By the age of forty, Magnus Lindberg was one of the busiest concert composers in the world. His music avails itself of all manner of modern innovations, but there is a Neo-Classical orientation in his harmonies and formal design that makes his works appealing to a wide audience.
Born in Helsinki, Lindberg studied piano and composition at the Sibelius Academy. His composition professor was Paavo Heininen, who encouraged his interest in progressive developments. With fellow students Esa-Pekka Salonen and Kaija Saariaho, among others, this precocious young musician helped found two organizations, both of which have proven highly influential for the remarkable crop of top-rank Finnish musicians who have gone on to achieve world renown. Korvat Auki ("Ears Open") provided a meeting place for those interested in current trends in contemporary music, organizing concerts, seminars, etc. Toimii ("It Works!") was a performing ensemble dedicated to improvisation and the exploration of new sounds-"a laboratory for composers and instrumentalists to work together on new means of musical expression." In this fertile environment of the early 1980s, Lindberg produced his first important works, including Action-Situation-Signification (1982) for Toimii and electronics, Tendenza (1982) for 21 musicians, and, most important, Kraft (1985) for Toimii and orchestra. This last piece, which won various awards and has been widely performed, was his first piece to attract major international attention. These early pieces are wild: densely scored, noisy, teeming with often violent energy. They mark, in a sense, Lindberg's passage toward musical maturity. Between 1986 and 1988, the young composer produced no music, but when he began again, his style was strikingly different.
In 1981 Lindberg began studying with Vinko Globokar in Paris, a composer known for his sonic explorations, particularly through extended instrumental techniques. A few years later, he spent a period studying with Gérard Grisey, also in Paris, one of the major proponents of the so-called "spectral school" of composition. By this is meant a concern for the acoustic properties of sound, to the extent of deriving harmonies from analyses of instrumental timbres. The link between the two influences is the focus on sonority. Up to 1986, Lindberg had concentrated on the noisier, more extended end of this realm. From 1988, he has chosen to work more with harmony and more traditional orchestral colors. His first major works in his new style formed a trilogy: Kinetics (1989) for orchestra, Marea (1990) for ensemble, and Joy (1990) for chamber orchestra. These pieces are full of all manner of intricate figuration and textures, but underlying them all are triadic, resonant harmonies. Lindberg has developed what he calls a "chaconne" technique for organizing his harmonies, the idea being that a cyclical progression of chords carries through the piece, sometimes submerged, sometimes in the forefront. He has also developed a strong sense of narrative form, with a concern for dramatic development and contrast that owes much another mentor, Witold Lutoslawski, and perhaps even to Finnish compatriot, Jean Sibelius.
Lindberg has gone on to a seemingly endless series of commissions for many of the major ensembles and orchestras of the world. Aura (1994), for orchestra, is his most ambitious score, lasting some forty minutes. Others include the Piano Concerto No. 1 (1991/1994), Feria (1997) for the BBC, Fresco (1998) for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Cello Concerto (1999), for classmate Anssi Karttunen and the Orchestre de Paris. Among his other concertos are works for horn (Campana in Aria, 1998), clarinet (2002), violin (2006) and a Concerto for Orchestra (2002-2003). Other major works include Seht die Sonne (2007) written for the Berliner Philharmoniker and the San Francisco Symphony, and GRAFFITI (2009), his first work for chorus and orchestra. While Lindberg has an obvious affinity for the symphony orchestra, he has composed a number of chamber works, including his Clarinet Quintet (1992), Related Rocks for two pianos and two percussionists with electronics(1997), Ottoni for brass ensemble (2005), and Trio for clarinet, cello and piano (2008).
Lindberg was appointed composer-in-residence with the New York Philharmonic, starting in their 2009-2010 season. The orchestra opened its 2009 season with his EXPO, the first world premiere at an opening concert since 1964.