Yeoman of the Month July 2016 – Andrey Lebedev

I’d moved around quite a bit by the time I arrived in London in 2013. My parents grew up in Moscow at a time when travel to foreign countries was almost completely prohibited. The year I was born they moved to the United States and Australia a few years later. Seeing the enthusiasm with which they moved about the world instilled me with a sense of eagerness at the prospect of change and travel. As a kid I changed schools every year or two (amassing a total of eight schools across thirteen years of education), and lived for extended periods in Adelaide, Melbourne, Moscow, and Canberra. But even with those experiences under my belt, moving to London proved to be something completely different.

In some ways it was quite a surprise that I ended up here at all. I didn’t grow up with the intention of becoming a musician, it just kind of happened. My family appreciated music – dad sings and plays the guitar and mum is an accomplished amateur pianist – but they were equally enthusiastic about academic pursuits and had a refreshingly pragmatic view of the practical necessity of a paying career. As a school student making music functioned as a marvellous oasis from academic work and an enjoyable activity to share with friends. As I got older, that music-work balance began to change. I would strive to work at my scholastic pursuits in order maximise my time with the guitar, eager to continue exploring this mysterious world amid six strings. It was not until the very end of my schooling that I decisively chose (much to my parents’ dismay) to pursue music performance full time. I remember consciously deciding then to commit myself 100%, still not sure if a “career” as a performing musician was possible but determined to try my very best.

I find it pretty unbelievable to see where that decision has taken me, seven years on. I’ve been all over the world and built relationships with a number of truly exceptional people. It’s more than I ever would have imagined.

In fact, although I can certainly look back at some big achievements now, it was only four years into my undergraduate studies that things started to happen. In August 2012, in the space of a week, I won both first prize at the Adelaide International Guitar Competition and the Sydney Eisteddfod Instrumental Scholarship, a major instrumental prize open to all instrumentalists. Only a couple of months on I won the Australian National Fine Music “Young Performer of the Year” Award, also open to all instrumentalists, and a few days after that I was on a flight to London to audition at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) where I was awarded a full scholarship on the spot. It was really quite a whirlwind.

My biggest performance ever came a year later, when I was asked to perform a recital for the Julian Bream Trust at St John’s Smith Square. The recital was a one-of-a-kind opportunity, featuring the world premieres of two extended works commissioned by the Trust by Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Leo Brouwer, and the chance to work one-to-one with Julian Bream, an extraordinary man and monolithic figure in classical guitar history. The period leading up to the recital was life-changing: afternoons spent with Julian in Wiltshire working through music by Bach and Takemitsu, evenings with Harry and Julian at Harry’s place, performing in a house concert for Julian and his friends, and a period of immersion into a musical language I had never encountered.

But it’s not all light and glamour. The night before this recital I developed an excruciating infection in my wisdom teeth, resulting in a sleepless night of pain and serious anxiety. To make matters worse, once at the dentist I reacted quite violently to the anaesthetic I was given and spent the remaining hours before the performance oscillating between degrees of sleep and consciousness, seeking occasionally to pluck a few notes. I made it to the concert in the knick of time, and with a few slurps of soup, stepped excitedly (and somewhat wearily) onstage. But it all went down very well in the end. I suspect with all the commotion of the day I hadn’t had the time or energy to think about getting nervous, and was simply elated to have actually made it to the stage!

The last two and a half years in London have been fantastic and offered a wealth of opportunities. The amount of support for young musicians here in London is amazing. I’ve received serious support from The Musicians’ Company’s Yeomen programme, the Countess of Munster Recital Scheme, the International Guitar Foundation Young Artist Platform, the Tillett Trust Young Artist Platform, numerous opportunities through the RAM, and most recently the incredible mentorship of the City Music Foundation. Within the last year I’ve performed in London at Wigmore Hall and Kings Place, across the UK including a recital at the Sage Gateshead, and further afield with Orchestra Wellington in New Zealand, at the Croatian Music Institute in Zagreb, and the Canberra International Music Festival, to name a few. A standout moment was March this year when I had the chance to work alongside John Williams for an evening concert of Australian chamber music at the RAM. I still can’t imagine a more exciting project to have had the chance to realise! John Williams’ recordings really defined the genre for me growing up, and here we were able to work together to present a little-known body of repertoire that we both love, coupled with performing alongside some of my favourite colleagues at the Academy.

I’ll shortly be leaving the RAM where I’ve been studying for an Advanced Diploma under the tutelage of Michael Lewin since gaining my MA. I intend to continue with more of what I am doing – making music. As well as classical playing I am spending more and more time composing and am growing a keen interest in jazz. I suspect these may become important artistic avenues in the future. Right now I am preparing for a concert at Altamira Hong Kong International Guitar Symposium next week, playing Stephen Goss’s brilliant Guitar Concerto with the HKAPA.

To find out more about Andrey, visit andreylebedev.com.