn’t hear any strings twanging or anything, so I just very nonchalantly opened the case, and the neck had been severed from the instrument.

I think I had an out-of-body experience. I rose up and I was looking at myself, saying, “What in the world are you doing?” And I remember thinking, here you are from Texas, and currently from Muncie, Indiana, and auditioning for the New York Philharmonic and the first thing that happens is you break your cello!

But I think for me it was a blessing in a way because I said to myself, I can’t do anything about anything now, so I’ll just have to play. [Assistant Principal Cellist] Nate Stutch was very, very helpful. He actually went home and got one of his cellos. Then they gave me an extra hour to practice and play the cello, so I got a little used to it.

Carter Brey: That was very human.

Evangeline Benedetti: Yes, it was pretty nice of them. I played the audition, and they said, “We’ll call you.” It’s different now; now they tell people right away whether they’ve passed into the finals or not.

I went to see Esther Prince, who was [violin dealer] Jacques Français’ office manager. She was a good friend of mine, because she had been friends with my teacher, Bernie [Greenhouse], and she befriended me all through school. Esther was also good friends with Lorne Munroe, principal cello, so I think she called Lorne, and found out that I’d gotten in the finals. This news brought tears, and then Jacques, a great big gorgeous Frenchman, came in, took his big hands, and he wrapped them around my face and said, “Sweetie, what is ze matter, why are you crying? Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you!”

There again, I think Providence had a hand in this, because he loaned me a Tononi, which was an instrument far greater than mine. Rene Morel spent a couple of hours putting on new strings, adjusting the sound post, being sure that it was set up as best as it could be for me, and then I think I had just a day to practice before the finals. I played the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations up through the C major variation, and then Bernstein said to skip to the end at some point, to that final variation. And then he said, you know, I heard about your cello, and how do you like this instrument, and is it different from yours, does it affect your playing in any way? And I said, well, the spacing was a little bigger, and I felt that intonation wasn’t as easy for me.

Then they set up a stand on stage and put the excerpts in front of me, and of course they always put something in that you know you’re going to be ruined by. I had practiced Don Juan quite a bit, but I hadn’t practiced Zarathustra. I didn’t know how it went, so basically I sightread it. Evidently I did okay. The other thing he gave me, which now I think is really difficult, was his violin concerto, you know, the Serenade.

Evidently it didn’t stop him from offering me a place in the orchestra. Again, that took a long time, because they would call people and check you out and check your references, which I don’t think they do any more. They called Greenhouse for a character reference; they called a couple of other people. Then I literally had to wait for the postman to bring me a letter.

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