Phyllis Caldwell


I was born in Austin, Texas, where I received my first musical inspiration as well as early musical instruction from my mother, a pianist and music teacher. I began cello lessons in the renowned University of Texas Junior String Project at the age of seven. I went from there to Boston University, where I nurtured with equal passion my love of solo and chamber music with George Neikrug, Leonard Shure and Eugene Lehner.

During my time with George Neikrug, I had my first encounter with Europe - when I went to Berlin with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Joseph Silverstein – and it would certainly not be the last! Following my graduation from Boston University, I played for a season as the principal cellist in the Symphony Orchestra in Sao Paulo, Brazil (I even had a fan club!). After this greatly enriching experience, I made my way to Geneva, Switzerland, to study with Pierre Fournier.

A while later I pursued graduate studies at Indiana University in Bloomington with Janos Starker, and with various teachers in Europe, among them, Maude Tortelier in Nice, France, where I had the privilege to go for walks with Paul Tortelier around his home near the sea ! There were also master classes with Bernard Greenhouse and Mischa Maisky.

For many years, I free-lanced around Switzerland in some of the best orchestras: the “Orchestre de la Suisse Romande”, the “Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne” and orchestras in Basel, Neuchâtel, and Bern. At the same time I played a lot of chamber music with many different chamber music formations throughout France, Italy, Germany, Holland, and Switzerland.

Some memorable events in my musical career were when I played for the great violonist Tibor Varga, at his 80th birthday in Sion, Switzerland, and when I played in Washington, D.C., USA, with a cello octet from Geneva at the first World Cello Congress hosted by Mistislav Rostropovich.

Another experience that was a lot of fun, was performing in a play in Geneva, an adaptation of the story by Anton Tchekhov, « The Lady with the little dog ». I was a cello playing muse in this production. And being flown to Paris to try on my costume remains one of the most exciting things to happen to me.

In the fun category, I cannot leave out playing in the Eurovision Song Contest Orchestra when it was held in Lausanne, Switzerland. What a blast that was!
My fling in the show business world has also included studio recording for various artists, including recording music composed by Arié Dzierlatka for the films of some famous Swiss film-makers, Michel Soutter, Alain Tanner and Claude Goretta.

I played Arié's music in the above mentionned Tchekhov play (as the muse), and acted and played in a television show about music that Arié wrote and directed.

One activity that I have always found exciting is playing in the orchestra pit! The darkness, with just the light on your stand, being almost within the action on the stage, the backstage atmosphere of the theater...I got a chance to really enjoy this life when I was principal cello of the Basel Musical Messe Orchestra for the long run of a musical (Phantom of the Opera). There's no business like show business.

I am very happy to have had all of these varied experiences. Not the least of which has been playing pieces for solo cello in retirement homes in Texas, USA and Switzerland. I sometimes accompanied my father to a retirement home, and played cello, opening the games where he "performed" as bingo caller extraordinaire!