Carter Brey  

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

Carter Brey
May 3, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Carter Brey, principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic, interviewed his colleague Evangeline (Van) Benedetti, who retired from the orchestra in 2011 after 44 years in the cello section. She was the second woman to receive a tenured position in the orchestra.

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

- Ann Drinan

Evangeline Benedetti was a cellist with the New York Philharmonic from 1967 until 2011, and was one of the first women to be accepted into the organization. She has been a member of Local 802 since 1962 and is now an honor member. It was my pleasure to interview her for Allegro. I’ll never forget the time during one of my first seasons when we were performing Beethoven’s overture to Egmont. We were missing a part on the first stand, so Van gave us her copy, saying, “I can play it from memory.” That’s the kind of consummate musician she is.

Carter Brey: You were hired by Leonard Bernstein in 1967. How much orchestra playing had you done at that time?

Evangeline Benedetti: I didn’t have that much experience when I joined the Philharmonic. I came in almost directly out of the Manhattan School of Music. I graduated in 1964.

Carter Brey: What did you do in those three intervening years?

Evangeline Benedetti Cellist Evangeline Benedetti, Photo Credit: Chris Lee (Click to enlarge.)

Evangeline Benedetti: Well, I gave a debut recital in New York, at Carnegie Recital Hall, and had some absolutely wonderful reviews, so wonderful that I could get ‘em out and hang ‘em on the wall! But then, I had no notion of how to build any kind of career. I also was married at the time; my husband and I were in Muncie, teaching at Ball State University when there was an opening at the Philharmonic, and he said, "Well, I think you’re worth a round-trip plane fare [laughter]."

Carter Brey: Do you remember whom you were replacing?

Evangeline Benedetti: Martin Ormandy [brother of conductor Eugene Ormandy].

Carter Brey: That’s an interesting bit of trivia.

Evangeline Benedetti: Yes, and he played as a substitute for a long time. We had mandatory retirement at age 65.

Carter Brey: How long was the season at that time?

Evangeline Benedetti: We had just gone to 52 weeks.

Carter Brey: Let’s talk about your audition a little bit. How was the process different from the way it goes now, or how is it similar?

Evangeline Benedetti: Well, it was different in that you didn’t have a list to prepare. You had to know the whole repertoire.

Carter Brey: Yes. I had to do that for the Cleveland Orchestra in 1979.

Evangeline Benedetti: So I took Leonard Rose’s three excerpt books, and learned them, every page, top to bottom, and then the Strauss orchestral excerpts that were another couple of volumes.

Carter Brey: Was it in a studio, or was it on stage?

Evangeline Benedetti: The first round was in a room with a grand piano. But you didn’t play behind a screen as you do today; it was just a performance for them.

Carter Brey: But Bernstein didn’t show up until the finals?

Evangeline Benedetti: Until the finals, yes.

Carter Brey: On stage?

Evangeline Benedetti: You played on stage and the conductor was out in the hall, not like we sit now on the stage; he was literally in the middle of the auditorium.

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