Alumni Spotlight: Sheryl Staples


Sheryl Staples earned her Artist Diploma from the USC Thornton School of Music in 1991. A California native, she grew-up in Los Angeles, attended high school at Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences and studied at the Colburn School before enrolling at USC. She currently holds the position of the Principal Associate Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, with which she has been performing since 1998. Her impressive career includes work as Associate Concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra (1996-98) and Concertmaster of the Pacific Symphony (1994-96).

Staples’ musical training began at the age of five, first studying with Patricia Collier and then with Suzuki instructor Idell Lowe. At the age of nine and in need of another teacher, Sheryl attributes her mother’s insight toward choosing Robert Lipsett, then relatively unknown, with whom she continued her study for many years, eventually attending the Colburn School and USC under his guidance. Staples particularly remembers her orchestra training at USC. “[Professor of Orchestral Conducting] Daniel Lewis was a powerful force; we learned so much from him about musicianship, integrity and responsibility. Also invaluable were chamber music coachings with Eleanor Schoenfeld, who taught us about elegance, style, tone color and timing.” Staples began professional work while still attending school, becoming Concertmaster of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra in 1989 and doing studio recording work for movie soundtracks, as well as some teaching.

Now an integral member of the New York Philharmonic, Staples continues to excel as a soloist and chamber musician. Her impressive solo resume includes appearances with over 40 orchestras across the country, including performances of at least seven different concertos with the Philharmonic alone. When it comes to chamber music, Staples performs regularly with Philharmonic colleagues such as Principal Violist Cynthia Phelps ’78 and Principal Cellist Carter Brey in many venues including the Lyric Chamber Music Society of NY, the 92 Street Y and the Metropolitan [Museum of Art]’s series. Summers are also a busy time for chamber music, and most recently Staples participated in La Jolla Summerfest ‘09.

In 2008, Staples was part of the New York Philharmonic’s historic journey to perform in Pyongyang, North Korea. The trip and concert were recorded by CNN for a documentary titled Notes from North Korea that aired internationally. “We knew we were doing something very important, and our hope was that we did reach people there on some emotional level, helping to pave the way toward better relations through the universal language of music.”

In addition to performing with a world-class orchestra, Staples performs on an exceptional instrument (the “Kartman” Guarneri del Gesù, ca. 1728). “The instrument has become an integral part of who I am as a musician. It has been my partner through most of my professional career. Immediately drawn to its deep, rich and powerful tone, I continue to learn how to unlock the potential of this great violin.” Purchased and generously loaned to Staples in 1989 by Peter Mandell (bassoonist and USC alumnus), the violin is now one of nine fine string instruments owned by the New York Philharmonic.

Naturally, Staples has a musical family. Her husband Barry Centanni is a percussionist/timpanist with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s as well as percussion faculty chair at Montclair State University, NJ. Their children, Michael(8) and Laura(6), both now study violin with Dorothy Roffman at the JCC Thurnauer School of Music in NJ.

Though generally not performing together, husband and wife premiered a new work by William Kraft called Concerto a Tre in 2005 at the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Festival, written for them along with pianist Delores Stevens. Success of the premiere led to a recording by the trio in 2006. “It’s a wonderfully colorful piece, using the percussion instruments very creatively so as to imitate the sound of violin harmonics at quiet moments and to become an incredible driving force at others.”

TAGS: Alumni, Classical Division, Classical Performance and Composition, Strings,

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