[CASA Magazine] Cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio’s Dvořák
By Daniel Kepl, CASA
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Grammy Award-Winning cellist Sara Sant'Ambrogio comes from a distinguished musical family. "I always say it was either destiny or density that made me become a cellist," she told me from Nashville, during a recent conversation. "My grandparents were both professional musicians. The best man at my grandparents wedding was Joesph Gingold, the great violin pedagogue.
He played in a string quartete with my grandfather. And my grandmother was a phenomenal concert pianist, a protege of Arthur Rubinstein. My father played both violin and piano, but really didn't find his footing until he switched to the cello, an instrument neither of his parents played."
Sara Sant'Ambrogio's father, John, is the former Principal Cello of the St. Louis Symphony, and visits Santa Barbara regularly, teaching cello at Westmont College. He will be judging an international cello competition in Missouri when his daughter plays the Dvorak Concerto for Cello next weekend, Saturday, May 17th at 8pm, and Sunday, May 18th at 3pm with the Santa Barbara Symphony at the Granada Theatre. Still vigorous professional musician at 81, John is of course proud of his daughter's international solo career and will be wanting some tips. "Every time he sees me, he now grabs me for a lesson," Sant'Ambrogio laughed. "He'll say 'I was listening to your recording of the Chopin, how do you get that slide, it's just so heartbreaking,' and then we'll work on it, and he'll call me afterwards, 'I've been working on it, and I've got it a lot better.' It's wonderful because it's true, he is getting better."
Conductor Nir Kabaretti has created a program around the Dvorak concerto that will include Shostakovich's powerful Symphony No. 5 and Israeli composer/conductor Noam Sheriff's Akeda (The Sacrifice) composed in memory of Israel's assassinated Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.
The Dvorak is without a doubt one of classical music's most popular concertos, and will certainly be a draw for audiences. I wondered at what age Sant'Ambrogio began to wrap her mind and hands around the piece. She explained that she was 19, and had just entered Juilliard to study with the famed cellist Leonard Rose, her father's teacher. He had injured his hand, but after hearing her win the All-Juilliard Concerto Competition, "He said, 'I have two concerts next month, the Dvorak concerto, and I'd like you to play for me,'" Sant'Ambrogio remembered. "I hadn't learend the Dvorak, and the next week I was playing the Schumann Cello Concerto at Lincoln Center, and he said, 'You can do it,' and I'm thinking alright, I need to start practicing, and I've played it many times since. I was so touched and amazed by his faith in me, that I would be able to work that hard to get it done; which I did."
But why, I press her, does the concerto touch people so deeply? "Even today, and I've played it so many times, when that opening orchestra starts playing, I tear up every time, it's so passionate. Even though Dvorak wanted the concerto to end with this incredible, sobbing lament to mirror the mourning and grief that he was feeling at the time because of the death of his sister, at the end, right after the cello has sobbed its way from teh top of the instrument down to the bottom, and then floated back up, he winds up with one of the catchiest endings you could possibly have. The concerto has the angst when you have incredible passion for someone, but there's a pain as well, that hurts so good. He puts it all in there."