By GARY DEMUTH
For the Salina Symphony
Whether singing soft drink jingles as a boy soprano, learning the violin at a young age or composing and conducting major orchestral pieces as an adult, Yaniv Segal has had an unconventional music career.
The son of a Polish violinist and Israeli violin maker, the New York City native was introduced to the violin as a small boy while also working as a child actor and singer. He sang in the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus and toured the U.S. and Japan in the first national tour of the musical “The Secret Garden.”
As a boy soprano, he sang on TV commercials for Pepsi, as well as on numerous CDs ranging from classical opera to rock and folk music.
Segal’s stage acting career culminated in a production of Tom Stoppard’s play “Hapgood” at Lincoln Center in New York City, where he played the adolescent son of the title character to great acclaim.
At that point, he decided to focus exclusively on music as a career, as a violinist, composer and ultimately, an orchestral conductor. Segal said conducting, like acting, is another form of communication from the artist to the audience.
“It’s figuring out your intention and then getting that out to the audience,” he said. “There was a point in my life where I couldn’t say what I wanted to say with words, so that’s why I went into music.”
Segal is the third of five finalists vying for the position of conductor and music director of the Salina Symphony. His concert, “Take Flight,” will be at 4 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts, 151 S. Santa Fe.
The program begins with a performance of Antonin Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dance No 8,” followed by an original “symphonic poem” by young contemporary composer Polina Nazaykinskaya entitled “Fenix.”
Nazaykinskaya plans to attend the concert and participate in a pre-concert talk with Segal and guest cellist Hannah Collins at 3 p.m. in the Stiefel Theatre Watson Room. Doors will open at 2:30 p.m.
Collins, an acclaimed musician who teaches at the University of Kansas, will perform Joseph Haydn’s “Cello Concerto No. 1” with the Salina Symphony. Segal, who has known Collins for many years, said the audience will be “blown away” by her playing.
“It’s nice to work with a friend, but it’s nicer to know the artist who’s coming is world class,” he said.
Segal also will conduct the Symphony in a performance of “Symphony No. 5” by Jean Sibelius, who he said is one of his favorite composers.
“He’s a composer who has his own language,” Segal said. “The music grows and grows until you are overwhelmed by this amazing orchestral palate. It’s a magical piece that feels right for this time, when we’re beginning to awaken out of a pandemic.”
An orchestra tradition
Segal grew up in New York speaking three languages in a multi-cultural household.
“I grew up in an orchestral tradition,” he said. “My mom was a violinist with the New York Philharmonic, so I had an understanding of the inside of an orchestra, how to work with people to get them on board to produce something greater than their parts.”
Currently living in Ann Arbor, Mich., Segal completed graduate studies at the University of Michigan in 2013 with renowned conducting pedagogue Kenneth Kiesler and McArthur Award-winning composer Bright Sheng.
As a conductor and composer, Segal has worked with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Naples Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Kansai Philharmonic, Ann Arbor Symphony, Cleveland Opera and the Beethoven Academy Orchestra.
While assistant conductor of the Naples Philharmonic from 2014 to 2017, Segal conducted nearly 20 different programs each year, including a concert with legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman.
The Chelsea Symphony premiered Segal’s Cello Concerto in 2015 and “Rite of Spring (Redux)” in 2013, which was a reworking of Stravinsky’s seminal work that included electric guitar, bass and saxophone.
Deeply committed to the next generation of musicians and music lovers, Segal also has written a concert-length work for chamber orchestra and narrator entitled “The Harmony Games” that introduces listeners, especially young listeners, to the instruments of the orchestra while demonstrating connections between music and math.
“They hopefully come away saying music is awesome, I want more,” Segal said. “It’s so important for the symphony orchestra to develop new audiences, future musicians, listeners and audiences.”
Segal said that when he researched the Salina Symphony, he was impressed by the “high level of performance” of the community musicians and the organization’s continuing dedication to bringing cultural life to their community.
“My job would be to raise the bar, the ceiling, every time they play, and I’m confident I can do that,” he said. “It’s about figuring out what the orchestra needs and what the audience needs, and then putting it all together.”
Picking up the cello
Like Segal, Collins grew up in a musical family. Her mother played piano and her sister the violin, so Collins picked up the cello so the family could perform together as a trio.
“That happens in a lot of musical families," she said.
In addition to earning graduate degrees in cello performance from the Yale School of Music, the Royal Conservatory of The Hague and the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, Collins has a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical engineering from Yale.
“When I was 18, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” she said. “I wasn’t ready to decide yet. I still feel that way. I would stay in school forever if I could, but eventually I focused on music.”
Solo and chamber music performances have taken Collins to festivals such as Orford Centre d’arts, Kneisel Hall, the Aldeburgh Festival and Musique de Chambre a Giverny. She is a member of the Bach
Aria Soloists, Cantata Profana and the Grossman Ensemble and has performed with The Knights, Decoda, Talea Ensemble, A Far Cry and NOVUS NY.
She also appears regularly as a Baroque cellist with the Sebastians, New York Baroque Incorporated, Quodlibet Ensemble and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra.
Collins currently is assistant professor of cello at the University of Kansas School of Music.
For the Salina Symphony performance, Collins will perform the Haydn’s First Cello Concerto and premiere two brand new cadenzas by the Spanish cellist and composer Andrea Casarrubios written especially for this concert.
“I’m extremely excited to work with the Salina Symphony and with Yaniv,” she said. “The past couple of years have been difficult for performing musicians. It’s caused some amazing innovations to happen, but it doesn’t replace being in the same room experiencing things with someone next to you.”
Tickets for the concert may be purchased at the Stiefel Theatre box office at 785-827-1998 or online at www.salinasymphony.org. Single admission tickets are $29 or $39 for adults and $19 for students.
Please visit the Salina Symphony website for updated information on the Stiefel Theatre’s COVID-19 policy.