Julie Amacher, Classical MPR
Inbal Segev – 20 Pieces for 2020 (Avie)
When the global pandemic shut down concert halls and live performances last year, cellist Inbal Segev knew she couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing. That’s when she and her husband drafted a plan to commission 20 composers to write 20 new works for cello in 2020. The first recording in this four-volume project was recently released.
“It was ambitious, but I realized quickly that it's a project that's going to take a couple of years,” she says. “Composers need time to cook; they need time to think about things. And then I needed time to work on the on the pieces. And since there's 20, we didn't book all of them at once. First I reached out to my friends and the people who are more local and were obvious choices to me. And then I started listening and venturing out to a lot of people who I've never heard of before even.”
And 20 new pieces. That means 20 new pieces for you to learn, too. Are you excited about that? Or maybe slightly overwhelmed?
“It seemed like a piece of cake. And we just started reaching out because my schedule was open. But some of the pieces are easier, technically; some are very challenging.”
One of the pieces that really captured my attention is the one by Sophia Bass, Taal-Naad naman for cello, tabla and tanpura. Tell me about this young Chicago-based composer.
“During the first months of the pandemic, her father passed away, not from COVID, from a routine operation. Just broke my heart. So she had to stop composing for a couple of months. But she came through, and she wrote this beautiful piece.”
I know this piece gave you a chance to work with some unfamiliar instruments, and it gave you a chance to improvise. What was that experience like for you?
“I'm not an improviser, usually, so I took a lesson from a special cellist who specializes in Indian music. It was fascinating. It kept me on my toes.”
The piece by Timo Andrius is called Ajita, for cello and piano. The composer is at the piano with you. What was that like to get to work collaboratively, not just with the composer telling you about the piece, but actually performing the piece with him?
“He muted some strings and plucked in the string inside of the piano so that the cello sonata and the piano really melded together in a unique way. He also had some special techniques for me. I used nail pizzicato, which I've never done before, as I had to grow my thumbnail — very funny, as suddenly I looked like a guitarist.”
Conductor Marin Alsop recommended that Michigan composer James Lee III be considered for this project. Why did she make that recommendation?
“He writes so well for cello. He really writes idiomatically. If you hear this piece, it's beautifully written.
“I cried when I heard the recording. And I usually hate to hear myself play and definitely hate editing my own recordings. And I don't cry easily hearing myself, that's for sure. So, I thought that was a testament to how beautiful he wrote the piece and how poignant and to the point, and really how it reflected the difficult time.”
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.