Photo by Chris Lee

Cellist Carter Brey

Carter Brey is principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, which makes its home at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York. His stand partner is the associate principal cellist, Hai-Ye Ni, another rising star in the cello world.

Carter Brey's Professional resumé:
1979-1981 -- Cleveland Orchestra, section cellist
1981 -- Prizewinner, Rostropovich International Cello Competition
1981-1995 -- Extensive concert career, appearing with all major American orchestras, chamber ensembles and festivals.
1996 -- Principal Cellist of the New York Philharmonic
Favorite pieces: Ravel "La Valse;" Bartok "Concerto for Orchestra"
Discography: Chopin's Complete works for Piano and Cello with pianist Garrick Ohlssen; Alan Jay Kermis' "Still Movement with Hymn"; "The Latin American Album," with pianist Christopher O'Riley

Brey's hometown is South Salem, New York. Brey was an only child, and his father, a free-lance artist, loved music. When he was very young, his father brought home a recording of "The Young People's Guide to the Orchestra" by Benjamin Britten. Brey loved the sound of the strings, especially the violins. So when he was 9 years old, in fourth grade, he began violin lessons. But he sound found that he did not actually like the violin sound. He began to play the cello at the age of 12 his first year of Junior High School (American System), and received his early music education from Paul Ehrlich, a violinist and music teacher at John Jay High School, Cross River, New York. While studying the Schubert Quintet in C major for Two Cellos, Brey suddenly knew he would become a professional cellist.

In October of 1970 Brey began private lessons with Barbara Levy, of Chappaqua, New York. Brey's parents would drop him off for 45-minute lessons once a week. Levy started him at ground zero, with open string exercises, laying the groundwork for future advances in technique. He practiced hard and long, up to six hours per day. He knew how he wanted to sound, and he was working toward that goal.

Brey auditioned for the Cleveland Orchestra in 1979, and won the audition. He left the orchestra in 1981, moved to New York and entered the Rostropovich Competition in Paris, where he won a prize and the attention of Rostropovich, who had been his technical model for cello-playing. He did further studies at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland and Yale University, and then began a fifteen year period as a traveling concert artist.

Brey played on a $750 factory-made instrument, until, in 1984, he exchanged it for a rare Giovanni Battista Guadganini cello, made in Milan in 1754. He prefers steel strings. Brey considers Guadganini to be the next-most illustrious maker after Stradivari and Guarneri. Brey's cello is made from maple and spruce from the Italian Alps, and is covered with a beautiful orange-red varnish. Guadagnini's cellos sound "big," but were built on a very small pattern, and Brey finds his cello a perfect fit for his small hands.

Brey's cello belonged to a woman who'd owned it since 1958, and her family had to sell it because she had come down with Alzheimer's disease. It was appraised at $120,000, and Brey's mother took out a second mortgage on her house, which he was able to repay after ten years of successrul concertizing.

In a typical week, Brey works Tuesday through Saturday, and is off from the orchestra Sunday and Monday. Tuesday morning is the first rehearsal of that week's program -- two-and-a-half hours, from 10 to 12:30. Tuesday evening sees the last performance of the previous week's program. Then on Wednesday, two rehearsals -- two-and-a-half hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon. Then 2-and-a-half hours of dress rehearsal on Thursday, and the first concert of that week's program is that night. The second performance is Friday, at night or often a matinee, and then a concert Saturday night.

Brey practices scales and arpeggios every day to keep in shape, and as warm-up for practicing and rehearsals. He is determined to be a cellist for a lifetime, and takes steps to perserve and strengthen himself physically. He runs 20 to 25 miles a week. He has tried to develop the most relaxed possible way of playing the instrument, and tries to always use a specially designed "cello chair."

Brey's musical tastes are broad. His favorite composer is Mozart; but he also loves contemporary pop Latin music. He has known bassist Edgar Meyer since 1985, and has premiered pieces with him. He enjoys jazz and Wagner. As far as other cellists are concerned, he is a fan of Rostropovich, and believes that Rostropovich's performances in the 1960's will always represent the apex of cello playing.

For Brey's personal appraisal of what it is like to be principal cellist in the New York Philharmonic, read this CNN.COM interview.


Cello Heaven