Cellist Sol Gabetta to make Aspen Music Fest debut
July 29, 2010
ASPEN – Sol Gabetta’s early demands to play the cello were fueled by childish desires. She settled on cello because her brother, four years older, was a violinist, and Gabetta wanted a bigger, stronger instrument than his. Where she lived at the time, near Cordoba, Argentina, a child-sized cello was hard to find, and her parents gave her a viola instead. “But I told my mother I wanted a real cello, or I won’t play cello,” Gabetta said. At 4 1/2, she was given a half-size cello – still a bit big, but it satisfied her.
It wasn’t long before the wishes grew more serious. Soon after getting the cello, Gabetta’s parents were driving her twice a month to Buenos Aires, nearly 500 miles away, for lessons. That was mild compared to what Gabetta asked for at the age of 9 1/2 – to move from Argentina to Madrid, to study with a Russian-born teacher. The move split her family, as she and her mother, also a Russian-born pianist, relocated to Spain, while her father, an economist, stayed in South America. But as Gabetta recalled, this effort wasn’t made to soothe some fleeting childhood interests. She was serious.
“I wanted this,” Gabetta said of her yearnings to become a musician. “It was clear to me. I wanted to make something with my instrument. I wanted to be onstage. Ballet, singing – all those things were good for me.”
Gabetta did dance, and she sang plenty; for years, she spent an hour or two each day in choir practice. She also tried her hand at violin and piano. But none of those captured her like the cello; there seems to have been something behind those early demands for the instrument. Perhaps not surprisingly for a girl named Sol – Spanish for sun – it was the cello’s warm tone that sustained her interest.
“The warm sound impressed me,” the 29-year-old Gabetta said Wednesday afternoon on the Aspen Music Festival’s Castle Creek campus, in her first visit to Aspen. “That’s what I want to have at the moment – the warmest of things, the warmth of this sound. I wanted, absolutely, to be a pianist, at 5. The polyphony, all those voices, it’s like an orchestra. I was singing in a choir too, so I had this feeling of polyphony in myself and I was reaching on the piano to have this. But the warmness of the cello was more impressive to me. It was clear I would stay with cello. That was my instrument.”
As she grew, Gabetta found reason to see the cello as a good physical fit. While she is altogether feminine – slender, cheerful, pretty – her hands, she points out, are bigger and more powerful than one would expect.
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“I think it was a good choice, for my body and my abilities,” she said in a fluid but idiosyncratic English that is accented with a variety of influences – her mother’s Russian, the Spanish she grew up with, the Italian she adores, the German she speaks with her Swiss boyfriend. “My hands are quite big for my arms, my proportions. I have the feeling that the cello – it’s not a man’s instrument, but it needs a lot of physical energy. My hands, I think, are a thing that holds the cello, much more than the violin.”
Gabetta’s choice of instrument, and the lengths she has gone to master it, have been validated. She has won several significant honors, including an award at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, and, in 2004, the Credit Suisse Young Artist Award, whose prizes included the opportunity to make her debut, at the Lucerne Festival, with the Vienna Philharmonic and conductor Valery Gergiev. Since making her recording debut in 2006, with an album of works by Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns and Ginastera, she has compiled an impressive track record as a recording artist, with six more albums under her name, and the 2009 Echo Award, a German award based on sales. Her latest recording, with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, is of Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
Still, Gabetta has more roads to explore, especially in the United States. Having lived in Basel, Switzerland, the last five years, and in the Alsace region of France before that, she has had relatively little exposure in the States. She was handpicked by Leonard Slatkin to perform during the conductor’s farewell appearances with Washington, D.C.’s National Symphony Orchestra, in 2008; for the final concert, she and Yo-Yo Ma played Slatkin’s own composition for two cellos. She also did a tour, this past February, with Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which he now directs.
Gabetta’s third U.S. engagement brings her to Aspen. Friday, she joins the Aspen Chamber Symphony and conductor Robert Spano for a performance of Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D minor. Also on the program are works by Busoni and Faure, and Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements.
“It’s a funny piece. Fun to play,” Gabetta said of the concerto, written by the French-born composer in 1876, and which Gabetta has performed often, including on a long tour with the Spanish National Orchestra in 2007. “It’s written very well for the cello. The cello needs to play like a trumpet – very present. And very folkloric. He’s a French composer but very influenced by his friend, Pablo Sarasate, and you can hear these folkloristic influences from Spain.”
Gabetta’s ambitions to make an impact in music are evident in a series of personal projects. In 2006, she founded her own festival, Solsberg. Every other year, the festival hosts a concert by the Chamber Orchestra of Boston. Her latest venture is Cappella Gabetta, a 14-person ensemble that will release its first album, followed by a tour of Europe. The group will feature Gabetta on Baroque cello.
“I am interested to try everything in the world that’s possible,” Gabetta said. “I can make my life easier to play just the big concertos, say, ‘That’s my repertoire,’ and stop there. But I don’t want to stay fixed in one box. Life is not a box; we are not living in a box.”
But despite such a grand vision, and childhood determination, and her accomplishments in young adulthood, Gabetta’s ambitions seem right-sized, and her aims come with an appealing touch of down-home modesty. Solsberg, for instance, is staged a few miles from her home in Basel, in churches that seat a few hundred people. The concertmaster for Cappella Gabetta is Anders Gabetta, Sol’s brother. The ensemble’s debut album features works by Vivaldi – but also lesser-known composers who were contemporaries of Vivaldi, allowing Gabetta to shine some exposure on underpublicized composers.
While she chose the cello as a way to overpower her brother those many years ago, Gabetta now looks to use the instrument for more commendable purposes.
“I try to be very human with everybody,” she said. “It’s not, ‘I’m the soloist, so you respect me.’ I respect the orchestra on an equal level. It’s not a question to be better or not, it’s a question to communicate, be very human with the public, let them come close to us. Music has an access for everyone.”