CHRISTIAN LINDBERG - Interview
by Christopher Thomas
being a late starter on the instrument,
there is no one that has done more for
the reputation of the trombone as a solo
instrument on a world-wide scale than
Christian Lindberg. With composers including
Toru Takemitsu, Luciano Berio, Iannis
Xenakis, Michael Nyman and Mark Anthony
Turnage having written for him, Lindberg
has created a repertoire of substance
that ranks with that of any orchestral
In recent years his career
has expanded into composing and conducting.
A series of high profile commissions,
including concertos for Sharon Bezaly
and Chicago Symphony Orchestra bass trombonist
Charlie Vernon have been the subject of
critical acclaim, whilst Lindberg’s conducting
career has expanded beyond his native
Sweden to work with a number of major
orchestras and ensembles.
Central to his work as
a trombonist has been his close relationship
with Robert von Bahr of BIS; a relationship
that has resulted in over thirty CDs featuring
Lindberg as performer, conductor and composer.
The following interview
was conducted in the wake of the release
by BIS of the DVD, Christian Lindberg:
The Total Musician, a portrait of
one of the most influential brass musicians
of our time.[review]
From starting to play the trombone at
the relatively late age of seventeen,
you progressed to professional playing
with remarkable speed, taking up a position
with Stockholm Opera two years later.
At what point did you decide that gaining
recognition for the trombone as a solo
instrument was to be your ambition in
In the middle of the year at the Stockholm
Opera Orchestra I decided that either
I was going to become a lawyer and have
music as a hobby, or try to go for what
people told me was totally impossible;
to become a full-time soloist on trombone.
I discussed it thoroughly with my wife
and decided to go for the impossible.
I quit the opera and continued to study
at the Academy, applying for all kinds
of scholarships and entering competitions.
At this point Robert von Bahr, who was
at the beginning of making BIS an international
record label, was very important for me
by giving me the opportunity to record
my first proper CD, The Virtuoso Trombone.
You have championed avant-garde works
such as Berio’s Sequenza V for
many years now, giving literally hundreds
of performances. Have you perceived a
change in audience reactions to such works
during that time?
There has been a big change in the audience
response to modern music, thank God. When
I started, pieces like the Sequenza
were almost forbidden on the classical
music scene and I had to fight hard to
make organisers programme this repertoire.
Today it is rather the opposite. The concertos
I play by Berio, Sandström, Takemitsu,
Xenakis and others are bringing in young
audiences to concert halls, something
that classical music desperately needs.
Do you still gain as much satisfaction
from performing works that you have played
as many times as the Berio and Jan Sandström’s
I just love these pieces more and more
each time I perform them and this is the
sign of really great music. One never
gets tired of Beethoven 9 or Mahler 5
and there are always new values to find
for me, even when I play The Motorbike
Concerto for the 665th
Your close friendship with composer Jan
Sandström is clearly documented in
the film "To Follow Your Own Star".
To what degree and in what way has Jan
been an influence on your career?
Our friendship is the greatest thing that
has happened to me in my musical career.
He is a great human being as a whole and
this shines through in all of his pieces.
I am just about to conduct a whole CD
of his orchestral music. He was my composition
teacher and of course, wrote the first
trombone concerto that can compete with
the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto or the
Other than Jan Sandström are there
any other musicians, be they players,
composers or conductors, that you would
cite as having been a significant influence
on your development and outlook as a musician?
I think that the close friendship I developed
with composers such as Toru Takemitsu,
Luciano Berio, Iannis Xenakis, Mark Anthony
Turnage, Anders Hillborg, Pär Lindgren
and Rolf Martinsson also meant a lot for
my development as a musician. Also the
friendship with pianist Roland Pöntinen
has meant a great deal to me.
Your bass trombone concerto Chick ‘a’
bone Checkout, written for Charlie
Vernon of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,
clearly involved a good deal of collaboration
with the soloist during the composition
process and you have also written a Flute
Concerto "The World of Montuagretta"
for Sharon Bezaly. Is the process of collaboration
important to you whilst writing and to
what degree do you try to personalise
your music to the performers you are writing
The collaboration that I had with composers
as a performer was extremely important
for my career and therefore, when someone
asks me to write specifically for them,
I want to be fair to them and make it
their piece. That is the way great concertos
have become successful in the past - the
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto for instance
- so I really believe in that. However,
when it comes to the actual musical language
I try to be completely free and open and
listen to my inner voice.
With composing and conducting playing
an increasingly important part of your
life, do you envisage a time when you
"retire" from trombone playing
to devote more time to conducting and
At the moment composing is priority number
1, conducting number 2 and playing number
3, but I will for sure continue to play
all the concertos I have memorized for
at least 10 or 15 years more! I feel that
being a composer and conductor has further
developed my playing a lot and I really
feel that I have plenty more to give here.
There is only one problem and that is
time, but I have learnt a technique over
the years to use my time at its best and
to live and breathe in the world of music
is for me, absolutely wonderful!
Having put the trombone on the map as
a solo instrument do you have any remaining
ambitions as a trombonist?
I would like to try and influence the
big orchestras like the Berlin Philharmonic,
New York Philharmonic and others to take
a much more important role in following
the change in history. They simply cannot
go on ignoring pieces like the Motorbike
Concerto and continue programming
the 9999th performance of Brahms’
Double Concerto. We do live in the 21st
century and young people will continue
to prefer to go to jazz and pop concerts
as long as these big orchestras refuse
to programme young, fresh concertos by
composers of our time in their big subscription
series. So my goal is to bring the Berio
solo, Sandström Motorbike Concerto,
Takemitsu Fantasma II and Turnage
Yet Another Set To into
the real classical music programmes; not
just once but as often as they play Brahms,
Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. This will,
in the long term, bring young audiences
back to the symphony halls.
Are you conscious that your involvement
as a conductor with the Nordic Chamber
Orchestra and Swedish Wind Ensemble has
resulted in your further development as
No doubt!! I have gained so much as a
soloist, human being and composer from
having these positions.
Kent Jonsson, your close friend and conductor
of the Stockholm Brass Band, has been
involved with brass bands for some time
now, whilst a number of other high profile
musicians, including Elgar Howarth and
Bramwell Tovey to name but two, have ventured
away from the "classical" world
on occasions to work with brass bands.
Would you relish the opportunity to work
as a conductor with a top brass band?
I would love to work with brass bands.
The only problem is that they usually
do not plan far enough ahead, so whenever
they ask me for a date during a certain
season I am usually already overbooked
and have to say no … very sad. But for
sure, if they ask me well in time I will
Finally, what does the future hold for
your composing and conducting careers
and can we expect to hear more new music
from you in the near future?
I have an amazing composing schedule coming
up with extremely exciting commissions,
like a piece for 8 trombones and orchestra
commissioned by the Rotterdam Philharmonic
Orchestra, a Tuba Concerto for Öystein
Baadsvik, a 40 minute mini-Opera for the
organisation Share Music, a
piece for the Taipei Chinese Orchestra
and many more. Also, BIS has an extremely
ambitious recording plan for me both as
conductor and as composer, including a
huge line of works by Berwald, Pettersson,
Stenhammar, Dvořák, Brahms and my
own pieces. I am also looking forward
enormously to the conducting weeks coming
up with big orchestras such as the Rotterdam
Philharmonic, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie,
Gürzenich Orchestra and many others.