Inbal Segev seems to have it all and then some. The gifted cellist was playing for the President of her native Israel at 8. At 16, she was invited by the famous violinist Isaac Stern to continue her studies in the United States, where she attended Yale University and The Juilliard School. Much like Inbal herself, her playing has been described as “richly inspired” and “first class.” Inbal graciously sat down with Inside Chic to talk about the journey of building her illustrious career, the Bach Cello Suites, family life, and how she still carries the groceries.
How She Started
I was five when I began playing the cello. My mom is a pianist. We always heard music in the house but I really liked the cello. My mom took me to a violin shop where I got this shiny tiny little cello because I was so small. I made a nice sound on it right away and I progressed quite quickly. When I was six, I gave my first concert. When I was eight, I played at the Israeli President’s house. That was a big deal. I always knew that I was going to be a cellist. There was nothing else that really drew me the way music did.
Fast forward to when I was fifteen. I played for Isaac Stern, the famous violinist. After I performed, he jumped off his seat and said, “With whom would you like to study?” I told him I wanted to work with Aldo Parisot, a renowned Brazilian cellist who teaches at Yale University. Stern just picked up the phone.
A year later, I left Israel and came to the States, by myself, which was really scary in retrospect. I don’t know that I would send my kid alone to a foreign country at the age of sixteen. It was something that I wanted to do and my mom was very supportive. I lived at Aldo Parisot’s house with him and his wife for a year, to get my English up to speed. Then I got a full scholarship to Yale. It was an amazing opportunity that I was extremely lucky to get. After Yale, I went to Juilliard. I took some time off too, to study with a very well known cellist and teacher, in Cape Cod.
Her Career and Her Family
One of the most challenging parts of my life was figuring out how to build a career when I was done with school. When I finished Juilliard, I was like, “Okay, now what?” The two years of freelancing in New York were the hardest. I didn’t have my family here. I was scraping by, barely making a living, entering competitions. There was so much pressure on making my career. A lot of the things I tried, I failed at. It was just not a good time in my life. Then I met my husband. I’ve really built my career since the kids were born. I think having the family took enormous pressure off me. It put things in perspective and I didn’t feel like it was the career, career, career. It was really liberating. I still am a little bit clueless. My husband is the one who has all the business sense. He knows how to help me out with decisions, so I am free to be creative. Now I’m in a position where I can be quite choosy with what I do and pick the projects that are interesting for me and not wait for the phone to ring. Our three kids all play instruments, too.
What It Means to Record the Bach Cello Suites
The Bach Cello Suites are the cellist’s Bible. They are six pieces which amount to a little bit more than two hours of music. They are the pinnacle; the most important work for cello solo. Everybody knows them. Everybody plays them. Everybody has a very strong opinion about them. Recording them puts you on the line. Your recording shows, “This is who I am as a cellist. This is how smart… or not so smart… I am.” It’s a little bit like being naked. They are full of complex ideas. Bach tried to put three voices into one instrument. You have to think of how to bring out those voices. How to make them clear. How to make the music feel free, but also how to keep it structured. What’s fascinating about them is that everybody plays them differently and they can be musically convincing within different interpretations.
On Her Instrument
My cello is three hundred and forty years old. It was made before Bach was born… it’s that old. Sometimes I think of it like this: when America became independent, this cello was already a hundred years old. It’s crazy. Instruments that are well cared for are like wine. They get better with age. Some people think it’s the varnish that those makers used back then or it’s the special wood or it’s the drying process or it’s the vibrations of the people playing on the cello for all those years that makes the cello sound a certain way. It’s probably all of the above. It was made in Cremona, Italy, which is where Stradivari lived, around the time he lived. It’s the center of instrument making. My cello was made by Ruggieri, who was a very famous cello maker. I really like that the sound is mellow yet it’s penetrating enough that it can carry over an orchestra. It’s powerful. It has the depth. It has the colors.
On Playing In Style
When I play, I can’t wear any buttons, unless they’re covered, because they’re going to buzz on the cello, and you also don’t want to ruin the wood. You need soft fabric, at least on the front of your shirt. You can’t wear tight skirts, or mini skirts, because you have to sit with the cello between your legs. With heels, if they’re super high, you’re also uncomfortable because the whole angle of the legs with the chair. It’s tricky. And since I travel a lot, I always look for things that don’t wrinkle easily.
It’s very physical to play an instrument. I think a lot of performers are becoming more and more aware of keeping our bodies and our minds healthy with yoga and exercise. If I’m tightening my shoulders, for example, my sound is not going to sound so rich and full. It will sound, “Erhhhhhhhh.”
I don’t really do anything special for my hands apart from the fact that I can’t grow my nails out. If I’m carrying something really heavy, like groceries, I’ll be sure to rest every few minutes. Or, in the gym, if they ask us to hang from a bar, I usually don’t like to do that. There’s a famous drummer who doesn’t take his gloves off, ever. I’m not like that. I chop salad, I’m normal.
Photos by Andrew Ingalls. Makeup by Colleen McCorry for Trish McEvoy. Inbal wears Chico’s Black Label Faux-Leather Leggings, Chico’s Black Label High-Slit Pullover Sweater, Chico’s Abbey Pieced Faux-Leather Pants, Chico’s Sienna Lock Necklace, and Chico’s Kayla Cowl Neck Sweater. For more on Inbal, including performance dates and locations, go to her website at inbalsegev.com.