By Laurence Vittes
On April 21, cellist Inbal Segev and Metropolis Ensemble will give the world premiere performance of Timo Andres’ new cello concerto, Upstate Obscura, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The inspiration for the piece was Hudson Valley painter John Vanderlyn’s Panoramic View of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles, on display in the Visitors to Versailles exhibition April 16–July 29.
Besides the Andres concerto, Segev will be co-curating a festival of new music in June with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. This is the festival’s second year and will feature music by James Macmillan, Du Yun, Dan Visconti, and others.
I heard Segev play the Dvorak Concerto with passionate abandon with the Pasadena Symphony earlier this year. She says below that musical interpretations need to “bake.” Her Dvorak was a shake-and-bake affair. I caught up with Segev last week.
Why did you choose Timo for this commission?
I started discussing the commission with Timo after listening and loving his two-piano album Shy and Mighty. Timo has a unique composition language with elements of minimalism—a language that I was not fluent in when I began to work on the concerto. I started listening to everything I could find of his, including some interviews, to get a sense not only of his musical style, but of the person behind the music. I also met with Timo a few times to play the concerto with him accompanying at the piano. How lucky are we to be able to do that! No one can call Beethoven up and ask him to come over and play one of his piano and cello sonatas. In this regard, we are the “it” generation. Who better than us to understand and perform works that are being written now by our contemporaries?
How have you been preparing for the world premiere?
I recorded my read-through with Timo so that I could listen again to his playing and comments after the rehearsal. When we rehearse we are often preoccupied with our own part and can’t give our full attention to the piano or orchestra part. Every time I record, whether it’s in the studio or just with my iPhone, I learn things about my playing that I did not realize before, especially regarding pacing, direction of phrases, and tempo in general.
What is the music like?
The first movement is built on a long descending scale and it is important to look at the overall structure of each movement, as well as the arc of the entire work and to keep the whole in our minds. There are places in the first and last movement where we can be free and studying the score helps in finding them. In the second movement, by contrast, constant 16th notes in the orchestra are a telltale sign that the solo-cello part should be steady.
Every time I record, whether it’s in the studio or just with my iPhone, I learn things about my playing that I did not realize before, especially regarding pacing, direction of phrases, and tempo in general.
Where is the influence of Versailles?
He uses ornaments he’s borrowed from the French Baroque. It’s fascinating to me that this is a work by an American composer, inspired by an American interpretation of a French work of art.
What are the keys to learning a new piece like Upstate Obscura?
My advice to anyone who is learning any piece of music is: Listen to as many works of the composer as you can, familiarize yourself with his or her style, and read about their lives. If the work involves more than just you, ask a friend to play with you, preferably someone who knows the piece or is familiar with the style of composition. Start work as early as possible before a concert. Things take time to “bake.”
What gear are you using these days?
A 1673 Francesco Ruggieri cello, and two bows: Charles Husson and Victor Fétique. I always use Jargar medium gauge for the top two strings, and Tungsten Spirocore medium gauge for the bottom two.
What was your favorite track on Shy and Mighty?
My favorite from Shy and Mighty was was “Antennae,” but what sealed the deal was Timo’s completion of Mozart’s Coronation Concerto—not on the album—but is brilliant.