Introducing Sebastiaan Molenaar

Norwegian percussionist Sebastiaan Molenaar has been a member of Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic since 2013, and this April steps up to coaching the percussion section. He explains how he intends to pass on the sense of musical freedom he has learnt from being in the orchestra.

They say that the proof is in the pudding. The proof of how well Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic develops its musicians will be demonstrated in April, when Norwegian musician Sebastiaan Molenaar moves up from being a member of the percussion section to becoming a coach, taking responsibility for training the next group of percussionists ahead of the inaugural European tour of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic.

Sebastiaan joined the orchestra in 2013 and sees the advantages of coming from within the orchestra to become a coach: ‘It’s very important to know how to play in this orchestra, and I have a lot of experience in this. I know what Kristjan and the coaches want.’ But knowing the orchestra and the players doesn’t mean he’s going to be soft on his young colleagues: ‘I want the players to perform at their highest level. That’s my job: to get the best out of them, in a positive way. I might be strict and precise if I need to be, but I will also give them the freedom to be themselves – to let them play things the way they want.’

The freedom of BYP
This sense of liberty is a key aspect of BYP for Sebastiaan, and one of the reasons he feels the orchestra has helped him so much in his career, which, aged only 26 and still studying for a Masters in Performance at Amsterdam Conservatorium, has already seen him playing in the Oslo Philharmonic, Kammerorchester Basel, the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. He explains: ‘I have a sense of freedom when I play in BYP. Kristjan and the coaches are not so interested in what we call “perfect playing”. When you audition it’s about being the best of the best and not making mistakes, but within the orchestra, we think more about how to take risks. Mistakes can be beautiful. There’s a lot of freedom, which makes it much more interesting, and makes you more relaxed when you perform. In my case, I play better and can be myself more. This helps me in other situations, too: in other orchestras and at auditions. I can show more of myself without being too stressed.’

Another exciting aspect of the orchestra for Sebastiaan is the range of its repertoire. For example, the April ‘Baltic Sea Landscapes’ tour [INCLUDE LINK] includes works by Sibelius and Prokofiev as well as Pärt and a recent work by Gediminas Gelgotas. Sebastiaan says: ‘It’s all about the variety of styles of music, which is a different approach to classical music. I wouldn’t describe Kristjan as an ordinary classical conductor. He takes classical repertoire and transposes it for everyday life. He uses crossover music, jazz, and other different styles, and we find ways to perform classical pieces for today’s world.’ The response to this approach can be felt immediately in the concert hall: ‘Audiences appreciate it – we have a much stronger connection with them like this. Kristjan is an extrovert and likes to connect us with our listeners, and this helps people understand the music more easily.’

Music conquers all
A good audience reaction once got Sebastiaan through a particularly difficult concert, which could have been a disaster, as he remembers: ‘My favourite BYP performance was when we played at the Berlin Philharmonie in January 2014. The night before, I got food poisoning. I was very ill, but it was one of my best concerts ever. There was so much adrenaline, and the hall and the audience were so special. Together we created this amazing experience, and we had a huge reaction.’

The benefits of being in the orchestra go beyond the music, though – it offers friendships that will last the players their whole lifetimes. Sebastiaan says, ‘The most important thing is to have a good section – nice people around you, with whom you can work well. On my first tour I made some excellent friends, with whom I’m still in touch. We had a great time and played really well together.’

And even though the players come from across the entire Baltic Sea region, they have more in common than they have differences, he explains: ‘It’s so interesting how people can come together in this way and share their experiences and ways of being. We all come from different backgrounds, but we’re all doing the same things: studying music and trying to become professional in what we do. We have the same problems, the same experiences doing concerts and auditions. Although we come from different countries, we’re very close to each other. We don’t even speak the same language, and yet BYP is uniting such a large part of Europe through music.’ And surely that’s the ultimate success story.

Meet Sebastiaan Molenaar also in a BYP feature video