Photo: Maarit Kytöharju

Alumnus of the week, Sebastian Fagerlund: “Students of composition should take time to connect with musicians.”

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When Sebastian Fagerlund began studying composition at the Sibelius Academy in the autumn of 1997, he wasn’t exactly new to music studies. Having completed a degree in violin at the Turku Conservatory, his first year at the academy went by quickly. With a curriculum that encompassed such a wide variety of subjects, you could even say that his early forays into the field left him feeling that it was somewhat disjointed. As for the highlights of his student years, he mentions connecting well with Erkki Jokinen, his teacher of many years, as well as the premieres of his early major compositions. His social life as a student became increasingly important to him as well, and Fagerlund forged many lasting friendships with people he continues to work with to this day.

Fagerlund believes that the technical craftsmanship skills in composition to be the most valuable he gained during his times as a student. While life after graduation was occasionally touched upon in composition studies, he feels he’s learned most about professional life while working as a composer. By the time Fagerlund graduated from the Sibelius Academy with a master’s degree in music in 2004, he had gained a strong foothold in the Finnish music scene, making his graduation less of a watershed in his professional life.

He composed a clarinet concerto for Christoffer Sundqvist in 2006, a piece that’s since been performed several times both in Finland and abroad. While he attracted widespread interest as a student, this piece was something of a breakthrough for him. Fagerlund counts his clarinet concerto, as conducted by John Storgårds with the BBC Philharmonic, among the many highlights of his career so far. The period before the clarinet concerto was composed was a tough time for him mentally. He was under a lot of stress, brought about by both the composition work and the death of his father, and he found himself in a total creative block. It took a move to new surroundings in Barcelona to rediscover his creative touch.

Fagerlund thinks perseverance and a high tolerance for stress are particularly important qualities for a composer. Having a thick skin comes in handy as well, as a composer has to get used to rejection. Fagerlund would like to see social skills play a more prominent role in composition studies, and he encourages aspiring composers to connect with musicians. It can’t be all work and no play though, and Fagerlund urges composition students to take time from their busy schedules to enjoy life as well.

Text: Sauli Zinovjev
The author is a Sibelius Academy student participating in the student-alumni mentoring programme