Marianna Paone was born in South Philly in 1928. Her love of music was influenced by her father, Vincent Paone who played the clarinet, the guitar and the mandolin. Her love of music grew as did her talent and she was accepted at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia (past alumni include Albert Einstein, Kevin Bacon, Chubby Checker and Wallace Roney). Marianna continued her studies at the Philadelphia Musical Academy and was later rewarded with a scholarship to the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. When Marianna expressed an interest in conducting while studying in France she was met with a resistance that was typical of the time, “That’s not a profession for a woman.”
While in Europe she met and married Italian violinist Umberto Gabbi who later worked for Olivetti. The European culture and cuisine agreed readily with Marianna as she lived and studied in cities throughout Europe. She moved to the U.S. and later adopted her daughter Paola. She was divorced a short time later. Recovering from the divorce she moved Texas in pursuit of her dream and to study conducting under Anshel Brusilow.
She began teaching at NMSU in 1975 and instituted the concert subscription series, the youth concerts and the summer string workshop. Her focus was always on providing music students with the experience of performing with renowned musicians. Many noteworthy guest artists performed with the Las Cruces Symphony. There were musicians she knew from her studies in Europe, others were attracted by the warm southwestern climate, but all of them left Las Cruces with a love for the appreciative audience as well as Marianna’s cooking. Among these artists are violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (Dr. Gabbi was Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg’s first violin teacher) who donated her services to the NMSU music department, cellist Cecile Licad, Pianists Anthony and Joseph Paratore, guitarist Javier Calderon (our guest artist for the memorial concert who is donating his services to the New Horizon Symphony), Armenian pianist Sergei Babayan, vocalist Marvis Martin, pianist Grant Johannesen and flutist Eugenia Zuckerman.
These renowned guest artists served to put Las Cruces on the cultural map, but Dr. Gabbi was also quick to promote local talent. Local musicians such as William Leland, Jeremy Denk, Don Hardisty, Guillermo Quezada, Joseph Sylvan, Michael Stahle, and Gordon Butler all performed with the Las Cruces Symphony to the delight of the audience.
Dr. Gabbi was honored by retired Mayor Ruben Smith with Marianna Gabbi Day (June 19th), as well as receiving two Governor’s Awards, the first for Outstanding Women and the second for Excellence in the Arts. Her talent and fame drew international attention and in 1988 she received an official invitation from China to conduct two orchestras; the Beijing Central and the Beijing Conservatory. In 1996 she was invited to conduct an all Tchaikovsky concert with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra and again in 1998 when she conducted a concert featuring all American composers. She retired from NMSU in 1999 and her last concert with the Las Cruces Symphony was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. In recent years she came out of retirement and took up the baton to conduct the New Horizons Symphony (concerts are free of charge) where she worked until her untimely passing in 2018. She also was inducted (posthumously) into the New Mexico Music Hall of Fame in January 2020.