Since his earliest memories as a child sleeping under the piano as his parents rehearsed Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”, music has been Semyon’s constant companion and guide through life. The son of two prominent classical musicians, Semyon began playing piano and violin at the age of three. Although Semyon managed to forcefully quit both instruments, his parents introduced him to the cello at the age of 9, which has been his voice ever since. Semyon was blessed to be able to study with some of the most distinguished cello instructors in the world - the late “Grande Dame of the Cello”, Margaret Rowell, her protégé Irene Sharp, and master cellist Bernard Greenhouse. Semyon enjoyed a long string of success in competitions, including the Irving M. Klein International String Competition, the Grace Vamos Cello Competition, Pepsi Cola Concerto Competition, The General Motors & SEVENTEEN Magazine National Concerto Competition, The California Youth Symphony Young Artist Competition, and many more. A recipient of the Emmet Dolan Scholarship for music at Columbia University, Semyon also performed with the University Orchestra as the winner of the Columbia Concerto Competition in his Freshman year.
After years of studying the classical canon for cello, Semyon began experimenting with improvisation in high school by learning how to play bass guitar in jazz band. The spontaneity of improvisational music introduced new ways of playing music to Semyon and began a quest for musical “freedom” that he has pursued ever since. If music can heal, make you laugh, cry or dance, Semyon has always been interested in understanding the mystery behind how and why humans interact with music.
Propelled by this desire to understand music in a variety of forms and functions, Semyon continued to explore different genres of music and worked to prove that the versatility of the cello allowed the instrument to blend into just about any ensemble. He has had great success playing the cello in bands from a wide variety of musical genres ranging from rock, pop, R&B, jazz, funk, salsa, etc., constantly seeking new approaches to utilizing the cello. After bringing his college band, “Smokin’ With Einstein” from New York to San Francisco, Semyon continued to perform with several groups in the Bay Area including “Spanish Johnny’s Opera” and local favorite, “The Fingers”. Performances with these groups opened up opportunities to play at some of the best venues in New York and California, such as the Legendary Fillmore West, The Bitter End, The West End, The Viper Room, The Bottom of the Hill, The Great American Music Hall, Slims, and the longtime Bay Area institution in Mill Valley, The Sweetwater. Over the years, The Fingers performed shows with a variety of well known artists such as Train, Sugar Ray, Stroke 9, Matt Nathanson, Ben Folds, Aimee Mann, Phantom Planet and Big Star.
Through the years of working with musicians outside of the classical music world, Semyon began developing a way of strumming and plucking the cello in order to communicate his musical ideas to musicians unaccustomed to reading musical notation. This technique blossomed into an unusual method of utilizing the cello as a cross between a guitar and a bass – by strumming and plucking chords on the cello, Semyon is able to provide an instrumental base that he can sing over. This ability to sing and play songs with the cello as the central instrument has allowed Semyon to perform his original material as a solo singer-songwriter.
Semyon showcased this new technique on his debut solo album, “Wabi Sabi”, in 2007 released by Duckhole Records. He has performed in various venues ranging from bars and clubs to concert halls and theaters to rave reviews. His second album, “The Miracle Mile”, is scheduled for release in fall 2009 with new songs and larger arrangements surrounding the cello as the centerpiece of the compositions.
Semyon is also collaborating with the wonderful people in the Latino Theater Company and The Los Angeles Theater Center at every opportunity, eagerly supporting their efforts to bring excellent art and culture to the emerging artistic scene in Downtown Los Angeles. Semyon’s concerts at The LATC take advantage of the wonderful theater setting and mix music performance with a bit of educational dialogue with the audience. These multi-genre performances where he can showcase everything from the classical repertoire for cello to his own songwriting with large ensembles have been a great success, and Semyon is very grateful to The LATC for embracing him into the Los Angeles artistic community.
Semyon is spending a lot of time in the studio these days, focusing on recording several new album projects along with a licensing project, Echo Lake Acoustics ("ELA"), with two other talented musical collaborators. His last album, titled "American Classics-Parlor Music Revisited", is a collection of Civil War era songs from the late 1800's that he created with his father, the violinist Daniel Kobialka.
Semyon's next album, a collaboration with the poet Doraine Poretz, is due for release at the end of 2015. The album is part poetry book, part CD, and is entitled "An Occasion For Being", and it features performances of Semyon improvising a musical accompaniment to Doraine's live poetry reading.
