Matthew Lombard - South African Saxophonist - 18

by Barry Cockcroft | The Barry Sax Show

About Matthew Lombard

Matthew Lombard is a South African concert saxophonist, is founding director of the South African Saxophone Society and helped to plan the first National Saxophone Symposium in 2014. He has performed as chamber musician and soloist in South Africa, North America, China, England, Scotland, Croatia, and Germany and is proud to be an ambassador of the Henri Selmer Paris company.

In 2017, Matthew Lombard founded the South African Saxophone Society to further enrich the musical culture in South Africa by promoting the development of saxophonists. The Society will support professional development of saxophone educators and performers, contribute to the international academic community, provide educational support to underserved rural communities in outreach projects, and ultimately aim to host national and international conferences and congresses. 

Matthew actively commissions new music though the South African Music Rights Organization, and continues to premiere these works internationally. Matthew completed his Master of Music degree at the prestigious Royal Northern College of Music in the United Kingdom, studying with Rob Buckland and is currently completing his doctoral studies at the University of California in Los Angeles under Professor Douglas Masek. Soon Matthew will be returning to South Africa to continue teaching at Pretoria Boys’ High School, the University of Pretoria and the University of South Africa.

Show Notes

  • Getting started with Marc Botha.
  • Inspired by recordings of Arno Bornkamp and Claude Delangle.
  • The importance of a strict training early on.
  • Dealing with embouchure changes in the early years.
  • The concept of sound is very important to me.
  • Studying with Rob Buckland was a big turning point.
  • A characteristic of a great teacher is that their students do not sound the same.
  • Studying in the USA with Douglas Masek.
  • Ideas to grow the saxophone community in South Africa.
  • Working with Karen Devroop to develop the first National Saxophone Symposium.
  • There is opportunity because there is a lack of opportunity.
  • Deadlines motivate me.
  • Getting into the recording studio as often as possible.
  • The importance of nature.
  • I know my path is predestined.
  • Playing Escapades for John Williams.
  • There is no point playing music that everyone else is playing.
  • Making music is more important than playing all the notes perfectly
  • Getting sleepy before walking on stage.
  • Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

Show Links

Transcript of Podcast Interview with Matthew Lombard

Please enjoy the transcript of this podcast episode. With thousands of words in each episode it might contain a few typos and may also have been edited for clarity.

Barry Cockcroft: Matthew, thank you for joining me today.

Matthew Lombard: Welcome, thank you for having me.

Barry Cockcroft: A long way from home for both of us.

Matthew Lombard: Indeed.

Barry Cockcroft: In Zagreb. Now, I’m very curious about your activities because from what I understand, classical saxophone in South Africa is perhaps in its infancy. Is that right?

Matthew Lombard: I would say so, yes. We have some things going on with classical saxophone in South Africa, but it’s very small at the moment, and that’s one of my big passions is to try and improve that. I’m trying to establish something more concrete like we have in other parts of the world. That’s something I’m really passionate about.

Barry Cockcroft: How did you actually get started with the sax?

Matthew Lombard: I started when I was in high school. There happened to be a great classical saxophone teacher at the high school I was going to. In South Africa we use the, I think it’s similar to Australia where we have the graded exams, ABRSM or Trinity or similar things like that.

Matthew Lombard: That’s basically how the tuition is focused. Whereas now I’ve experienced in the U.S, it’s slightly different. In South Africa we used that as the general standard, and that tends to be on the classical side, and when you take that even further, the natural route, I suppose is classical. Although a lot of students do go into jazz after that.

Matthew Lombard: I carried on with the classical and was encouraged to enter competitions in my late high school years, and that’s where I grew, especially fond of the instrument as a classical instrument. That’s basically how it started.

Barry Cockcroft: How would you describe the early teachers or teacher that you’ve had?

Matthew Lombard: A big interest in jazz as well, but mostly focused on the classical players, the classical side of playing things. The teacher in particular that taught me in those years, his name is Marc Botha. He’s now living in England, doing language at a university. He had probably a very similar path from what I had in South Africa, and he took it further because he loved it so much. Even though there weren’t many other people doing it in the country.

Matthew Lombard: He also drew influence from a lot of international players, so a lot of the players that we hear here in Zagreb, were key in terms of their recordings and the influence they had on his playing, and as a result, my playing. Throughout my high school career, I was listening to recordings of Arno Bornkamp and Claude Delangle, and all the guys that we listened to. That was a big inspiration.

Matthew Lombard: Along with those teachers that taught me came this world and the sound concept from all the other parts of the world. That sort of modelled my thinking going forward in terms of how I wanted my sound to turn out.

