The U-M alum and long-time performer to conduct Broadway hits, Gershwin.
Featured photo by Bruno Fidrych
Yaniv Segal, a performer enriched by varied entertainment achievements, will conduct both the Detroit and Ann Arbor symphony orchestras this season.
Segal, who has been based in Ann Arbor for more than a decade, has sung with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, acted in Broadway and touring productions, performed on violin and made recordings of his own compositions.
As conductor, he will raise his baton in Ann Arbor to feature Broadway hits on March 14 and 15. Then, joining the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO), he will lead an April 25 family program, “Gershwin’s Magic Key,” with music and storytelling combined.
“With my childhood experiences in show business, particularly touring in The Secret Garden, the Broadway program feels very appropriate and special,” he said. “In Detroit, I can express my love for family programs, which help expose young listeners to great composers.”
Segal, 38, had his own early exposure to music through his mother, retired New York Philharmonic violinist Hanna Lachert, and his father, violin maker David Segal, who operates his own business in New York. After starting with violin at age 4, the then-aspiring performer wanted to try out for the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus at age 8.
He sang on stage with the likes of Dawn Upshaw, Kathleen Battle and Luciano Pavarotti. At 11, he toured for a year in the role of Colin in the first national tour of The Secret Garden, performing in a new city every week except for two months in Japan.
For the first six months, Segal’s mom took a sabbatical from the orchestra to look after her son. For the second six months, she played in the production orchestra after the concertmaster left for another show.
“I could glance down into the pit and see my mom playing,” Segal recalled. “Much later, my mom invited me to be with her playing violin or viola in chamber groups featuring her Philharmonic colleagues. Sometimes, I would be her conductor.”
After the tour and back in New York, Segal studied violin while also taking a respite from professional musical performance. Instead, he accepted a role in Tom Stoppard’s spy drama, Hapgood.
When the play ended its run, he returned to musical priorities and attended Vassar College. He moved on to freelance on violin, compose and start, with a colleague, the nonprofit Chelsea Symphony, offering professional development to emerging musicians playing classical and new music.
Making Music in Michigan
In 2008, Segal decided to concentrate on conducting and composing. He chose the University of Michigan (U-M) for advanced degrees.
“I realized conducting allowed me to fulfill my dreams of performance with the greatest possible palette of colors: all those instruments and people working together to bring the most beautiful compositions to life,” he said. “I also realized I needed the creativity of composing to be fulfilled.”
While a U-M student, Segal learned about the DSO Soundcard program, which offers students one low price for season tickets, and he became a steadfast audience member.
When the associate conductor went on maternity leave, Segal was asked to fill in. He became acting assistant conductor and now is back to being on-call. This year, in addition to conducting, he’s covering 10 other programs and will fill in and assist as needed.
Segal recently met Jader Bignamini, the new DSO music director, who has been based in Italy while traveling the world to lead major orchestras.
Chosen by committee, Bignamini had filled in for music director laureate Leonard Slatkin to close the 2017-18 season. Last October, Bignamini led a Mahler program as the search for a new director was in progress and returned in January for more concerts and the announcement. Throughout 2020-21, the new director will lead three classical programs in Detroit.
“People have been so glowing about what an incredible week he had last fall and what instant chemistry there was with the orchestra,” said Segal, who assisted that week. “When he came back, there was a deepening of that chemistry, and that was wonderful to see.”
Segal’s interest in the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra also began when he was a U-M student attending programs. After music director Arie Lipsky became ill, Segal was asked to conduct. He also has served as assistant conductor of the Naples (Florida) Philharmonic and guest conducted in many other cities.
Segal soon will join the celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth as maestro at a Warsaw music festival.
“As a composer and musician, I’m a Beethoven fan,” Segal said. “At the same time, I’ve wanted to reinterpret what Beethoven could mean today.”
His upcoming album, “Beethoven Reimagined,” was recorded with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and has three pieces that reimagine Beethoven’s work.
One piece is a symphonic arrangement Segal made from Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, without any voices. Another is a violin piano sonata turned into a new symphony. The third, “Beethoven 9 Symphonic Remix” by Gabriel Prokofiev, takes cells from Beethoven’s work and creates a new suite using contemporary musical styles.
Segal and wife, physician Joanna Spencer-Segal, have two young children, and they attend family programs at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor. Segal further expresses religious feeling through an earlier album, “Joy & Sorrow,” devoted to Jewish themes.
“The album has new classical, but klezmer-inspired, music by New York composer David Chesky,” said Segal, who learned Hebrew from his Israeli-raised dad and Polish from his mom before speaking English. “The music expresses both the happiness and the sadness of what Jewish people have gone through, and the emotions go beyond words.”
Yaniv Segal will lead “Best of Broadway” at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 14, and 4 p.m. Sunday, March 15, at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor. General ticket prices begin at $35, with student discounts. (734) 994-4801. a2so.com.
Segal will conduct “Gershwin’s Magic Key” with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 25, in Orchestra Hall. Tickets start at $20. (313) 576-5111. dso.org.