Coming straight from his first rehearsal with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, Christian Lindberg seems exhilarated and enlivened. After only two more rehearsals the orchestra will perform for the first night of the New Music Dublin Festival. The programme is to be conducted and performed on trombone by Lindberg, in addition to half of it being composed by the world-famous star. Pieces included are: Jan Sandström’s Ocean Child, Lindberg’s own Kundraan and the Arctic Light (which will be a world première no less), Sandström’s Indri and to finish the night, Lindberg’s Peking Twilight.
This will not be Lindberg’s first time at the RTE Symphony Orchestra. Two years ago he conducted the group in a concert so successful that he was immediately booked to return for this performance. So, what was it like to return to the orchestra? “It’s a very nice orchestra to work with. I think overall British and Irish orchestras … they have a special quality when it comes to orchestra playing, they are very easy to work with, they are fast, first reading is usually very very good. And they have great discipline, so I enjoy very much working with them.” As principal conductor and artistic director of the Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra, Lindberg is very used to the inner workings of orchestra-conductor relationships, and clearly knows how to bond with the ensembles.
The combination of Lindberg and Sandström comes as no surprise as the two Swedish composers have worked together for years now. “We are best friends. I mean, he taught me to compose, he got me into that track and he’s a fantastic teacher. As composer/trombonist we were really close friends and colleagues … we really have had a lot of fun together.” The two have even performed together, seen here in this duet filmed by Lindberg’s son, David Lindberg, in true MTV style: ‘Bombay Bay Barracuda’. “He got this idea about my piece, but Sandström, he hates being in water. And this was 14 degrees [Fahrenheit, which is -10 in Celsius!], and it was 5am in the morning!” It involves an ocean, an instrumental sword-fight, underwater playing, a toga and if that’s not enough, a virtuosic performance to boot. “we were freezing, four hours, we were underwater and he kept saying ‘No no no! We have to do it again!’”
Beginning his path to fame as a trombone soloist, Lindberg’s success was unprecedented. He has premièred over 300 works, many composed for him by world-class composers such as Berio, Xenakis and Arvo Part. Getting to this point must require something special, so is it down to his drive for perfection or his individual personality? “It’s definitely a combination. I’m born with a certain – well, and don’t misunderstand me – with a certain madness, which I don’t like to be taken as a funny thing: I know that I am so enthusiastic over doing new things and inventing new things and to be on stage and go over the border so that in combination with the fact that I’m a perfectionist; in detail each concert I do I have at least fifty things that I hate, I say I mustn’t do that next time!” With this willingness to experiment and attention to detail it’s no wonder so many people are clamoring to work with Lindberg. He now finds something as “easy” as “only” conducting, playing and narrating to be too little of a challenge. Friday night’s concert should really be something so! “It was an incredible challenge to rebuild the stage and to find out how it works with the percussion and everything… And then, once I’d done that, it felt… well, easy! So now I am pushing the boundaries with this, with headphones and one guy having an iPad, I used a program and changed it so that he presses keys and I speak with angels.” Having gotten a sneak preview of the iPad program I can promise this’ll be a concert unlike anything heard in the NCH in recent times, like every concert involving Christian Lindberg it promises surprises around every corner.
Having finally moved beyond having the singular role as performer Lindberg faces enormous pressure in each concert. He is an amazing sight leaping around the stage, conducting with his trombone slide, singing, buzzing and stomping, all the while maintaining the highest level of performance standards. “It gets rid of my energy! … I enjoy that. It’s hard work, very very hard work, but I think it’s worth it. Once you get used to it, it feels like… I don’t ever want go back to being a soloist any more, I do only one concert this year, but when I do that it feels like I am doing nothing!”
Lindberg talks very enthusiastically about each of his compositions, they are clearly like children to them. He takes creating and naming them very seriously. “It’s a long process actually. Usually when I start I create these embryos, I sit one day and play around, then I leave it, come to another, then come back to them and I try and identify them as personalities – what sort of personality has this? What is the name of it? It is like if you have a child and you have to name it. It is a very important thing, to name a child, and the same here. When all these come together I have to find a name that combines everyone.” He explains that Kundraan, which is to be premiered at this concert, is a name that came up in Asia, “so the whole piece had an Asian influence.”
So why the trombone? Would it have gone differently on another instrument? “Many, many times I hated the fact that I chose the trombone because I felt that if I had chosen the cello or violin or something which, clearly, there are millions of opportunities for a soloist, whereas with a trombone every orchestra says well why should we have a trombone solo?! So it was such a hard fight, to get into the system. On the other hand it meant I had to really push myself, and also create great repertoire, getting to know all these new composers. And maybe I wouldn’t have done that!” So thanks to Lindberg, trombonists worldwide suddenly have much more choice and variety than ever before. There are also Christian Lindberg trombones and mouthpieces. He shows the same in-depth research here as is his performances, discussing his six years of research and “many, many, many ideas.” His complete redesign of the rim, shank, cup and throat shows his ability to think so far outside the box as to make something revolutionary, just as in his musical creations and performances.
With so much to look forward to – Sandström’s joyous music, Lindberg’s unending excitement and enthusiasm, stunning performances as both conductor and performer, and even glamourous shirts and iPad angels, this concert is definitely one not to be missed. And if this performance is not an option, see http://www.tarrodi.se/cl/ for information on more upcoming shows.