Barry Cockcroft: Were there any particular styles of teaching that you started with? Would you say you had a strict technical regime to follow or something a little bit more encouraging? There’s different approaches, especially in the early years. What was your experience?

Matthew Lombard: The early years, I think I tended to have a more strict teaching, a lot of etudes, Ferling etudes, the sort of standard stuff that you would do. That was quite a big focus, and slowly, obviously as most people do, you move away from that, gradually. But that was definitely a big focus, cleaning up the technique, having a good technique. But also thinking a lot about sound, and embouchure concepts. I went through, in fact my very first teacher was mostly a jazz player, and a doubler. As a result I went through some embouchure changes in the early years as well, that’s probably a common thing for a lot of people.

Matthew Lombard: Even into my undergraduate studies, I started experimenting more with changing the embouchure. The first time I came to Europe for a masterclass was in Frankfurt, where I met Vincent David and Arno Bornkamp and Jan Schulte-Bunert from Germany.

Matthew Lombard: That’s, I think the first point in my playing career that I realised, there was a lot that I was doing wrong, that I could do better and more efficiently. I started adapting my embouchure mostly, and also the way I play, in a different way, and started thinking more differently about how I was playing.

Matthew Lombard: For me, even from the beginning, that whole sound concept has been a big thing. Especially what I was mentioning earlier by listening to various recordings in the early years. I had all these ideas that I’ve been hearing on the recordings, and I needed to figure out how I’m going to do my thing, and not necessarily sound like one person, but sound more like what everyone was doing.

Matthew Lombard: That was a challenge, because, in South Africa we’re a little bit limited in that we don’t have the live performances to reference. We don’t have too many people playing classical saxophone. When I was learning, I don’t think I remember anyone local playing classical concerts. That’s definitely one of the big things for me.

Matthew Lombard: The pedagogy was definitely strict in terms of technique, but also I had a lot to think about in terms of my sound and the embouchure development.

Barry Cockcroft: Would you say that that experience at the master class during undergraduate years, did that then kind of spur you on to study internationally?

Matthew Lombard: Yes, absolutely.

Barry Cockcroft: You chose to go to the UK?

Matthew Lombard: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Barry Cockcroft: What was it that drew you?

Matthew Lombard: Rob Buckland.

Barry Cockcroft: Well, how did you meet Rob?

Matthew Lombard: Well Rob, I had heard recordings of Rob and loved the recordings. I just, I felt that his sound was something different. It was unique and it wasn’t the same as a lot of other things that I had heard. I can’t quite remember how I ended up getting in touch with him, but I remember looking him up and seeing where he taught, and liking the idea of England very much.

Matthew Lombard: Number one, because I speak English and it’s a logical choice, England or America. When looking at where to study, you look at who to study with, and that was a big influence for me. The year I spent in England was incredible subsequently, I feel like as a player, I grew the most in that year. My ideas about my sound, my career path, were all really focused after that year. That was a big turning point for me.

Barry Cockcroft: I’m sure Rob won’t mind, but could you perhaps describe some of the differences in his teaching compared to what you’d had before?

Matthew Lombard: Yes, so at that point, because I was doing my master’s, it was, there was probably less of a focus on the technical, as in the finger technique, and more of a focus on the sound, very much for me. Fixing those problems I was talking about with the embouchure, and Rob was really big on making me or enabling me to articulate what it is that I need to do in order to make sound, so that I understand what I’m doing.

Matthew Lombard: I remember one of my first lessons with him was a real eyeopener for me, because he would ask me, so how do I make sound? I would sort of answer something like, “Blow air into the instrument,” and he’d say, “Well, how do you blow air into the instrument?” It goes down the rabbit hole, and sort of pinpointing exactly what you’re doing in order to make that sound and understanding the process involved.

Matthew Lombard: I found that was one of the key things he helped me with is in terms of how I want to sound, and how I expect to make that sound. Also being able to predict what’s going to come out of the instrument depending on what I do. That was a big thing for me with Rob. He also taught me to push the boundaries of the sound also, in terms of projection, in terms of expressivity, and also varying tone colours, and not just sticking to one type of idea.

Matthew Lombard: I think he was also big on personalising the sound to a big extent. He would, I think at that time, and I would imagine always, Rob’s students don’t generally sound the same, everyone has their own sound, and I think that’s a great characteristic of a teacher. Is that not everyone sounds exactly the same, everyone finds their sound in a certain way.

Matthew Lombard: Obviously there are some aspects that will be influenced by the teacher, but I think it’s great that I could find my own sound through that.

