I learned of Sabrina Tabby through her participation in Contemporaneous, where she exhibited not only technical excellence, but also deep understanding of the soul of each piece she played. I missed her presence in the ensemble while she was studying abroad, though it was wonderful to learn this meant friends in Central Europe would get a chance to hear her perform. I am delighted to present Sabrina Tabby on Prufrock’s Dilemma.
Q: In January, you and Dávid Adam Nagy (bassoonist with Contemporaneous) participated in a Central European tour of chamber music with Bard College’s Conservatory of Music. The trip included concerts in Debrecen, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Brno, and Prague. That’s quite a roster of fabled cities and performances. How did the tour come about, and what led to your participation?
I had heard about this tour from the president of our conservatory, Dr. Robert Martin, back in the fall of 2011, but at that time, it was hardly more than an idea or fantasy. However, once things began to gather steam and more pieces fell into place, thanks largely in part to Dávid Nagy, it became a reality. Since this tour was going to have to be more or less “low budget,” this meant that the Conservatory could not pay for American or Asian students to fly to Europe and back to participate, and so they would be using just the students who live Europe who would be home in January for winter break. I was a special exception to this, though, because while I’m not European, I had plans to study abroad at the Sorbonne in Paris during the fall of 2012, working towards my BA in French Studies, and so I would, in fact, already be in Europe in January 2013. It was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time, and I am so grateful!
Q: Would you give us an example or two of memorable, startling, or just plain quirky moments along the tour?
Our tour bus broke down in a blizzard, on the high way, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, on our way back to Budapest…twice. It was very dramatic, but we were lucky in many ways that these were the only two times we broke down (first time coming back “home” to Budapest from Debrecen, and second time coming back from our final concert in Prague). With our itinerary of 5 consecutive concerts in 5 different cities, 4 different countries, we could have been in some hairy situations had we broken down at any other point during the tour.
Q: In one of the great serendipities of life, you met my blogging friends Jane and Lance Hattatt, whom I’ve actually not yet met! Would you tell us something about your time together, and is there any message you’d like to give them here?
I have so much more hope for the future of classical music performance knowing that there are people like Jane and Lance out there who reached out and greeted us on the tour with so much warmth and spirit, upon nothing more than a virtual recommendation from you, Susan. They are without a doubt some of the loveliest people out there, with their overflowing personalities and sense of humor. I hope you get to meet them soon, and I hope it’s not too long before the next time I see them again.
Q: Now, on to other things. When did music first come into your life? Can you tell us about an early musical experience that has significance for you today?
I have a twin sister and two older sisters who all took ballet classes and some sort of music lessons, thanks to our mother who wanted us to be cultured and well rounded. Following in the footsteps of my second oldest sister who had started piano young and who shortly thereafter proved to be quite talented, my twin and I began piano lessons at the age of four. We had a particularly rigorous and demanding Russian piano teacher who instilled in us very good discipline and the highest expectations for ourselves as musicians.
As for how I started the violin, unfortunately I have no distinct recollections, but as my mother tells the story, it was my own independent idea at age 6. My mother could not understand why I would want to play the violin, not having any family members or friends who played, and she sort of brushed it aside at first, thinking it might be a passing phase of mine, but apparently I was persistent. Perhaps it was watching Itzhak Perlman play on Sesame Street or hearing CDs or the classical music station that my mom would play in the car, but eventually she gave up resisting my request and started me on private lessons, and the rest is history.
Q: Would you name a figure in music you regard as a role model and tell us a little about why?
My first real violin teacher was an eccentric Australian man who believed in tough love. He created a string orchestra entirely of his own students (kids on viola and cello as well), and we would rehearse every Friday night. He would kick kids out regularly for being late, for being unprepared, for being misbehaved. But at the same time, he instilled so much love, passion, and confidence in us as musicians and the joy that is making music with others. Of course I’m only now realizing what an incredible person he was, as I have now had a little teaching experience myself. I hope one day that I can be half as inspiring as he was.
Q: You are actively involved in Contemporaneous. How did you first become involved in the ensemble? Would you tell us about a moment with Contemporaneous that was particularly memorable for you?
