Photo: Tommy Björklund

Jan Sandström

Jan Sandström is one of Sweden's most well-known composers, both at home and overseas. He is associated particularly with the highly evocative Motorbike Concerto, which has been performed the world over by trombonist Christian Lindberg.

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It was this very work that marked a transition in Sandström’s compositional idiom, a change that had been embarked upon a little earlier with the ballet En herrgårdssägen (Tales of a Manor). The earlier works and most of his compositions in the 1980s carried a more Ligeti-inspired tonal stamp, in which Sandström made use of spectral techniques (composition based on analyses of overtone registers), as in the sophisticatedly constructed Formant mirrors for chamber orchestra and soprano. Another of the more important works from this period is the austere and rather dense Acintyas for string orchestra, already a work in which personal fancies had begun to seep through the solid edifices of his music. 

His ballet music, and his trombone concerto with its underlying programme of journeys through a quasi-filmic landscape, heralded a distinct turning point for Sandström away from tables and principles. “I discovered that it felt fresh, that the music becomes richer and boundless when the world comes tramping into the concert hall,” he says. “I’m fascinated by how wonderful life can seem when reality and art merge.” 

Since then, he has produced a number of solo concertos, and with Don Quixote an even more theatrically expressive successor to his first trombone concerto. In light of this, it is hardly a coincidence that he developed an interest in music drama and opera. This lead to a more idiosyncratic melodic style and a rhythmic simplicity, at times of an almost neoclassical cut, as in his debut opera Bombi Bitt and Nick Carter or in the orchestral work Emperor’s Song

Sandström has worked purposefully towards achieving a playful and childish – even naivistic – sensitivity in his art, something that also applies to his chamber and choral music, as in the highly popular arrangement of Praetorius’ Det är en ros utsprungen (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming). 

All this has required him to actively put aside other art music and stylistic norms. “The world looks totally different now than it did a mere 50 years back,” he says. “We zoom around in time and space, it’s something inherent to our natures now, and it would be strange if art didn’t reflect this mobility. I want to surprise myself.” 

Jan Sandström is a professor of composition at the College of Music in Piteå and his pedagogical achievements include developing opportunities for children and young people to study composition, projects that have been frequently imitated around the country. 

Tony Lundman, May 2004 
English translation: Neil Betteridge 
Source: STIM / Swedish Music Information Centre

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