9/14/2009 for “Solitude” at the LATC –
“… brilliant onstage cellist Semyon Kobialka… Adding color … to the proceedings is the between-scene music and dance (choreographed by Urbanie Lucero) that infuses recorded 1950s retro mambos of Perez Prado with the live, seamlessly insinuating cello virtuosity of Kobialka …”
Los Angeles Times –
9/24/2009 for “Solitude” at the LATC –
“…Connecting the dots of Fernández’s expansive themes is a mysterious Man (sexy, funny Robert Beltran in the show’s linchpin performance), a limo driver and self-described lovemaking expert who frequently quotes directly from Paz, accompanied by Semyon Kolbialka’s indispensable live cello music."
Los Angeles Weekly –
9/14/2009 for “Solitude” at the LATC –
“Semyon Kobialka's cello accompaniment is flawless…”
East Valley Tribute –
3/14/2007 – (Scottsdale, AZ)
"Semyon Kobialka debut CD, Wabi Sabi, has landed in Amazon.com's Top 10 Hot New Releases list for the Indie Rock catagory. The album with twelve original compositions and two cover songs was released in February, and Semyon began live performances of the songs on the CD in January."
Monterey County Weekly
"There's a great little video for cellist Semyon Kobialka's song 'Small Town Superstar', which shows why the Los Angeles musician plays his instrument in an unorthodox way. In it, Kobialka is auditioning in front of a smug, pony-tailed producer type. The cellist complains that playing with a bow is restrictive, and the producer says that Mozart and Yanni never said anything so preposterous. After the producer says that maybe Kobialka should pick up another instrument like a triangle or a kazoo, the cellist starts playing the cello like its an acoustic guitar. As the clip and his humorous song 'Love Blows' reveal, Kobialka is an unorthodox cellist with a sense of humor. [ST] ."
Monterey County Herald
"There are not a lot of rock cellists out there, but Kobialka makes it seem natural, not a gimmick. In fact, it adds a wonderfully full, lush and sometimes haunting sound... when he wants to, Kobialka can flat-out rock."
Los Angeles Downtown News
4/14/2008 - (Los Angeles, CA)
"Kobialka, the son of a Japanese pianist and a Polish/Ukranian violinist, has performed in a mix of genres on cello, including stints in rock, salsa and funk bands. He does his own songwriting for solo cello, which ends up best classified as pop/rock, and will include a few covers by the likes of Prince and Elliott Smith at his [LATC] performance. He said the venue will be ideal. 'It is more up my alley. I'd rather play there than in a bar competing with the conversation and other noise,' he said. As a fan of the old supper club shows, Kobialka looks forward to the change to interact with the audience during his performance as he runs through a mix of pop, rock and classical. 'I can pull every trick out of my bag,' he said."
Amazon.com reviews for Wabi Sabi –
A new voice,
3/28/2007 – By ZOZ (Santa Monica, CA United States)
Trust me -- take a risk on this album if you like singer/songwriters. Semyon is the real deal. I have had the privilege of catching him at a live performance and he is amazing! Listen to some of the tracks above - sound different? That's a CELLO you are hearing -- he plays it like a slap bass guitar -- which creates a completely unique sound in these recordings. Most of the songs are originals -- and good ones too! Check out "What Kind of Hero" and "Today Is The Day" -- both very strong compositions. A few covers as well -- the cover of Elliott Smith's "Pitseleh" is awesome! As well as the cover of "A Love Bizarre" by Prince. In fact, Semyon is like a mix of Elliott Smith, Jack Johnson, Prince and Michael Hedges. Love his voice! This guy is relatively unknown right now - but not for long -- he's too unique and talented to be missed. I have played this CD at least fifty times -- totally worth the money. I love discovering new artists like this. Hope to see him play live again.
Musical genius or cello abuse -- you decide. Either way, a great CD!
3/9/2007 – By PJA (San Francisco)
The sound is unique, musicianship outstanding, vocals are warm and pleasing, lyrics are both light-hearted and poetic -- yes, this is a great CD. But, one has to ask how someone generates this sound from a cello? The only reasonable conclusion is that Semyon Kobialka is an evil genius torturing his classical instrument. More research is needed to reach a conclusion on this question, and as such, I will listen to this fantastic CD for years to come. Rest assured, however, Mr. Kobialka is now on notice with the ASPCSI (America Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to String Instruments), and his live shows and future CD's will be monitored and enjoyed thoroughly.
Who Knew The Cello Could Be So Much Fun?
