Jan Sandström is among the most frequently performed Swedish composers on the international scene today. The Motorbike Concerto for trombone and orchestra (1988–89) is one of the most spread Swedish orchestral works of all time, with over 600 performances to its credit since its premiere in 1989. Sandström's catalogue includes music for various ensembles, for choir, opera, ballet, and radio theatre – but above all for orchestra, with or without soloist. The second trombone concerto, Don Quixote (1994), written for Christian Lindberg, and the two trumpet concertos (1987 and 1992/96), for Håkan Hardenberger, are also widely performed.
Sandström was born in Vilhelmina in Lapland in 1954 and grew up in Stockholm. He began his university education by studying counterpoint in Stockholm (with Valdemar Söderholm) and then went north to the top of the Gulf of Bothnia, studying at University School of Music in Piteå from 1974 to 1976. He completed his training at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, studying music theory (1978–82) and composition with Gunnar Bucht, Brian Ferneyhough, and Pär Lindgren (1980–84). In 1982 he was asked to join the developing of new music of the young and expanding University School of Music in Piteå. He returned there, teaching composition and music theory (1985–89), and after a year out in Paris (1984-85) he was appointed professor of composition at the university 1989.
Sandström began his musical career as a chorister, and his work list includes a large part of vocal, opera, and choral music. His other widespread international success Det är en ros utsprungen (Es ist ein Ros) (1990), is one of his most devout works. His choral music underlines the catholicity and seems to form a link with an inner, gentle world – the emotional abstract. Sandstrom often deals with the ordinary feelings, ordinary people, and the misunderstood hero. A critic once wrote that he composes “music that pats you on the hand and says ‘there, there, it’ll be all right’”
Different lines of composing co-exist in Sandström’s music. Minimalism, Eastern philosophy, and serialism were early influences on his music. For many years Sandström also worked at developing the form of overtone harmony that is known as spectral analysis. In more music theatrical pieces like Don Quixote and the opera Macbeth2 (premiered at the Gothenburg Opera in spring 2001), he means to let the whole world outside in on stage. As pictured in the Motorbike Concerto, Sandström and his music are constantly on the move, aiming to explore whatever aspect of life and music takes his fancy: “Every morning when I wake up, I want to be surprised by whatever I might think up today!”