Pasha Sabouri is a late-blooming musical prodigy.
The San Francisco-born, Nevada-raised violinist moved around as a child – his father served in the military – and Sabouri didn’t start playing that rarefied instrument until he was 12, long after many violinists have logged years of painstaking lessons.
“Growing up, sports was the thing to do,” Sabouri says, noting that he still enjoys playing basketball and tennis. While in middle school, his parents suggested he play the piano. Since there was no piano in the orchestra room, fate had something else in store. “I just picked the smallest instrument, which happened to be the violin.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in musical arts with a concentration in violin performance at the Cincinnati Conservatory, Sabouri went to New York City. There he met Brian Lewis, who was then teaching a summer seminar at the Starling-DeLay Symposium Series, named after the late renowned teacher Dorothy DeLay and featuring classes taught by acclaimed musicians such as Itzhak Perlman. Sabouri earned his master’s in musical arts, specializing in violin performance, at the University of Texas in 2006. Although he wouldn’t have predicted that Austin would become his adopted home, Sabouri has adapted very well. “When I first heard about Austin, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, Texas?!’ [But] there’s so much diversity here and everyone is really laid back and go with the flow.”
Laid-back, yes. However, the programs that Sabouri was accepted into are fiercely competitive: out of 150 applicants from across the globe for the master’s and doctoral programs, only five were accepted. By this time next year, he’ll be Dr. Sabouri.
Sabouri, who describes himself as more of a homebody, practices for four to five hours per day, and usually has more than enough on his plate when coursework and recitals are thrown into the mix. He’s also Lewis’ teaching assistant, which involves another 10 to 15 hours in the classroom per week.
Originally from Tehran, Iran, Sabouri’s family has been extremely accommodating of his musical career. His gratitude is evident in how he speaks of them. “My parents mortgaged their house to buy me my violin,” he says. “A Stradivarius or Guarneri – these are the two top makers – can go for between $2 and $5 million; even the bow can be very expensive,” he says, adding that his friend just purchased a bow for $75,000. Once you factor in the cost of new strings and repairs, plus money spent on lessons and traveling – it ends up being a small fortune. Even so, Sabouri – who received a full ride scholarship in Cincinnati and a Starling scholarship at UT, is very fortunate. “I get paid to play concerts and recitals, and now I’m getting paid to teach master classes and workshops.”
Sabouri is fluent in Farsi – the official language of Iran and other countries – but he hasn’t been to Iran in several years, even though a majority of his family still resides in Tehran. Doing so now would be logistically difficult, given that he’d have to buy his citizenship back; also, Iranian law mandates that all men 18 years of age or older serve at least two years in the army.
“Most Iranians are doctors, lawyers or dentists,” he says, laughing. “My family always told me to follow my dream and they were 110 percent supportive.”
Although he may not realize it, Sabouri is bringing classical music out of closet, or at the very least, bringing it out of the box in which it is often placed. The box that defines it as too highbrow, too off-putting or something that’s meant for the overly-educated and ultra-rich among us. “I don’t think it’s like that,” Sabouri says. “It’s just music and there’s something that anyone can enjoy.”
Sabouri’s iPod contains everything from Kanye West and Missy Elliot to Radiohead and Brahms; these days, he plays on a Derazey, a French violin made in 1861. He spends a good chunk of time perfecting his craft in his East Austin apartment. Still searching for Mr. Right, he considers himself a romantic. “I believe that two people should take the time to get to know one another and build a strong foundation and go from there.”
As Sabouri sees it, Austin appreciates classical music more than a lot of other places. He considers the Capital City a place where he could eventually settle down and build his future. He notes that UT is making an effort to recruit high-caliber faculty for its music department and just recently secured world-renowed violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.
But Texas will have to wait to get the music man back. In late May, Sabouri was chosen to be a professor of violin at the Hurley School of Music at Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport. His first full-time teaching gig is about three hours, by car, from Austin. “I’m really excited about it,” he says.
So what else does the future hold for this exceedingly- modest maestro? You can catch him performing, among other pieces, the Sibelius Violin Concerto, this summer in Tel Aviv at the Keshet-Elion Festival. The annual two- week-long program brings together the world’s top violinist – they teach classes and the qualifying musicians play for them. Sabouri’s excitement is palpable; it’ll be his first trip to Israel. Beyond that, he occasionally subs for the Austin Symphony and the Austin Lyric Opera, enjoys running on Lady Bird Lake and sampling all the culinary delights that Austin has to offer.