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Highlighting the Middle Ground

Highlighting the Middle Ground
NY Philharmonic principal violist Cynthia Phelps visits UB

Most of us would agree that it’s good to have friends. In the performing arts, the wider the circle of your friends, the more likely it is that you’ll develop the kinds of connections that will give you the opportunity for mutually beneficial artistic collaboration. Eric Huebner, associate professor of piano in the UB department of music is one of the very finest pianists currently performing in Western New York. For the last several seasons, Huebner has also been the staff pianist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and it is a good guess that he was instrumental in arranging the upcoming recital appearance of Cynthia Phelps on Friday February 5 at 7:30pm in Slee Hall on the UB Amherst Campus, with Yi-Fang Huang, piano.

Cynthia Phelps

Cynthia Phelps has been the principal violist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra since 1992. She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the 1988 Pro Musicis International Award and first prize at both the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition and the Washington International String Competition, and she has captivated audiences with her compelling solo and chamber music performances. Phelps has been described by the Boston Globe as “a performer of top rank; the sounds she drew were not only completely unproblematical, technically faultless, generously nuanced, but sensuously breathtaking.”

Alex MacArthur

She has performed internationally as a collaborator with such artists as Isaac Stern, Itzak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Yo-Yo Ma, Lynn Harrell, and Yefim Bronfman, among many others. A much sought-after chamber musician, she performs regularly with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, New York’s Bargemusic, the Boston Chamber Music Society, and Music from Copland House. Ms. Phelps has also appeared in concert with the cream of string quartets, including the Guarneri, American, Brentano, and Prague quartets, as well as with the highly regarded Kalichstein-Robinson-Laredo Trio.

As a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, Phelps has been featured as a soloist in Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, Bartok’s Viola Concerto, Strauss’s Don Quixote, and Benjamin Lees’ Concerto for String Quartet. Recent performances have included a New York Philharmonic International tour featuring the premiere of a concerto written for her by the still under-rated Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina and a new work written for her by composer Steven Paulus as well as return solo engagements with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the San Diego Symphony and numerous other orchestras.

So, as might be expected, Cynthia Phelps has some very serious chops. But, her stratospheric level of accomplishment is, of course the end result of a long-standing, continuing commitment to a regimen of very hard work. As Phelps remarked in a 2014 interview in the venerable British magazine The Strad, a publication that has been exclusively devoted for over 120 years to every aspect of string instrument performance “You have to practise every day of your life. I observed this the summer I lived in (my teacher) Camilla Wicks’s house. She would get up in the morning and play scales for an hour. There never comes a time when any responsible string player can stop practicing.” This rigorous and continued adherence to daily instrumental practice is, without a doubt, at least one of the reasons that Cynthia Phelps, like so many other talented classical musicians before her, has been able to continue to stay at the top of her game.

Phelps has designed a program that progresses from J.S.Bach’s Sonata in G major, originally composed for the viola da gamba, an instrument which was held between the legs, to Franz Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata in A minor, written for a fretted, guitar-like, but bowed instrument, which no longer even exists. Robert Schumann’s popular Märchenbilder, Op. 13 and Romanian composer George Enescu’s Concert Piece, a work seldom performed nowadays, round out the program.

Cynthia Phelps will also be hosting a master class for designated string students, on Saturday from 11am to 1pm in Baird Recital Hall. This class is open for free public observation.

Tickets: $15/10 seniors, students; free for UB students. Information:

Alex MacArthur Sextet at Pausa

OK, so perhaps you’re not quite in the mood for a classical viola and piano recital this Friday evening but, in the week of the first US presidential primary, your ears are craving the sound of jazz, the uniquely American musical art form, as an antidote to the insanity of this political season. In that case, you couldn’t do much better than to head out to the Pausa Art House for the debut of the Alex MacArthur Sextet. Vocalist Alex MacArthur, who is a dual theater and music major at UB, made a strong impression in the role of Pilar in UB’s highly successful, and very funny, production of the musical Legally Blonde last fall. It turns out that the vivacious vocalist has also been lately doing gigs with a variety of jazz musicians. This Friday at Pausa, Alex will be backed up by some local musical firepower, when saxophonists Dave Schiavone and Jon Lehning, bassist Anthony Henry, drummer Alec Dube, and pianist George Caldwell join her for a couple of sets. If you’re lucky enough to make this gig, you’ll always be able to brag that you were there when it all began.

Admission: $7/$5 students

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