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Reviews & Articles
Saturday, 22 January 2005

Christian Lindberg is one of the most remarkable musicians of our time. His career has taken him from the pioneer who established the trombone as a solo instrument to the world famous virtuoso to whom the most prominent contemporary composers have devoted more than 80 trombone concerti. With more than 60 solo recordings to his name, he is today regarded as THE trombonist of the 20th century and is without doubt an icon for any budding brass soloist of the future. David Childs quizzes Mr Lindberg on his journey to the top.

DC: Why the trombone? What made you begin playing, and when did it all start?

CL: I was 17 years old and we decided in high school to start a Dixieland group. One of my class mates' father had an old recording of Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden and I was particularly fond of Teagarden´s musicianship, so I decided I were to become the trombonist in the group. Before that I was mainly a Beatles fan and a Basketball player in my free time.

DC: Did you always know you wanted to become a soloist or was it ever your intention to sit at the back of the orchestra in the brass section?

CL: Originally, as my teacher was a classical orchestral musician, it was my dream to sit in an orchestra, and indeed after having played for only two years I got a contract with the Royal Stockholm Opera Orchestra. However, when noticing how little a trombone player had to do, and what an incredible hierarchy was in a symphony orchestra (violinists being "the aristocrats" and trombonists being "the black society") I decided two make it my goal to change that conservative system.

DC: As a young musician in the early stages of a solo career I have already experienced great support as well as prejudice from people within the world of music. What has your journey been like?

CL: My feeling is that classical music has a big image problem today. There is a lot of intellectual snobbism among people in the business, something that young people are not in favour of, and therefore they rather listen to rock or pop music. I always had a lot of support from the audiences while the promoters were very doubtful sometimes over my unconventional instrument and image. Today I have proven that this DOES work image wise. I think that written music for symphonic instruments is something very wonderful, and I would like to see more people appreciate this art form, but to have that happen we would have to be more communicative and make the image less dusty and give classical music a more fresh and unconventional image.

DC: In an article published by the Times I read that you admired the music of rap star Eminem and considered hip-hop to be an art form. It is both refreshing and surprising to hear sentiments of this nature from a world-renowned classical soloist. Would you attribute a diverse musical taste to your success as a solo performer?

CL: Absolutely! I think that no musical genre is less valuable than another. I believe my knowledge of music by the Beatles, Eminem, Michael Jackson, Coltraine, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong AS WELL AS Mozart, Frescobaldi, Korngold, Berio, Kagel, Xenakis, Mahler, Strauss etc, is the reason I had such a success as a musician.

DC: I have many of your solo recordings in my CD collection. Your recording of Vivaldi's Winter has been a particular favourite for a long time. Since releasing 'The Winter Trombone' some twenty years ago have you experienced any significant change in the recording industry as a solo artist?

CL: A big difference, and in favour of what I represent! When I started, companies like Phillips and Deutsche Gramophone were "styling" young musicians who were looking good, and were pushing only a few particular soloists on each instrument in very famous and predictable repertoire. This idea turned out to be a disaster, and today it is creative smaller companies like BIS, recording less of mainstream repertoire and more unusual composers who are the most successful in the business.

DC: When an international brass magazine made a ballot to establish the most important brass musicians of the 20th century, you were voted among the first five together with Louis Armstrong, Miles Davies and Dizzie Gillespie. Without doubt you have had an influence on a great many musicians – Who would you consider to be your biggest influence/s?

CL: The Beatles, Luciano Berio, Mstislav Rostropovich, John Coltraine, Jussi Björling and Jack Teagarden.

DC: During your career as a trombone soloist you have premiered an unprecedented number of original works for trombone. It is easy to understand why world class composers of today are keen to write music for Christian Lindberg, but how did you generate repertoire for an unpopular solo instrument in the early stages of your career?

CL: I won a solo competition involving all classical instruments, and the competition board acknowledged the fact that my repertoire was limited. Therefore they commissioned a piece for me called Basta by Folke Rabe. I managed to make this piece a real hit on the classical music stage, and then all composers knew who I was. After that it has been relatively easy to convince great composers of today to write pieces specifically for me.

DC: On occasions you have used theatre to enhance solo performance. Whether it is taking to the stage dressed as a clown (Berio) or riding a motorbike (Sandström), there is often more to a Lindberg performance than phenomenal brass playing. Does this unique element of theatre reflect a changing world of solo performance or is it simply reserved for specific works as and when required?

CL: Both actually!! When playing the classical repertoire it is important to let it be MUSIC and not add something of your own just to make it more accessible. I hate classical video clips where they play for instance Bach Air making an MTV video clip out of it. This is disgusting and rock audiences are just laughing to that. But in a lot of the contemporary repertoire composers themselves wrote pieces meant to have visual effects, like Berio Sequenza or the Motorbike Concerto, and then it really makes our music genre more accessible.

DC: In 1998 you made your composing debut with 'Arabenne' – Concerto for Trombone and Strings. In 2000 you made your conducting debut with Britain's Northern Sinfonia. Your compositions have received worldwide acclaim and you are now in great demand as a conductor, but which do you prefer: conducting, composing or playing the trombone?

CL: I would like to be a musician the way they were before the 20th century! At that time most major composers were active instrumentalists and conductors at the same time. I see myself first and foremost as a MUSICIAN! That I happen to have music in my head, being good at leading other musicians and learnt to play the trombone pretty well is just secondary.

Technical Corner...

DC: What type of trombone and mouthpiece do you use?

CL: I invented a series of mouthpieces that are manufactured by CONN-SELMER company. They are called "Christian Lindberg mouthpieces" and have 6 different sizes. I play on all of them for different repertoire, but mainly the 4CL for large tenor trombone, 15CL for alto and 10 CL on medium bore tenor trombone

DC: How often do you practice?

CL: I used to practice up to 8 hours a day. Nowadays it is around 2 hours everyday

DC: Do you have a specific routine?

CL: I have a warmup of 30 minutes including Yoga that I have done every morning for 24 years. Other than that I just pracitice slowly the pieces I have to perform.

DC: Is there any particular facet of playing you enjoy the most?

CL: I like everything in music that can touch another person in his heart and soul. Whether it is something lyrical, something funky, something brutal, or something funny I do not really mind.

DC: You have been one of the best brass soloists in the world for as long as I can remember. Do you now practice to improve or to remain at the same extraordinary high level?

CL: I always try to reach new levels, particularly when it comes to sound and expression. I will not work in the direction of trying to play pieces like the Winter by Vivaldi, and I will not commission pieces as far out technically as Xenakis Troorkh, but I certainly would like to be able to play every piece I play a little better each time I do it in concert or on CD.

Final Thoughts...

DC: What are the most important ingredients required to make it as a successful brass soloist?

CL: Musicality, intelligence, energy to practice, discipline and a certain amount of madness.

DC: Finally, what is happiness for Christian Lindberg?

CL: Happiness is when people communicate and show love to each other. Whether it is through music, theatre and art or in simple actions in daily life – it does not really matter. I am lucky enough to be able to communicate through a devine medium, music, and when I get feedback and love from an audience I feel something that I would call happiness.

© David Childs / MUSO Magazine 2004

*Photo taken in 2011 following the British Premiere of Christian Lindberg's Euphonium Concerto: Ollie and the Steamboat Jetty.

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