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Christian Lindberg – The Total Musician
Trombonist, Composer and Conductor - An extensive portrayal of the multi-faceted Christian Lindberg including complete performances of Jan Sandström’s Motorbike Concerto; Berio’s Sequenza V, John Cage’s Solo for Sliding Trombone and Mauricio Kagel’s Atem.
BIS DVD-1678 [93:39]
Experience Classicsonline


For many years now Christian Lindberg has remained a cornerstone of the BIS catalogue, having notched up over twenty-five CDs of music for the trombone. It is a statistic that is even more astonishing when one considers the fact that until Lindberg’s arrival on the scene in the early 1980s, very little music for the instrument had been recorded at all. Indeed, Lindberg’s single-handed quest for the trombone to be internationally accepted and recognised as a legitimate solo instrument has also created an entirely new repertoire, with many internationally acclaimed composers including Luciano Berio, Toru Takemitsu, Mark Anthony Turnage and Kalevi Aho having written concertos specifically for him. In all, over eighty concertos have been dedicated personally to Lindberg, a phenomenal precedent by any standards.

It is therefore particularly fitting that BIS is responsible for the release of this generously packed DVD, with approaching three and three quarter hours worth of documentary, music and comment on Lindberg from many who have known him from the very beginning of his career. These include friends and playing colleagues, composers and the head of BIS Robert von Bahr, who gave the young Lindberg his early recording opportunities.

From the point of view of von Bahr, Lindberg’s marketability has been further boosted in recent years by his diversification into the fields of composition and conducting. Both are areas in which he has made a considerable impact, particularly through his conducting work with the Nordic Chamber Orchestra and Swedish Wind Ensemble. Not surprisingly his work as a composer has now produced a good number of pieces for his own instrument although not exclusively so. His several high profile commissions include a Flute Concerto for Sharon Bezaly, The World of Montuagretta.

The multi-faceted musician that Lindberg has evolved into has enabled BIS to produce two contrasting hour long films. The first of these, To Follow Your Own Star, was produced by Lindberg’s son David and centres on Lindberg’s career in the broadest terms, taking in his early development as a trombonist and soloist to his more recent work as conductor and composer. The film is often visually appealing with Lindberg pictured at work in his scenic country home in his native Sweden, as well as in rehearsal with his two orchestras, on tour in Japan and in conversation. It is in the latter context that we learn the most about Lindberg the man and philosopher. His comments reveal an initial reluctance to compose and conduct - both advances in his career were the outcome of prolonged pressure from persuasive friends. That same reluctance eventually gave way to the dogged determination that had already seen him build his reputation as a soloist against the odds.

The second documentary, Across the Pond and Beyond, charts Lindberg’s progress from conception to performance as he works on a commission for Chicago Symphony Orchestra bass trombonist Charlie Vernon. The resulting concerto, Chick ‘a’ bone Checkout, is a virtuosic vehicle for Vernon’s extraordinary ability to switch between bass, tenor and alto trombones. The documentary focuses on Lindberg’s collaboration with the soloist during the course of composition as well as the acclaimed first performance in Chicago.

As trombonist, Christian Lindberg has always been closely linked with the composer Jan Sandström, largely through his many memorable performances of Sandström’s Motorbike Concerto. In 1992 Lindberg filmed performances of four contemporary works with which he had become closely linked including the Sandström, Berio’s Sequenza V, Solo for Sliding Trombone by John Cage and Mauricio Kagel’s Atem, with all four works being re-released on this DVD.

Anyone who has witnessed Lindberg’s unforgettable performances of Sandström’s Motorbike Concerto with soloist clad in red biking leathers, will appreciate something of the stage presence Lindberg possesses. In their differing ways all four works can be thought of as examples of music-theatre, the Kagel and Berio most explicitly so. Even so, the Sandström is a work that has captured audience imagination like few others, with Lindberg having made it his own to a point where it is difficult to imagine any other player creating quite the same impact. Lindberg’s extrovert personality plays a major part in his performances of all four works, from the mute juggling of the Cage, a feat of manual dexterity almost as impressive as the playing, to the "acting" of the Kagel and Berio. The latter sees Lindberg dressed as a clown in Berio’s nod to Grock, the famous musical clown who was a neighbour of Berio during the composer’s childhood.

The Sandström has never needed a helping hand in its path to audience acclaim, yet in Lindberg’s short introduction to each work he touches on his battle to convince audiences of the intrinsic value of such works as the Cage and Berio. This battle that has become something of a personal crusade for Lindberg who has tirelessly championed works of the "high avant-garde" throughout his illustrious career.

A little more light-hearted novelty value can be found in Fredrik Högberg’s Brassbones, a witty twenty minute film featuring Lindberg and a good number of his brass playing friends including the trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger. Authentically shot in the style of a spaghetti western and complete with trombone fights outside the saloon bar, it’s undeniably great fun although some of its more subtle touches might be a little lost on those who are not immediately familiar with the oft whacky world of the brass player. Likewise, Lindberg’s own Bombay Bay Barracuda, a video shot in the style of an "MTV video" and featuring Lindberg along with Jan Sandström is entertaining in a curiously quirky kind of way. The fact that it was commissioned by Swedish television for the 1999 New Year’s Eve Celebrations gives more than a hint of the esteem in which Lindberg is held in his own country.

It is somewhat inevitable given the long list of Lindberg’s friends and collaborators interviewed in the two documentaries, that at times there is a danger of the DVD as a whole coming across as something of a testimony by Lindberg’s own personal fan club. The fact that the danger is avoided is largely down to one common denominator that comes through time and again; namely Lindberg’s incredible energy, single-mindedness and total devotion to his cause. Having been told repeatedly during the early years of his career that he was wasting his time in trying to achieve acceptance for the trombone as a solo instrument, he went on to prove his many doubters irrefutably wrong, whilst carving a place in history for himself as one of the greatest virtuosos of the instrument ever known.

The signs are that he is already directing that same sense of purpose to his work as composer and conductor. Given what we now know, it would take a brave man to bet against his achieving similar success in these fields in the years to come.

Christopher Thomas

See also interview with Chris Thomas



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