Freya Seeburger is more than just a cellist
Freya Seeburger was not expecting to love California. “California for me was this place where you do healthy things and everybody is optimistic and happy,” she recalls, mocking this supposed culture of idealism. “I’d always make fun of California. But then when I moved here, it’s like my whole world opened up.”
Seeburger is a cellist with classical training and modern musical influences spanning from hip hop to metal. Since moving to San Jose in 2010, she has established her presence in the local arts scene, played in shows throughout the Bay Area, and toured with the likes of Doe Eye and Tanya Donnelly. In addition to regular First Friday solo performances at Art Ark and other galleries, she plays with the classical ensemble Trio Ménage and as part of the duo Joey Ramōne with guitarist Josh Icban. In person, she’s funny and charming, with an unmissable head of curly blonde hair and large, hazel eyes that light up as much when discussing a piece by Brahms as when weighing in on the charms of Snoop Dogg.
A native of Longmont, Colorado, Seeburger began playing cello in 6th grade. After high school, she attended Metro State College of Denver and worked on a double major in political science and cello performance, but, “I dropped out after my junior recital,” she says.
Instead, she moved to France with her now-husband Nicolas Hadacek, whom she met while he was working on his post-doc in the US. “I didn’t want to be without him,” she explains. But she was also burned out on cello, and after the move, she set her instrument aside. “It mainly was a decorative object in my apartment for five years.”
In France, however, she became restless and homesick. The company where Hadacek landed a job is headquartered in San Jose, so he transferred to the California office and the couple moved to an apartment downtown.
Soon after, Seeburger says, “I started looking at my cello again. It was giving me eyes—that look, like, ‘you’ve been ignoring me for too long…’ So I did the only thing I knew to get back into music, which was to join a community orchestra.” She joined Mission College Orchestra and experienced a renewed love for playing. “I decided to see how far I could take it.”
She enrolled in the master’s program at SF State and dove back into cello performance. But it wasn’t easy returning after such a long break. “It’s really hard to start over, you know? It would almost be easier to start fresh. You’re not supposed to take any time off from music. It was really hard.”
Fellow San Jose cellist Natasha Littlewood helped by connecting her with some bands to play in. “I used to say I’d never play in bands, ever—just classical. It was a whole new world, but I loved it. Playing in rock bands has taught me how to just show up and perform. It’s okay to say, ‘I had a good time playing,’ and leave it at that, not dissect every moment of what you did wrong. In classical, there’s no way I can just do that.”
Seeburger’s first local gallery performance was at Kaleid, and she got it by simply contacting them and asking to play. “Half of the gigs I get, I get because I asked. You have to just go, be bold, tell them that you want to play and that you think you might have something to offer.”
She also began busking outside of Anno Domini, where one night she was noticed by artist Tulio Flores—who immediately knew he wanted to collaborate with her. He brought her on board for a Day of the Dead performance piece last year, and the two put together one of the standout installations at this summer’s SubZero festival: wearing a stylized outfit, hair, and makeup, while seated inside an oversized red birdcage, Seeburger invited visitors to write a few thoughts on tags and attach them to the cage. She then read the messages into a looping station and improvised with her cello, creating a soundtrack to the words.
“It was amazing,” she says. “I felt really connected. You always have those moments when you’re a musician, like, ‘Why do I play music? What am I doing?’ And then there was that [SubZero], and it felt really good. I really wanted it to be influenced by people who walked by, because art is transformative and music is transformative. It’s the San Jose spirit, right? Two different mediums coming together to create this whole community thing.”
It is in that same spirit she teamed up in September with local event producer Drew Clark to create a free music festival at St. James Park called The Commons, in which the Awesöme Orchestra Collective, Dirty Cello, and others performed in a circular space with no stage—breaking down walls to make the musicians and music more accessible to the crowd. The event was so well received that the city has already asked them to bring it back in the coming months.
The success and energy of these events are continuing to inspire more ideas. “It’s all simmering,” she says, eyes lighting up brighter than ever. “This place is so magical, I love it! Everything happens if you work hard. I love the arts scene; it’s my community. Everything’s really collaborative and nurturing.”
Turns out California has exactly the type of creative spirit she was looking for.
Written by Nathan Zanon
Photography by Gregory Cortez
This article originally appeared in Issue 6.4 Retro.