AYO alumni are scattered across the globe. But what is it like to uproot your life to another country and immerse yourself in its culture?
Cellist Simon Svoboda was part of the Australian Youth Orchestra’s international tour in 2016 and has participated in AYO National Music Camp, AYO Chamber Players and AYO’s Momentum Ensemble. In May this year he toured regional Victoria and NSW with Momentum Ensemble. This briefly brought him back to Australia from Finland, where he has been living since completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Queensland. You can watch some of Simon’s recent performances on his YouTube channel.
We picked Simon’s brain on the experience of moving to Finland to pursue the cello.
Where are you studying?
I have been studying my Masters degree in cello performance at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki for the last three years! I played my Masters concert at the end of May this year. Previously I studied at the Australian National Academy of Music and the University of Queensland.
What attracted you to this specific course?
In late 2018 I was invited to attend the Sibelius Academy Cello Festival. I couldn’t believe the culture of cello playing in such a small country! The number of high-level cellists coming from Finland was completely overwhelming and I just knew I had to try to get there, to be immersed in that environment. I was then encouraged by the cello professor at the Sibelius Academy to audition.
Did you experience an element of culture shock, and if so, how did you adjust to life in another country?
To be honest not really – I was born in Finland and still have Finnish citizenship, so I had some idea of what I was walking into. Although the darkness and cold climate (sometimes as cold as minus 30 degrees) took some time to get used to!
I moved to Australia when I was three years old because my dad couldn’t stand the climate anymore. We went back every few years after that to see family.
What was one of the first pieces of music that inspired you to pick up the cello?
I don’t remember actually, my parents just put a cello in my hands when I was seven! But if I have to remember a specific piece that really inspired me when I was young, I have to say Mstislav Rostropovich’s recording of Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. My parents had it on record and how could anyone not love that recording…
What have been some of the highlights? How did your expectations compare to your actual experience?
I have to say that one of the highlights in a broader sense has been the supportive environment in the cello community, between my friends, colleagues and teachers. I know that in other institutions/countries there can be a bit of a nasty attitude, very competitive and cut-throat, I really hate that. But I have found that in the Sibelius Academy we all support each other and build each other up, rather than cutting each other down to try and get ahead.
Other highlights have been having the chance to play with multiple professional orchestras, playing and touring with my piano trio Trio Meri (‘meri’ translates to water in Finnish), playing in concerto settings and notably being part of a great foundation called LEAD! Foundation, formed by renowned Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste. This foundation brings string players and conductors from around the world to this tiny, beautiful town in Finland called Fiskars and we work with great mentors and perform with them in a variety of concerts during the festival. Check it out here
What have you been up to recently, and what’s up next?
Over July and August, I performed at the Fiskars Summer Festival with LEAD! Foundation, Heinävesi Music Festival with Helsinki Sinfonietta and Turku Cello Competition in Finland.
In September I started a six-month contract as co-principal cello in Tampere Filharmonia in September, which is very exciting!
I’m also really looking forward to performing an arrangement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony for piano trio and 13 percussionists. It’s happening at the amazing Arvo Pärt Centre in Tallinn!
What would be your ideal kind of performance career?
I like to do everything really! At this stage I’m concentrating on refining my craft, so that means a lot of solo playing. But I also love playing in an orchestra and chamber music.
I would ideally like to have a versatile career, where I don’t just do one thing but a variety of different things. I also really enjoy teaching, so who knows! Another big passion of mine is baroque music – I took baroque cello as my secondary subject in my Masters which was pretty cool.