3/7/2007 – By Michael Kun "author of The Locklear Letters" (Los Angeles, CA)
This is a phenomenal CD by an excellent, young musician and singer. Whether he intended it or not, Mr. Kobialka's CD has an unusual pop sensibility to it. It reminded me at times of Richard Thompson, and at other times of early Barenaked Ladies, both of which I mean as a compliment. Mr. Kobialka's musicianship is stellar, and he has a strong, deep voice that matches the music perfectly. Not incidentally, the CD includes a great cover of the Prince/Sheila E. song "Love Bizarre." I will look forward to Mr. Kobialka's next CD (and would like to suggest he cover "Raspberry Beret" on it).
WITH THE FINGERS –
The Bay Area has given us many great bands, and the Fingers more than qualify for a place on the list. Recorded over a couple of years, Prophets and Casanovas is the work of musicians with a strong grasp on songwriting, playing, and arranging and a distinct pop sensibility, couched in a low-key, folksy way--a couple of tracks even lean toward the alt-country end of the spectrum. In a more perfect world, they'd already be in the big time; their material and presentation seems to recall no one else, and the passion and intelligence behind it all marks them as a band not just to watch, but one that's already arrived. A band this good deserves to be huge. --Chris Nickson
San Francisco EXAMINER
What's not to love about this cello-driven rock band?
Monterey County Weekly
Now, a cello is most certainly not your usual rock ''n'' roll instrument. It''s more at home in an orchestra playing classical music, and practically up to the day when he joined the band, that''s where Kobialka, a child prodigy, took his instrument: he played in orchestras and quartets, and won numerous cello competitions. Today, three years later, The Fingers'' music has earned rave reviews and an ever-growing following. Their first demo, recorded in 1996, secured them Demo Tape of the Week in the SF Bay Guardian. The second (1997) won them feature articles in BAM and the Guardian, and two shows at the Viper Room in Los Angeles and Slim''s in San Francisco. The band has played sold out shows at the Fillmore and Nadine''s Wild Weekend, a SF music showcase.
SF Bay Guardian
"The Fingers have managed to create emotionally satisfying pop without apologizing for it....there's no better launching pad than Mandel's works of popsmithery... Semyon Kobialka played his classical instrument like a second guitar, keyboard, or fiddle. Skeptics may think the cello a novelty rock instrument, but the sounds Kobialka extracted flowed naturally."
"The cello sends those harmonies straight up to heaven."
San Francisco Examiner
"Wonderfully melodic tunes that range from pure pop to alt-country, but with a twist - a cello. The interplay between Ray Davies-like singer/guitarist Alex Mandel and cellist Semyon Kobialka is mesmerizing, and never less than rocking....Check out the searing rocker "By the Time You Get Home" the Kurt Weill-ish intermezzo "Thump Baby," and the dreamy ballad "Keep You From Yourself" to get a sense of the Fingers' impressive range."
San Francisco Bay Guardian
The Fingers have managed to create emotionally satisfying pop without apologizing for it. "By the Time You Get Home" is unabashed in its catchiness, and it's destined to be their single, a high-volume, sunlit driving song if you've ever heard one.
Laced with honest and emotional hooks. If guitarist/singer/songwriter Alex Mandel's introspective and downright clever songs don't get you ("Christine" is the best summer sing-a-long you've never heard) or you're somehow unimpressed with the rarity of rock songs composed by accomplished musicians, you might go for the novelty factor of a cello in lieu of guitar 2.
Nadine Condon, SF Chronicle
"[The Fingers] have got to be some of the best songwriters we've seen in this town."
Semyon Kobialka and Daniel Kobialka - "American Classics - Parlor Music Revisited" (2013)
Solo CDs - "Wabi Sabi" (2007) and “The Miracle Mile” (2009)
The Fingers (as a band member) - "Prophets & Casanovas" and "Dig Spaces"
Spanish Johnny’s Opera (as a band member on electric bass and cello) – “Spanish Johnny’s Opera”
As a side-musician and/or string arranger -
Stroke 9 ("Cafe Cuts" and "Rip it Off")
Common Chord (with Daniel Kobialka, Lisa Kobialka, David Grisman, Jerry Garcia)
The Astra Heights
Karen Ramos - Moonbeams and Theraminmany others.
and a long list of San Francisco and Los Angeles singer songwriters needing string arrangements
TV credits – CSI, Everwood, The Gilmore Girls, Notes from the Underbelly, Extreme Makeover, Access Hollywood
Film credits - “Love Blows” by Semyon Kobialka written for and featured in “Kissing Cousins”, a film by Amyn Kaderali.