Want to hear what a million dollars sounds like? Make sure you’re at the Saenger Theatre (6 S. Joachim St.) on May 13 and 14.
That’s when guest cellist Inbal Segev interprets Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor on an instrument with a seven-figure price tag. Built in 1673 by Stradivarius contemporary Francesco Ruggieri, the cello was a fortunate and remarkable find.
“When the United States was born, it was already 100 years old. Those instruments are priceless. It’s like asking how much the Mona Lisa costs,” Segev said.
Eight years ago, the New York-based musician prowled international markets for a new cello. She heard about this museum-quality piece in Chicago.
“It was way out of our price range. It turns out the person who was selling it happened to be at the shop then and so we made a special deal with him directly. It was very lucky the timing worked out that way,” Segev said.
Segev is worthy of it. She brings a lauded background to her initial Mobile appearance.
The Israeli native took to the cello at age 5. Two years later her extraordinary talent earned her a scholarship to Jerusalem’s Rubin Academy. At 16, Isaac Stern secured her placement in New York City to accelerate her education.
A year later Segev made her orchestral debut with the Israel Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic directed by Zubin Mehta. The ensuing time was a whirlwind of study and performance: a Carnegie Hall debut, a bachelor’s from Juilliard, a master’s from Yale and independent study under Beaux Arts Trio-founder Bernard Greenhouse. She won top prizes at the Pablo Casals, Paulo and Washington international competitions.
In the two decades since, Segev has been a soloist with orchestras in Pittsburgh, Boulder, Bogota, Helsinki, Dortmund, Poland, Bangkok and other cities around the globe. She founded the Amerigo Trio with former New York Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow and his wife.
Praise has poured forth in periodicals from New York, Washington, Helsinki, Arkansas, Jerusalem, New England and so on. The same goes for her 2016 album of Bach Cello Suites, a recording she called the “Mount Everest for cellists.”
“There’s certain things [on the album] I would redo,” Segev laughed. “Maybe in a few years but not right now. Overall, it was an incredible experience and I’m happy with the product.”
A YouTube documentary of the album’s process reveals the anxiety, tears and exhaustion involved. It’s also evidence of her gifts.
Digital media has become Segev’s forte. Her masterclass video series on the popular channel bursts with performance and also her insights on technique and helpful tips on things like musical metaphor and yoga.
“It was my idea. I’ve received so much and been so lucky in my career and received so many great teachers and encouragement and support from so many people — friends, family, teachers — so I thought it would be nice to give something back,” Segev said.
Segev is providing her three children the same. Her 10-year-old fraternal twins practice with her, especially her son, who she said finishes his homework quickly to pick up the violin.
“We started my older daughter on violin when she was 3-and-a-half but I think it was too young for her. She doesn’t play anymore. But it’s OK, she sings and has many other talents. She’s strong in science,” Segev explained.
The upcoming Mobile Symphony Orchestra show also features Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and Mason Bates’ “Mothership,” but the Dvorak has occupied Segev’s thoughts. She journeyed to Prague to visit the composer’s haunts and find the right frame of mind.
“I recorded my old lessons with [Greenhouse] and I studied this piece. I listened to the tape yesterday and he talks about how a certain passage sounds very Czech. Then, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me but it does now,” Segev said.
She pointed to a melody and harmony past 150 measures as evidence. The cellist sang a line of 16th notes and triplets.
“I think the harmony, there’s something Eastern there. It’s not rigid, very fluid. There’s something very ‘folk’ about it, that je ne sais quoi,” Segev said.
She’s excited about the Azalea City trip. The closest she’s been is a long-ago trip to New Orleans that left her with memories of fried frog legs, Jell-O shots and stiff hurricanes.
“I am looking forward to working with Scott [Speck] and the orchestra. My manager knows him personally and she says he’s a great guy,” Segev said.
Her priceless cello will enjoy the visit to the early summer Gulf Coast as well.
“The instrument seems to like the humidity,” Segev said.
In that case, the Rugierri should sing like it never has before.