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: You had to wait for the Philharmonic to notify you by mail? Back in Muncie?

Evangeline Benedetti: Yes. They didn’t let you know on the spot. So it was rather dramatic. When I got that contract I had no idea that I’d be there 44 years. But I tell you, it’s gone past quickly, and I’m very appreciative of the job and the life it’s given me.

Carter Brey: There are so many reasons I appreciate the privilege of this position and one of them is the musical consistency. I get used to all of us as an aggregate somehow; it’s a palpable sensation, and it’s difficult to describe that to someone who hasn’t experienced it.

Evangeline Benedetti: Well, it is amazing, and the consistency of the Philharmonic, again, has amazed me, especially now that I’m older and have a perspective on things. Even when we play badly, what we think is really bad is really not bad; it’s a pretty good concert, really. But we expect to play at such a level that when it doesn’t work as well as we wanted, it feels bad.

Carter Brey: So your entry into the Philharmonic meant that you were the second woman to join the orchestra?

Evangeline Benedetti: The second tenured woman.

Carter Brey: Did you feel that in a 98 percent masculine environment you needed to show that you were one of the guys, somehow?

Evangeline Benedetti: I certainly didn’t know what I was getting into. I mostly played and went home, you know. I was fortunate to be taken in by Bert Bial and Arnie Lang. Bert Bial was the contrabassoon player, and Arnie Lang was the associate principal timpani and percussion. They had young families so they were good friends that way, and they just came over and were extremely friendly to me, so to this day they’re my friends and we talk to each other a lot.

Carter Brey: Did you feel like a pioneer?

Evangeline Benedetti: I didn’t know I was breaking as many barriers as I was. They didn’t have dressing rooms for women. Avery Fisher Hall had no dressing rooms for women when they built it. They didn’t even have them for visiting orchestras. When I came in they put two metal lockers in one of the bathrooms downstairs.

Carter Brey: Can you speak about generational and cultural change in the orchestra?

Evangeline Benedetti: We have more styles now than when I came in the orchestra. I think that socially it’s made a difference in the orchestra, but it also speaks to music as a common language. That’s a really amazing thing. The new players are almost kids in relation to me, totally different backgrounds, totally different languages, and yet we can speak the same through music. And that’s been rather profound, actually, experiencing the universal language.

Carter Brey: How many other workplaces can say the same?

Evangeline Benedetti: Very few, if any.

This article first appeared in the March 2012 issue of Allegro, the magazine of the New York City musicians' union (AFM Local 802). It is reprinted with permission. For more information, see www.Local802afm.org.


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