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Alex Hambleton eng - University of Gothenburg, Sweden Till startsida
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The language of music

Alex Hambleton, alumnus from Master's in Symphonic Orchestra performanceWhen Alex Hambleton from London enrolled in the Master’s programme in symphonic orchestra performance in 2011, he was not planning to stay in Sweden after graduating. Five years later he is still in Gothenburg, is fluent in Swedish and has a landed a permanent position at the Göteborg Opera.

It was an advertisement on the Musical Chairs website that caught his attention. All orchestra-related vacancies in the whole world are advertised on the site, and the Academy of Music and Drama at the University of Gothenburg had posted an ad about the Master’s programme.

‘I thought the orchestra programme might serve as a bridge between my education and my professional career, and it did. The collaboration with the Gothenburg Symphony also sounded interesting. Another thing that drew me here is that education is very expensive in England,’ says Hambleton.

The Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts, which hosted the programme, offered a highly international environment. He had not planned to learn Swedish when he arrived in Gothenburg. English is the language of choice for instrumentalists and the students are from all over the world.


‘Music is its own language. Communication is key in an orchestra, and you learn a lot very fast even if you don’t speak Swedish. After the Master’s programme, I completed a one-year programme in Stockholm and worked for the Royal Swedish Orchestra at the Royal Swedish Opera, and that’s when I started to learn Swedish.

Hambleton’s father was a musician and had young Alex play the violin at an early age. He started playing the French horn as a teenager, and at age 15–16 he decided this instrument would be his first choice and become serious about learning how to play it well.

‘So I was a bit behind. Many others have played their instruments since they were kids.’

As an 18-year-old, he was accepted to Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, where he studied for four years with French horn as his main instrument. After that, he studied in a Master’s program at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.


He already has a long background as a freelancer in several genres – jazz, pop and classical music. He has played with singer Ben Folds, musician/DJ Goldie and the band Labyrinth. He also appeared on Sting’s album Live in Berlin and toured with the legend in 2010–2011.

‘Meeting Sting was a lot of fun, and I got to go on his Symphonicity Tour. There was a great atmosphere around him.’

Hambleton has also recorded film music and music for the smartphone game Game of War, in both cases together with English Session Orchestra.

‘Recordings like the one for Game of War are very special. You only get one chance to nail it, and then it’s done. But it’s a lot of fun.’

Recording of film music is also a bit different.

‘Most recordings are sessions. We don’t know what film we’re recording the music for. There’s a composer writing the music during the recording session, often kind of in secrecy. Then some time later while seeing a film I might recognise the music and wonder if that’s me playing it.’


‘I have played in the Abbey Road studio, in Studio One. It’s got enough room for a giant orchestra and the acoustics are very special.’

Hambleton is still freelancing on the side, ‘London is only two hours away’, but likes his job at the Göteborg Opera a lot. He praises the Swedish job culture as one of the best in the world for musicians.

‘Everybody is concerned about working conditions here. It’s not like England. Here I work full time but still have time to live a full life. I can tell from the environment I’m in that musicians feel better overall. The instrument groups have their own rooms at the Göteborg Opera, we have a place to ourselves and there is a gym and a sauna. My dad couldn’t believe it when I told him.’


He’s still in regular contact with the Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts through teachers and students, and sometimes he pays a visit as a guest lecturer. He sees a very strong connection between the Master’s programmes and the different musical institutions in Gothenburg.

‘The study programmes are key to Gothenburg’s cultural and music life. They bring many musicians to the city, and they often stay here after graduating. The programmes are enriching Gothenburg’s music scene across the board.’

The Master programmes has given many musicians a reason to make their initial trip to the Nordic region. Then they have moved on to orchestras in Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki and Copenhagen, he points out.
‘As a musician, jobs are hard to find. I’d be willing to move anywhere. If you do well in an audition, you just need to get up and move.’


In the Master’s programme, there was a group of musicians who played together every month for two years. According to Hambleton, that type of consistency is unusual as a freelancer.

‘Building something together every week like that, that’s what you do later in an orchestra, and that’s a good thing to learn in school. In this orchestra, there is an energy and even stronger engagement than among professional orchestras. All students give so much of themselves, and that shows in the music.’

He describes how the students get to know each other very closely when everybody is giving it all. A lot of time is spent practising and rehearsing, but there is also time for loads of fun together after the concerts.

‘The orchestra is like a big family and as an alumnus I get to go to all corners of Europe to see my friends.’


The students at the MA programme in Symphonic Orchestra Performance form the student orchestra University of Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra is the backbone of the programme, with students from across the world who get to work with conductors and soloists from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, the Göteborg Opera and the whole world. They perform at the Gothenburg Concert Hall and tour the Nordic countries, but their residence are Sjöströmsalen at the Academy of music and drama.

‘The Academy of music and drama attracts a lot of good musicians to Gothenburg. The students get a taste of everything that’s going on in music, and there’s plenty of room for own constellations in jazz, pop and crossover – you’ll find all possible styles at the school. I’m still friends with several students in pop and jazz from there, and we keep running into each other in various professional contexts. Not just in Gothenburg but all over Sweden and in London,’ says Hambleton.

Text: Carina Elmäng
Photo: Johan Wingborg

Page Manager: Karin Lidberg|Last update: 2/22/2019

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