I’ve been playing with Contemporaneous since its first season in the spring of 2010, my freshman year. David Bloom, a sophomore at the time, had asked me if I wanted to participate in this special project, and I was just so delighted that somebody wanted me to play with them that I instantly agreed. Contemporaneous is one of the major components throughout my time here at Bard that has contributed to the artist I am today, with all the performance opportunities that helped me to shake away my nerves and with the level of difficulty of the music, which demanded a higher level of comprehension and technique.
One of the most memorable moments for me was recording Dylan Mattingly’s epic piece Atlas. We had spent close to 12 hours over the span of a weekend pinpointing and dissecting every measure of the piece to get it just right, and at the end of the 12 hours, all of us mentally and physically exhausted at this point, we did a “studio run” (that is simply a full run of the piece from start to finish in the recording studio). I can count the experiences on one hand where I have felt so connected playing in such a large ensemble. It was like we were truly one organism, each individual pulling his weight. That’s what it’s all about!
Q: Would you name one or two pieces of music new to you that you particularly enjoy, and tell us something about why?
I have fallen in love with Dylan Mattingly’s music and have been so lucky to play and hear live a lot of it. He’s exceptional, not to mention a good, good friend.
Q: I always know that I’m making a big assumption when I ask about free time. Do you have any, and if so, how do you like to spend it?
Yes free time is kind of a big assumption, especially at Bard in the dual degree program and everything else, but to be honest, I’m really doing what I love here, and so if I ever do stumble upon some free time, I usually just end up filling it right back up with more of the same: playing good music with good friends.
What’s New for Sabrina Tabby
Tabby reports: Freshly back after half a year in Europe, I have begun my third to last semester at Bard. I’m so happy to be submerged in so much performing again, including solo, chamber, and orchestral performance. The semester is saturated with all kinds of music: authentic baroque ensemble (with the authentic baroque bow—it’s a completely different shape and produces a very different sound with the violin), new music (Contemporaneous and Music Alive! [a concert series at Bard]), and everything in between. I have also started my Senior Project, the final step towards obtaining the Bachelor degree in French Studies. This is a year-long process that I have decided to spend studying the first American musicians and composers that spent time in Paris in the 1920s, as inspired by my own time just spent there. Life is good.
About Sabrina Tabby
Violinist Sabrina Tabby, from Philadelphia, began violin at age 6, in addition to piano and ballet lessons. She developed a fondness for chamber music at a very young age, playing regularly with her twin sister, a cellist. She has been featured on National Public Radio’s From the Top radio series and television show from Carnegie Hall, and competed consecutive years at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. A fourth year student at Bard College Conservatory in Laurie Smukler’s studio, Tabby has enjoyed her time there performing as concert master of the conservatory orchestra, in string quartets and piano trios, as well as in baroque and new music ensembles. She has had opportunities to perform across four continents. This past summer, she traveled to China with the Bard Music Festival Tour and to Venezuela to teach and perform at the first annual Festival de Música de Colón. In January she toured Central Europe playing chamber concerts with the Bard Conservatory. Tabby is also working toward a second degree in French studies and spent the fall semester abroad studying at La Sorbonne in Paris.
Sabrina Tabby gave her degree recital on May 2, 2014. The well-conceived and beautifully performed program, Something Old, Something New . . . included, along with works by J. S. Bach and the premiere of a fine new work by Bard student Tamzin Ferré Elliott, Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major (1923-1927) and Bartók’s Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Piano (1928). Photographs from the recital are included in the slideshow below.
Postscript: This edition of This Life in Music is the first in a two-part series. The second part, featuring bassoonist Dávid Adam Nagy, may be found here.
Tabby playing the first movement of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto:
Tabby as first violinist in Dylan Mattingly’s Atlas of Somewhere on the Way to Howland Island, II. Islanded in a Stream of Stars (Tabby comes in at several points, including at about :55, 6:25, and 12:20):
Tabby, with pianist Mayumi Tsuchida, in Dylan Mattingly’s Six Night Sunrise (Music of Barges and Metallic Stars):
I have written previously, “Sabrina Tabby (violin) and Mayumi Tsuchida (piano) have this music deep in their bones. They give voice to its bluesy pulse, its dreaming and hesitations, with the ease of intimate conversation.”
Tabby, with Dávid Adam Nagy on bassoon and Mayumi Tsuchida on piano, playing the first movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D Minor: