At the invitation of Isaac Stern, whom she met at a master class at the Mishkenoth Festival in Jerusalem, Inbal Segev left her native Israel in 1990 to pursue her passion for the cello in the United States. Only 16 years old at the time, she lived at the residence of cello pedagogue Aldo Parisot, attending his famed studio class. She then matriculated with Yale University’s class of ’93 and then also attended Julliard’s class of ’98, where she studied with Joel Krosnick, a cellist with the Juilliard String Quartet, and Harvey Shapiro of the Primrose Quartet.
She also did eight years of independent study with Beaux Arts Trio founder Bernhard Greenhouse, a musician she greatly admires.
Looking back on her years of formal study and training, she acknowledges the importance of her bachelor’s degree from Juilliard and master’s from Yale, but she also feels that it was a good choice for her to follow the lead of inspiring teachers, regardless of their association with any particular school.
If she has any regrets at all, it would be that she did not take full advantage of the range of intellectual challenges available to her at Yale. Limited English language skills and a rather timid personality made her focus on the one thing she could do best back then: playing the cello.
“I breathed cello,” Segev remembers.
And then she talks about her love for the instrument that has dominated her life. She was only five years old when her mother, a high school teacher, introduced her to classical music broadcasts. Some broadcasts featured the cello, leading to Segev’s first cello lessons. When, at age seven, her exceptional talent became apparent, the America Israel Cultural Foundation (AICF) provided for her education at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem.
Her love story with the cello continues to this day. “The cello is more than a beautiful instrument, it’s my friend,” says Segev, meanwhile a mother of three. “Fortunately, my husband and my parents have helped me tremendously to maintain a balance between my career and my family,” she was quoted as saying in an interview with Cosmos in 2008.
She recalls how her mother and grandmother had made it possible to buy her first good instrument, a Gaetano Rossi. When she got married, her husband knew how much she would love an “upgrade.” With the help of a loan from his employer, her new cello was a 1673 instrument built by Francesco Ruggieri, a contemporary of Stradivarius.
She also remembers one of many times her family supported her spontaneously and without hesitation:
“I was pregnant with the twins Joseph and Shira—now four, when I got a call from Christian Steiner at two in the afternoon. There was an emergency cancellation of a cellist who was supposed to perform that same night, and Christian wanted me to fill in. I knew the famous Messiaen’s score that was programmed, ‘Quartet for the End of Time,’ and said ‘OK. I will do it.’ My husband—bless his heart—rushed to the car rental and returned to chauffeur me and my cello for the four-hour ride. My Mom came to babysit Ariel, now six years old, and Steiner, star photographer to musicians and himself a concert pianist and artistic director of Tannery Pond, was thrilled that I made it in time, pregnant and all.”
Segev’s last-minute performance at the prestigious summer chamber music series at Tannery Pond in the Berkshires was a big success; in 2010, she returned for the third time, with pianist Alon Goldstein.
She often performs with musicians she has known for a long time, such as former Aldo Parisot student Jian Wang, one of the stars of Parisot’s Yale cello ensemble.
When I meet with her just before the great snowstorm at the end of December, she had just returned from an Israeli Consulate co-sponsored concert tour that had taken Wang and her to Beijing, Wuhan, and Zhengzhou.
Every now and again, “old” connections even create new opportunities. This was the case when pianist Alon Goldstein recently introduced Segev to Avner Dorman, the young Israeli composer whose mandolin concerto for Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital just received a Grammy nomination (see my article).
Dorman will now compose a cello concerto for Segev. “It will be an interesting process,” she says. “I wanted something Middle Eastern for the cello. It’s going to be difficult, but I like challenging scores.”
Dorman’s composition will not be the first concerto written for her: Accompanied by the Polish Radio National Symphony, she had recorded a cello concerto by American composer Max Schubel for the Opus One label in 2001.
Neither will it be the first recording with a Jewish connotation:
“I discovered I have something to offer there,” says Segev, who does not describe herself as observant, but rather as someone who likes a little bit of tradition. As an Israeli, she also identifies with her cultural heritage.
In 2004, Segev released her third solo CD, Nigun, a compilation of Jewish music on the VOX label.
Back in 1991, she had her orchestral debut performance with the Israeli Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. She remembers the strong impression her early experience of performing with Maestro Mehta had made on her:
”At the time I was 17. That was back in 1991, and we performed at the Tel Aviv Mann Auditorium. I played Beethoven’s ‘Triple Concerto’; Guy Braunstein was the violinist and Itamar Golan was the pianist. Mehta was very complimentary and his backstage manner had a calming effect on me…. he was so sensitive to the soloist. He gave the right support without imposing his tempo. His musical ideas were clear, and I felt I could communicate what I wanted with ease.”
Segev continues to perform with many distinguished artists, but she regards being a co-founding member of the Amerigo Trio as one of the greatest commitments of her career.
It was at Bowdoin/Maine, where violinist and concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, Glenn Dicterow, heard Segev perform for the first time. As a result, Dicterow and his wife, as well as viola player Karen Dreyfus and Segev herself, realized that playing chamber music together could add a wonderful dimension to everybody’s life. In 2007, the group decided that what the Maine Sunday Telegram had called an “extraordinary interchange of musical thought” needed to be formalized. This led to the official founding of the trio in the summer of 2009.
Since then, Amerigo has performed at some of the most prestigious concert series in the United States, including Lorin Maazel’s Castleton Festival in Virginia, in the summer of 2010. Maazel, the former music director of the New York Philharmonic, had inaugurated the Castleton Festival on his Virginia estate the previous year. “Living at the house of Maestro Maazel for a week, who is enigmatic and very knowledgeable—he also speaks seven languages—was a charming experience,” says Segev. “I taught some students of the orchestra and we [the Amerigo Trio] performed, of course.”
The trio just completed its debut recording of serenades by Beethoven and Dohnanyi, to be released in 2011 on the Navona Records label. The ambition of the trio, named after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, is to explore the riches of the string trio repertoire, both old and new. Strad Magazine praised Amerigo’s style, purpose, and captivating energy.
Photographer Chris Lee is responsible for the trio’s photographs; the ones capturing Segev with her cello are taken by her cousin, photographer Ephrat Zalishnick. Looking at these images, one sees a multi-faceted woman, confidently slipping from her role as mother and homemaker into the role of performer.