Motorbike Concerto (Trombone Concerto No. 1)
By Christian Lindberg
When I first met Jan Sandström, splashing about in a warm outdoor pool in the middle of winter, I could hardly imagine the co-operation which I was to enjoy with this composer. These hours spent bathing in Reykjavik's hot springs during the Nordic Music Days in Iceland in 1986 led to the Trombone Concerto No. 1, which was to take more than three years to complete.
Long discussions about composing, philosophy, the history of the trombone and its symbolical burdens were started in the bathing pools and continued at home, on the telephone, in cafe's or at rehearsals. Between our meetings the drafts of the concerto were composed, and for the sake of the listener's entertainment I should like briefly to recount some of the conversations which led to the different parts of the concerto.
I came home from a concert tour in America and called Jan to tell him about a singular experience: in Florida the orchestra's trombonist took me to a nature reserve. In the middle of hard-exploited, commercialized Florida we came to an area of marshland with an animal population including all sorts of exotic bird, wild boars and alligators! It was a unique experience, hard to convey in words, to paddle a canoe among 12-foot-long alligators and to glimpse a wild boar's snout in the marsh, only an hour or so away from Disney World and urbanized America. Two weeks later I received the sketch of the movement The Everglades from the concerto, including the quite improbable 'crocodile chorus'.
Anothertravel report which made an impression on Sandström was that of my visit to Australia in summer 1988. This country, seized and claimed as their own by British convicts two centuries ago, was carefully tended for 40,000 years by the Aborigines, a people threatened with total extiction today. Termites play an important part in their religion: mankind exist only in the dreams of termites!
One of the most important instruments in their culture, the didgeridoo, is a piece of tree-branch, the inside which has been eaten hollow by termites. By means of playing this instrument, the aborigines summon holy spirits and enter a deep trance. The concerto's cadenza is based on the sound of this instrument.
Thoughts of mankind's existence and a bee's dream led naturally to our discussion of religion and philosophy, and the section The Mountain in Provence is a result of our thorough examination of these matters. Here different religions and cultures are set against each other. A gang of motorcyclists roars into the town of Grimaud and encounters a Catholic procession. The trombone, as so often in its history, symbolizes 'the Voice of Divine', which is sometimes a pure singing tone but is also distorted into a raw, primitive noise.
About six months before the première a number og imaginative ideas and sketches were complete, but the composer now faced a fundamental problem - how to weave these sections together into a formally satisfactory composition. Jan Sandström was clearly disturbed at not finding a formal solution when, quite by chance, I imitated the sound of a motorcycle on the trombone in his presence. A light flashed on his mind: 'Of course, you're a globetrotter! A modern Odysseus ! The trombone is your means of travel!' The imitation of a motorcycle was to weave the different sections of the concerto into a journey in modern times.
Jan Sandström's concerto is written exclusively in 4/4 time and in traditional notation. The sonic effects are, wherever possible, written with established classical musical terms. Even the motorcycle imitations are thoroughly notated both rhytmically and dynamically so that the orchestra and the soloist can reproduce its various sounds as precisely as possible.
Technically the concerto is one of the most advanced ever written for the trombone. The range extends over almost five octaves and the player must be a master of both lyrical and technical matters. The quick runs in the introduction and in the Provence section are definitely among the most highly virtuosic in the trombone repertory.
Introduction: it all starts in the homeland of Odysseus. The parts of the world are drawn out with the help of the trombone and we finally end up in Florida's swampland.
The Everglades: Florida's swamplands with their unique natural surroundings are depicted, after which we are thrown straight into a motorcycle race in Provence.
The Mountain in Provence: a motorcycle gang is riding through the medieval mountain village of Grimaud, through which a Catholic procession is passing.The journey continues to
The Land of the Aborigines: we find ourselves
among the Australian aborigines, where we play ourselves into a trance on
branches hollowed out by termites.
Finale: the composer lets the listener experience parts of the journey again, and finally leads the piece to its unavoidable conclusion.
The Motorbike Concerto was commissioned 1988 by the Swedish National Concert Institute for Christian Lindberg . The piece had its world premiere in Nov. 1989 with Christian Lindberg, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Since the first performance the Motorbike Concerto has become Sweden's most frequently played work on the international scene.