Sometimes Carter Brey wishes he had not switched from violin to cello in middle school. There is, after all, so much more repertoire written for the smaller instrument, and he has always been attracted to strings in general, he explained.
Fortunately for his audiences and for the New York Philharmonic — where Brey has been principal cellist since 1996 — those regrets are fleeting. In the end, Brey has been “drawn to string instruments with lower frequencies.”
Brey will return to one of his favorite metropolitan area audiences on Sunday, March 10, to present a chamber concert with his frequent partner, pianist Benjamin Pasternack, whom Brey calls “a remarkable player.” Their appearance is part of the Polinger Artists of Excellence Concert Series — a series of chamber music events in its 47th season — at the Bender JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville.
“We do six concerts per season — three in the fall and three in the spring,” said Janet Getz, Bender’s director of music programs. “We present both established artists and a few up-and-coming ones each season.” The series tends to feature many artists “we’ve had in the past.”
The series has some 220 subscribers. “The venue – the Gildenhorn/Speisman Center for the Arts’ Kreeger Auditorium — is small and intimate, and there’s easier parking than at other places,” Getz said.
The series is named for Howard and Geraldine Polinger, who set up an endowment fund about 35 years ago to present music programs. “That enables us to bring in the artists and keep the ticket prices down,” said Getz. “Geraldine is still alive, in her 90s, and her children are still involved in funding the arts.”
In addition to high-caliber performers and low prices for the area, Getz said there’s a “congenial atmosphere” at concerts because audience members tend to return year after year. Polinger series audiences tend toward traditional programming — such as works by Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Schubert and Schumann, she added. Brey and Pasternack’s program is consistent with this trend; they will play Debussy’s Sonata in D Minor; Britten’s Sonata Op. 65, and Mendelssohn’s Sonata for cello and piano #2 in D Major, Op. 58.
“The Debussy is a wonderful piece, very popular with cello players,” Brey said. “The Britten is new to me, and I’ve wanted to play it for decades. It represents my pushing myself to extend my repertory.” On the other hand, he said, “it’s been a long time” since he played the Mendelssohn, which he calls “lyrical and infectious.”
A faculty member of the Curtis Institute of Music, Brey was educated at the Peabody Institute and Yale University. He rose to international fame in 1981 as a prize winner in the Rostropovich International Cello Competition and received praise for subsequent appearances with Mstislav Rostropovich, a mentor, and the National Symphony Orchestra. “Rostropovich was very important in my life,” Brey said of the Russian master cellist and conductor.
As cellist for the New York Philharmonic String Quartet, which debuted in 2017, Brey performs throughout the United States. He has appeared as soloist with major symphony orchestras; collaborated with ensembles including the Tokyo, Emerson and Harlem string quartets, and performed and recorded with Christopher O’Riley, Garrick Ohlsson and violinist Leila Josefowicz.
Pasternack, who entered the Curtis Institute of Music at age 13, won the Grand Prize at the inaugural World Music Masters Piano Competition in 1989. After 14 years on Boston University’s piano faculty, he joined the Peabody Conservatory of Music faculty in 1997. He has performed as soloist, recitalist and chamber musician on four continents; he has appeared as soloist with many orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Ask Brey to name his favorite classical piece, and he initially gives the “common answer” — whatever he’s playing at the moment. Beyond that, it would be performing a Mozart concerto as part of the orchestra playing the cello part along with “a great pianist.” In second place would be a concerto by Schumann. “I love his dark passion,” Brey said.
A large part of the attraction for appearing frequently at the Bender JCC and in the area in general is the “sense the audience is passionately engaged in what you’re doing,” he said.
The Polinger Artists of Excellence Series concert featuring Carter Brey and Benjamin Pasternack will begin at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 10 at the Bender JCC of Greater Washington, 6125 Montrose Road, Rockville. Tickets are $46, $41 for seniors and $31 for patrons younger than 40. Call 301-881-0100 or visit www.benderjccgw.org.