Sabrina Vlaskalic, 1989-2019: A Great Talent Is Silenced
“The classical-guitar world is reeling from the shocking news that one of our brightest young lights, Serbia-born Sabrina Vlaskalic, was killed January 17 when she was hit by a truck while riding her bicycle in Groningen, Netherlands (her home base for the past several years)—the day before her 30th birthday. This Facebook page is filled with fond and loving tributes from colleagues and friends. And her own page has taken on a new poignancy—Here is her final message, posted the morning of her passing: “Incredibly excited to tell you that I will be performing at the Guitar Foundation of America (GFA) Convention in Indianapolis in June 2020! I JUST CAN’T WAIT FOR THIS PERFORMANCE!!!! THIS IS SO AMAZING!!!!”
That enthusiasm definitely captures a defining aspect of her personality. She was, by all accounts, an incredibly positive person, always moving forward, striving to be a better player, but also finding time to be a supportive friend to all who knew her, even tangentially. She was an extraordinary player, too, comfortable with both traditional and modern repertoire—indeed, her excellent album, de Klank van Fransum, finds her taking on Aguado, Legnani, de Falla, Mignone, Brouwer, and Henze. (You can tell from her repertoire she had a very serious side to her!) On Facebook just a few days ago she wrote about her excitement about a piece being written for her by Stephen Goss: “AWESOME NEWS!!! The piece commissioned from Steve Goss which will be a part of my Doctoral submission at Guildhall School of Music & Drama will be premiered in Hong Kong on the epic Altamira Guitar Symposium in July! I can’t wait for the performance!!!” (The work was inspired by a poem written a hundred years ago by a Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip who, she wrote, “seeking an end to Austro-Hungarian rule in Balkans assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife. Many believe that this initiated a chain of events that would lead to the outbreak of World War I. Gavrilo Princip was later thrown into the kazamat, the type of jail considered to be the worst one among them all in the Balkans: humid, dark, without furniture, with stone walls and straw (slama) on the floor. Even though he was fighting for the liberation of his people, once imprisoned, Gavrilo knew he would never see the light of the day again. In the darkness of his cell he wrote a poem, which I always loved.”)
Born in Belgrade, Serbia, Sabrina began her guitar education at the age of seven, though in her early years she was principally guided by her guitar-loving father. At 16 she entered the University of Music Art in Belgrade, where she earned her bachelors degree. Her masters study took her to the Royal Conservatoire of Music in The Hague (Netherlands), where she studied with Zoran Dukic until she earned her degree in 2012. Like so many guitarists, she is also an accomplished teacher: she was on the staff of the Prince Claus Conservatoire at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen.
I first became aware of Sabrina through longtime London-based CG writer Thérèse Saba, who had been knocked out by her playing and went on to write a fascinating profile of Sabrina in the Summer 2017 issue of Classical Guitar. (I really recommend you read that, to learn more about Sabrina and to get a feeling for her engaging personality.) I never had the opportunity to meet her, but we did converse over email several times, and she was nice enough to participate in a feature article about “The Competition Life” I wrote for our Fall 2018 issue. She was a delight to work with on that.
It’s always sad when a life is cut short by tragedy, and this is one that’s really going to reverberate for a long time because of the who she was, what she accomplished, and the enormous potential she had. Our thoughts go out to her family and friends. She will be dearly missed and long remembered.