An evangelist on the slide

The virtuoso Christian Lindberg has single-handedly inspired more than 80 works for the trombone. He tells Charlotte Cripps about his obsession

Over the past couple of decades, the Swedish trombonist Christian Lindberg has inspired prominent contemporary composers, including Mark-Anthony Turnage, Arvo Pärt and Michael Nyman, to pen more than 80 new works for the trombone. Lindberg had always dreamed of establishing the trombone as a solo instrument, and has now succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The virtuoso has also found time to establish parallel careers as a sought-after composer and as a conductor, and is now the chief conductor of two Swedish orchestras, the Swedish Wind Ensemble and the Nordic Chamber Orchestra of Sundsvall.

Over the past couple of decades, the Swedish trombonist Christian Lindberg has inspired prominent contemporary composers, including Mark-Anthony Turnage, Arvo Pärt and Michael Nyman, to pen more than 80 new works for the trombone. Lindberg had always dreamed of establishing the trombone as a solo instrument, and has now succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The virtuoso has also found time to establish parallel careers as a sought-after composer and as a conductor, and is now the chief conductor of two Swedish orchestras, the Swedish Wind Ensemble and the Nordic Chamber Orchestra of Sundsvall.

Along the way, he has earned himself a reputation as something of a rebel, which he puts down to the fact that, as a young musician, he was reluctant to settle for anything less than full creative freedom, recalling that "When I came into the pit as a trombonist of the Stockholm Opera Orchestra in 1977, I was 19 years old and surrounded by much older musicians."

He'd first picked up the instrument a few years earlier - rather late in life for a top trombonist - when he borrowed one so that he could play in a Dixieland group with friends. Now he owns about 12 trombones. His favourite has a solid sterling silver bell, with 24-carat gold plating on the bell and on parts of the body of the instrument. He designed it himself after the Conn-Selmer Company, one of the largest US manufacturers of band and orchestral instruments, signed him up in 1989 to help with instrument design. "It is the best trombone I have ever played," says Lindberg about his Conn 88 CL2000. "You can play any sound and expression you want with this instrument, from the smoothest to the most powerful fortissimo."

As a professional musician in an orchestra, it wasn't long before Lindberg found his role far too limiting. He decided to strike out on his own. "As a trombonist in an orchestra, there are a lot of bars of rest. You count, count, count and then play and wait. Always waiting. This was not what I wanted to do," he says.

"I was not a person who could make music in an institution. I wanted to express myself with that creative freedom that I had experienced when I played with my friends - when I could do trombone solos when I fancied it - but I still wanted to perform within classical music. I had two choices: either to become a lawyer or to become a pioneer of the trombone. I went back to the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm to study the trombone and make it a solo instrument."

For Lindberg, who had four children to support, this represented a big risk. "Nobody thought it was possible. I said to myself , 'If I don't succeed by the age of 30, I will re-apply for an orchestra job'."

The milestones in Lindberg's career include winning the Nordic Soloists' Biennale in 1981 - a competition normally reserved for violinists, pianists, and singers. "It caused quite a stir," recalls Lindberg, who then performed a piece for the trombone written for him by Folke Rabe, as a result of winning the competition. Next, came The Virtuoso Trombone, a double recording in 1984 with the Scandinavian record company BIS that sold very well. In 1991, he was nominated for the BBC's "Soloist of the Year", along with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the violinist Gidon Kremer. "This was my breakthrough," remembers Lindberg. "From then on it was plain sailing. For a young musician this was an incredible thing, especially with a trombone as an instrument. Yo-Yo Ma and Gidon Kremer were really the most established soloists in the world and I was just an unknown beginner."

Today, Lindberg is an internationally respected trombonist with a record deal, and with international commissions from institutions such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He has appeared in polls alongside Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis as one of the most important brass musicians of the 20th century.

The world premiere of his new work, Vivencies, for the all-female trombone quartet Bones Apart (the "truly awesome, phwoarsome foursome", according to Muso magazine) is to be performed at London's Wigmore Hall on Sunday. It is part of the From Sweden music project, a celebration of Swedish music, composers and artists, which is taking place at venues throughout London until June.

Lindberg will open the concert with one of the first solo works for his instrument, Three Medieval Dances for Solo Trombone (1475, anonymous). During the evening, Lindberg and Bones Apart will run around in the hall for a theatrical delivery of a spectacular piece for five instruments by Folke Rabe, Bolos in a version for 5 trombones (1960). The sole British piece in the programme is Gary Carpenter's Secret Love Songs; along with Beethoven's Three Equali for Trombone Quartet, it will be performed by Bones Apart. The night will end with an arrangement for five trombones by Lindberg of some of his older pieces, Dr Decker and the Sausage Society.

Lindberg's plans include the world premiere at the Royal Festival Hall of Yet Another Set To, a work written for Lindberg by Turnage, with Marin Alsop conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. There's also a tour of Japan coming up, and he will be appearing as the guest soloist on a tour with the Finnish Radio Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo.

Lindberg was always passionate about music. "I was a Beatles fanatic ever since I saw the film Help! when I was six years old," he says. "I wanted to play the drums like Ringo Starr. But when I went to a music school, I was told that I must play the military drum before I could play like Ringo. I lost all interest. But I got completely obsessed by the trombone when I first played it. I loved it passionately. The whole world opened up for me."

Christian Lindberg and Bones Apart, Wigmore Hall, London W1 (020-7258 8200; www.wigmore-hall.org.uk), Sunday; 'Yet Another Set To', Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (020-7960 4242; www.rfh.org.uk), 19 March. From Sweden continues to June.

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