Held to high regard as a composer, pianist, and educator throughout his life, Tomáš Svoboda was a true musical force, whose contributions to the artistic community of Portland and beyond have cemented him as a cultural icon in Oregon’s contemporary classical music scene.
In his final years, Svoboda teamed up with the Portland Youth Philharmonic to release an album of premiere recordings. Unfortunately, Svoboda passed away in his Portland home before its January 2023 release. The album featured four works from the composer — two of them world premieres — and was released on Navona Records, a final parting gift from an artist who contributed to the artistic landscape of his community and the world of music.
Born in Paris to Czech parents on December 6, 1939, Svoboda composed his first opus at age 9 and was admitted to the Prague Conservatory in 1954 as its youngest student. By age 16, the young artist had already completed his SYMPHONY No. 1, Op. 20, which received its premiere by the Prague Symphony Orchestra shortly after. Premieres and radio broadcasts of seven other orchestral works by 1963 brought national recognition to Svoboda, clearly establishing him as Czechoslovakia’s most important young composer.
Svoboda departed Czechoslovakia in 1964 and settled in the United States where he enrolled at the University of Southern California in 1966, graduated two years later with honors, and moved north to embark on a new journey. The esteemed artist’s arrival in Oregon in 1970 set him on a path to teach for three decades at Portland State University, where he enriched the Oregon arts community through a wide range of evocative, moving compositions, and impacted generations of students he taught.
In 2003, Svoboda received a GRAMMY nomination in the “Best Instrumental Soloist With Orchestra” category for his Marimba Concerto, performed by the Oregon Symphony and soloist Neil DePonte. Svoboda received many honors over the course of his life, gaining recognition for his musical contributions with the Governor’s Arts Award, and winning the Composer of the Year award from Washington and Oregon Music Teachers Associations. Over 1,300 known performances of Svoboda’s music have taken place throughout the world, including over 500 orchestral performances with major orchestras in Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, San Francisco, Toronto, Monte-Carlo, Sapporo, Nagoya, and the national orchestras of Guatemala and Costa Rica.
Svoboda was a virtuoso in his craft and a virtuoso in life, whose presence imparted inspiration and wisdom to generations of musicians, and whose works will be heard and celebrated for years to come.