Newport News native Sterling Elliott began his cello studies at the age of three and made his solo debut at age seven. Placing 1st place in the 2019 National Spinx Competition Senior Division, Sterling currently studies at The Juilliard School working towards an undergraduate degree in cello performance where he is a proud recipient of a Kovner Fellowship.
(upbeat modern music)
- [Sterling] My name is Sterling Elliott.
(dramatic cello music)
The way I started the cello is actually pretty interesting.
Basically, it was handed to me
but it was also destined to me from birth.
So when I say that, I mean,
my mom always wanted a family string quartet.
She really wanted that string quartet
and I'm the youngest of the siblings
so all the other positions
of the string quartet were already filled.
My mom played violin and viola.
My two older siblings played violin
and there was only one more spot to be filled
in the string quartet which was the cellist.
So she said when I was in her womb,
she actually had a cello waiting.
- Somebody had to play the cello.
I wanted my kids to have the love of music
and have a gift that they would always have
for the rest of their lives,
something that nobody could ever take away from them.
And, you know, just kind of blossomed into more
of having a family group and bonding together
as a family by playing music.
(upbeat classical string music)
- So we were always playing together.
We always practiced together at the same times.
Our musical lives were always pretty much connected.
If one person went to a competition we all went,
either to compete or support.
We're missing the other part.
- Our first quartet performance was at the mall
because I thought what's the best place
to play to get exposure?
The mall, everybody's at the mall.
And then our biggest break, if you will,
was we played for The Boys and Girls Club.
They had a competition and our quartet performed
and we won and as a result of that,
they wanted us to play
for their National Centennial Conference,
and Centennial Anniversary
and it was our biggest audience, 4,000 people.
And there was Denzel Washington there.
There were all kinds of celebrities.
It was crazy and after we performed, people were coming up,
"Hey, we want you to play in San Francisco.
"Hey, we want you to play in Boston.
"Hey, we want you to play in Atlanta."
And the next two years we played all over the place.
- This performing music thing was never supposed to be,
like, my primary career.
I always wanted to be a engineer actually
since I was very young.
I converted our entire backyard shed thing
into like a garage workshop with all my tools.
I've loved all math and sciences.
I've loved, you know, tinkering with my car.
And other things, I loved just the mechanics of everything.
As it wasn't until, actually, when I was like 14,
I was doing the National Sphinx Competition,
that I realized, you know, this could be something
much more than I ever intended.
And that was, actually, sort of when I really started
taking it seriously.
(playing classical cello music)
- [Interviewer] You're in what year at Julliard?
- I'm a third-year undergrad.
This semester, I'm only taking three classes.
But I still find myself playing easily eight hours a day.
I have multiple chamber groups and we have rehearsals
and sometimes, coachings.
And then sometimes school orchestra rehearsal.
Two years ago, I did a solo performance
with the New York Philharmonic,
which was the biggest solo performance I'd ever done
in David Geffen Hall in New York.
And that also led to me getting to play
as a substitute cellist in the orchestra a couple of times.
It's nice being home.
I'm getting back used to remembering
what my lifestyle used to be like at home.
It's nice and refreshing without the hustle and bustle
of New York City.
Tonight, I'll be playing Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations.
It's a piece I've played with orchestra two times before.
I've played this piece with the New York Philharmonic,
so I'm glad to be playing it again, closer to home.
(playing slow dramatic cello music)
I must say that when I was rehearsing in this small theater,
I realized how much more, I guess,
intimate I could be with the music.
I could do smaller innuendos that could be heard more
because the acoustics are pretty great
with this theater and my cello.
It's a great mix.
(soft orchestral cello music)
March 1st, I'll be doing my first concerto performance.
I'll be playing Dvorak's Concerto at Carnegie Hall.
Kind of "the" cello concerto, some people would say.
35-40 minutes, I think.
I'll be playing it with the New York Youth Symphony.
I've been lucky enough to have a solo opportunity
just by myself for a couple of minutes
in the big hall in Carnegie.
And that will be absolutely terrifying,
but also an amazing opportunity.
I think a lot of people think
I'm kind of a unique kind of person,
but I always just try to tell them, you know,
I feel like I'm probably just like you.
You can probably do exactly the same kind of thing
I was doing, as long as you just have someone
that's keeping you going, whether it's yourself,
or a parental figure, or another role model.
As long as you continue to have that drive,
as long as you continue to put in the work,
you know, anything can happen.