The Montreal Symphony Orchestra, with Kent Nagano as a Conductor, will perform Andrew's composition Elevation, as part of the MSO new season concert series, in Montreal at 10 am January 24, 2007. This piece was commissioned by Radio France for a program "Alla Breve". It was written in Paris and won the first price (Prix de l'Unanimité) and Prix de la SACEM. For more insight about the work see section LIFE below.
Full of vigor, grace and promise the life span of Andrew Yin Svoboda was grievously short. A gifted child of a Czech father and C hinese mother he excelled in school, and would equally prosper in Science, Medicine and Law. Yet Andrew became fascinated with music. As a youth he would listen to Smetana’s ‘My country’ facing the speakers with outstretched arms and absorbing the glorious sound with his whole body. Later, after choosing music composition as a life vocation, he would write: Music will make me free. It did. After journeying on this earth almost 28 years, transforming himself into a lightning rod of musical inspiration his heart stopped tragically in the middle of a telephone conversation.
Andrew was born on February 4, 1977 in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. From a young age Andrew’s numerous and varied talents became apparent. At six he started learning piano and was enrolled in French Immersion. At 10, a family friend introduced him into practices of meditation. Introspective and a life-long diarist, influences of meditation would later resonate in his musical works throughout his career. An entertainer from a young age, Andrew impressed his friends with improvisation and skillful imitation of popular hits. As a teenager Andrew spent part of three summers in the Arctic, working as a field assistant in treeless tundra, always hauling his heavy synthesizer with him. Like meditation, these experiences would find their way into his later compositions.
While attending Assumption High School he joined a synthesizers group, and in his senior-highschool years became an indispensable member of every drama production, collecting awards of merit for original music. Twice he was named Student of the Year. In grade 12, his School Principal commissioned Andrew to create an original musical to be performed by the students. Over the summer Andrew wrote a libretto and composed a full-size Broadway style musical Earth Angels for 10 principal singers and a chorus. He also trained, directed and accompanied the cast on his synthesizer. The play was inspired by the WWI disastrous explosion of the French ammunition ship Mont Blanc in the Halifax harbor in 1917, and is in fact a celebration of love and the mysterious meaning of death. The success of this production assured Andrew and those who watched him of his vocation. He was accepted at three Music schools and opted for McGill University in Montreal.
During his first semester at McGill, Andrew was commissioned by a Canadian author, May Cutler, to write musical score for her play about the Canadian North. Thus, when Andrew just turned 20, his second musical, Aah-Pootee! That’s snow!, was born. This colorful play, capturing children by its magic and reaching adults by its wit, was written in the style of a classical fable. Andrew set Cutler’s book into music for eight singers and three musicians, and in the fall of 1997, McGill opera students did a sing-through of the songs. First full production was staged in Moyse Hall at McGill, also by the students from the Faculty of Music July 23-Aug.1, 1998. The Montreal Gazette called it “An enchanting family musical… excellent … breathtaking … captivating… remarkable … a lovely spectacle…” The Suburban described it as “Something quite extraordinary … a sheer delight … little short of miraculous … highly entertaining … a small work of art.” CBC TV urged people to go and see it.
Encouraged by good reviews, the company decided to try New York City. Aah Pootee was produced there as part of the NYC Family Arts Festival from July 26-Aug. 6, 2000. Again the reviews were most favourable. The Off Off-Broadway Review wrote on Aug 3. 2000: “Everything is nicely supported by Andrew Svoboda’s jaunty, tuneful score, which gives just the right tone to themes which propel the action… Highly recommended… The New York Times, Aug. 4. 2000: “Andrew Svoboda composed the score which ranges delightfully from lullaby-like melodies to jazzy tunes..."
Working towards his Bachelor’s degree under the tutelage of Marina Mdivani (piano), Bruce Mather, Denys Buliane and Brian Cherney (composition, orchestration and analysis), Andrew turned to more serious music. He composed a number of pieces for piano, clarinet, flute, violin, cello and other instruments. In 1999-2000, while still an undergraduate student, he was named “Composer-in-residence”. During this time he wrote lyrics in five languages and composed a powerful choral Maran Atha for chorus, cello, piano and percussion, which was premiered by the 100-singer McGill University Chorus and conducted by Iwan Edwards in October 2000. The choral is a meditative journey. The opening represents the gradual reclusive effect of meditation with the repetition of ‘Maran Atha’ (Come my Master) and steady breathing, illustrating the eternal longing of mankind for an intimate contact with the divine. Andrew obtained his Bachelor of Music (Honours) in Composition with distinction in the spring of 2000.
