Cynthia Phelps, violist

Cynthia Phelps, violist

Featured Artist interview with musician Cynthia Phelps – July 2018

How did you get started in music?  Did you always know you were going to be a violist?
I am the fourth of five girls, and we all showed an aptitude for music at a very young age. Oddly, we were all born with perfect pitch! My mother is a violinist, so she made sure we all had an early start on various instruments. I chose the violin, but since two of my sisters also played the violin, I quickly changed to the viola. The deep, rich sound also appealed to me much more.

Do you have a personal philosophy that you express through your art?
I feel so lucky to be able to express myself in a non-verbal way through performing. Music has such incredible power to bring intense feelings to the surface, I constantly feel a great responsibility towards bringing alive the intentions of any given composer.

When did you move to Leonia?   How has life in Leonia been reflected in your life in music?
I moved to Leonia 24 years ago, and am grateful to have found this warm, supportive community. Our children have thrived in the schools, and we have many good friends and colleagues here. People really understand and support the arts!

What is the most challenging part of being a classical musician?
The constant upkeep of skills. Aside from many hours of rehearsing with my colleagues, I also maintain a fairly rigorous personal practice schedule. It is really physically challenging!

What is the most rewarding experience you had as a violist?
I have been blessed with many, many highs in my career. Performing as soloist with the great NY Philharmonic is always a special joy and privilege. Performing in North Korea was an unforgettable experience. Playing the National Anthem at a Padres game in San Diego was super fun. Getting to perform with the renown Guarneri string quartet at the Met Museum was also incredibly memorable. Hard to choose just one!

What is your favorite music to play?  What is your favorite music to listen to?
I love to play chamber music more than anything, but I also really enjoy the staples of the orchestral rep—the symphonies of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Dvorak, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Strauss. But we also listen to a tremendous amount of Jazz, and I adore my playlists of contemporary pop—especially when I am out running or walking in Overpeck Park!

Who influenced you as a musician the most?
My husband, cellist Ronald Thomas, who has the best ears in the business!

What are you working on currently?</strong
I am trying to get up to speed on a bunch of new string quartet repertoire. My quartet, the NY Philharmonic Quartet, has a number of concerts coming up with quartets by Shostakovich, Haydn, and Brahms—all new to me.

What inspires you, or where do you find inspiration?
I am so lucky to be surrounded by great musicians, every day. I really don’t have to look any further than my own backyard, both at work in NYC and at home here in Leonia!

You recently celebrated 25 years with the New York Philharmonic as Principal Violist.  Looking ahead to the next season of performances, what seems to have changed the most in 25 years, and what seems the most unchanged?
The excellent professional level has been a constant throughout all these years at the Philharmonic. The work load seems harder—but it is probably just age creeping up on me!

photography by Matt Dine