Andrew continued in his Master’s program also at McGill. In April, 2001 his Rhapsody for chamber orchestra was premiered by the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble, conducted by Denys Buliane. Being of mixed race, Andrew explored his biological and cultural roots in this composition. It is the coming together of two very different worlds, each with its own particular system of harmony, rhythm and timbre. In 2002, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Michel Reason premiered the same piece, expanded for full orchestra. Andrew became a finalist in this orchestra’s composition competition and won the 2nd prize.
In 2002 during a Master Class with the composer Tan Dun (film: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Andrew was approached by Bruno Berenguer from Radio France and offered a commission of an orchestral piece for a broadcasting series “Alla breve”. Andrew was granted a one-year leave from McGill and moved to Paris to work on the piece under the guidance of Prof. Michel Merlet, L’École Normale Supérieure de Musique de Paris. Andrew created two compositions during his Paris stay.
The first, Elevation, was written for full orchestra and conducted by Kirill Karabits. Andrew was inspired by Ernest Thompson Seton’s story ‘Climbing the mountain’. The story follows a group of American Indian boys who are challenged by their chief to climb an impressive mountain. Not everyone will succeed. In five two-minute movements, Andrew musically transposes the story’s narrative into five contrasting physical, emotional and spiritual states. The first movement is infused with youthful competition and naïve determination. The second movement is marked by uncertainty and doubt. The third movement is impressionistic. The fourth movement is thin and vast. The fifth and final movement begins with waves of intensity and evolves into a state of tranquility and reflection. Hence the title ‘Elevation’, referring to topography, state of mind, and mystical transubstantiation. The piece was recorded by the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra July 10, 2003 and broadcast in a series of “Alla breve” programs in the fall of 2003 and spring of 2004.
The second work, Le Caveau des Oubliettes for clarinet, euphonium, marimba and piano, was commissioned by the Quatunord Quartet, Dunkerque and premiered June 15, 2003 in Paris.
Andrew received a Diplome Supérieur de Composition by the school and First Prize (Prix de l’Unanimité), and Le Prix de la SACEM (French Society for authors and composers). During the 16 months he lived in Paris, Andrew explored this great city’s cultural riches, and traveled a lot within the country and throughout Central Europe.
Martin Streda was Andrew’s Master’s project. This one-act opera for baritone and ensemble of eight instrumentalists was inspired by his father Josef’s experience in the infamous Czechoslovak gulag for political prisoners who toiled in uranium mines during the dark era of the 1950’s. Both the libretto and the music were written by the composer. The musical form of the monodrama was inspired by Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung, Francis Poulenc La Voix Humaine, and Hans Werner Henze El Cimaron. Andrew’s Martin Streda is a psychological drama of the internal conflict of a pacifist son (Martin) and his militant dissident father living in exile. The drama is staged in a solitary confinement of a freezing concrete bunker on the eve of Martin’s death. The opus, judged by the examiners as exceeding the scope of a Master’s work, was defended in December 2003. Andrew was granted his Master’s in Music Composition in the spring 2004.
In August of 2004, Andrew moved to New York to start the third period of his musical scholarship. He was accepted to the prestigious Doctoral program at the Department of Music at Columbia University. At 27, he was now a mature, accomplished personality, fully bilingual, with a broad education and experience. He was connected with a wide circle of great colleagues and friends by whom he was respected for his vision and talent, cherished for his charm and wit, and loved for his fairness, his kindness and his loyalty. He began sharing his life with a lovely French soul-mate, Marie, whom he met in New York already in 2000.
New York City was not new to Andrew, however, the music environment at Columbia was. During the first seminars, the new students are usually challenged by their peers as to the originality and avant-garde nature of their art. Once again Andrew was pressed to search his soul. He wondered, Is there enough substance in me to meet the ever increasing challenge? All is in a constant motion, he reflected, and music is the most intimate expression of this change. Entering a new passage towards a new horizon, Andrew felt determined more than ever to write a new, yet unheard music.
In his notes to his final composition, Andrew wrote:
Before beginning a new piece at a new school in a new musical environment and a new period of my life, it makes sense to consider the usual questions:
What is art? What is music? Why do I write?…
These are the same questions with the same answer: I create art to satisfy an inner desire…
Art is unshakably linked to man. Therefore art’s purpose must also be forever linked to man. Even if the very last human being is wiped out, the thing designated as art will continue being art. But since art is a man-made idea, so must its purpose be man-made. Thus the true purpose of art is restricted to its creator. It may be very personal and different for every artist.
In this last piece for piano and cello, the piano begins strong and the cello subdued. Gradually the instruments change in sound and dominance, and are eventually transposed into each other, in transition. Without realizing the symbolism of this piece, titled Trans-it, the composer himself experienced a profound transformation. In the winter morning of December 29, 2004 without slightest warning the gifted and life-embracing Andrew Yin Svoboda suddenly passed out and entered into eternity, his final composition unfinished. The music, his own music, made him free. Marana Tha.