Barry Cockcroft: Now, since you’ve finished your master’s degree, you’ve moved again to the States, did you go straight to the States or?

Matthew Lombard: No.

Barry Cockcroft: What were you doing after your master’s degree?

Matthew Lombard: My master’s degree, I managed to do in one year. Fortunately it was a one year intensive programme, and as a result, I was able to take a sabbatical from my job in South Africa, which was basically high school saxophone teaching. I had a full time job there, which was really fortunate for me. I went back to that for three more years after Manchester. At that point … well actually it goes back to before England, I’d been wanting to get a doctorate in the end at some point in my life for a long time. I’d been wanting to study with Douglas Masek for a long time in my life.

Matthew Lombard: I met Doug probably 2006 or ’07, so quite a while ago when he was touring South Africa. I had a masterclass or two with him, I had heard him play. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to study with Doug Masek at UCLA. It’s always been a dream, and it’s always been one of those things where, “It’s so expensive, I’ll never be able to do it.”

Matthew Lombard: In 2015, we decided we would try and see if we can make this happen, my family and I. It did not look really possible based on tuition in the States, and living cost in Los Angeles.

Matthew Lombard: We managed to put it together with scholarships and opportunities from UCLA and South Africa, and we made the move. It was a real big thing for me and my family too, but I think it was the right time. At that point, I had been teaching high school saxophone students for about 10 years, and I felt that, based on my vision for what I want to do in South Africa longterm, I needed to push myself further. So that I could lead the field in a way, and that I could try and train up more teachers in South Africa. So we can have a bigger saxophone community, classical saxophone community.

Matthew Lombard: That’s one of my big passions, I still feel that getting this doctorate in the States is going to be very beneficial to me, and to the classical saxophone in South Africa.

Barry Cockcroft: That sounds exciting, and I get the feeling that you like to organise things. That you don’t just play the saxophone, but perhaps you have a bigger vision that in order to play the saxophone, you have to have events to have that saxophone performed in. How did you get started or how did you come up with the idea for organising events where the saxophone can really showcase itself?

Matthew Lombard: I think I would probably credit that to my time in England again. Rob inspired me to pursue this idea of growing the saxophone community in South Africa. What I gained from the international masterclasses, and studying in England and all of that, was seeing what was out there, and what was possible.

Matthew Lombard: In England in particular, what was interesting to me was that they also needed to grow the saxophone community, in recent years. And that they also did start with very few classical saxophone players, as Rob attested to. I thought that was a big inspiration to me, because I could see how great things are going there, and where I wanted to take South Africa.

Matthew Lombard: That led me to speak with a colleague in South Africa, Karén Devroop, who is a jazz saxophone player. Also the head of the, one of the big universities music departments there UNISA [University of South Africa]. He and I spoke a little bit when I returned to South Africa. I was actually playing in a competition at the time, and he basically said, “Well, let’s just organise something, let’s just make it happen.” I was particularly inspired by the saxophone days that they do at the RNCM in Manchester, and I thought, “Let’s just have a saxophone day.”

Matthew Lombard: Karén said, “We might be able to get UNISA’s backing,” and we turned it into a national saxophone symposium, and then invited Apollo [Saxophone Quartet] to come out. It was great, it sort of took off much quicker than I thought it would with the support of Karin. Then from there we decided we want to keep the ball rolling, and we want to just keep it going annually, so that we can keep this all happening, and then we can keep it all in the front of people’s minds.

Matthew Lombard: There are challenges associated with it. One of the big ones is always funding, as with anything in the music world. But I think we are excited at what’s happening. In fact, next week I’m going to South Africa, straight after this to go and run the symposiums again. It’s a very exciting project for me, it’s close to my heart, and it’s something that I think will really help us in the longterm for South African classical saxophone.

Barry Cockcroft: I think South Africa, like Australia is a long way from the States, and a long way from Europe, and getting people to come of course is expensive.

Matthew Lombard: Yes.

Barry Cockcroft: That’s of course a big part of the challenge. But also, people who travel a lot don’t always want to travel a long way, because one, it’s super tiring, takes a lot of time. There’s challenges, and every time you can get someone to visit, it’s a bonus, it’s great.

Matthew Lombard: Absolutely.

Barry Cockcroft: If you compare that to the experiences in Europe where there’s, I mean, of course neighbouring countries. Two days ago, I went to another country for a rehearsal, and then came back. In Australia, that would be ludicrous. But here, things are close and therefore people move around much more. I know in Australia when we have a visiting artist come, everyone’s very excited. Because it’s a rare thing, and it sounds like a similar situation.

Matthew Lombard: Definitely.

Barry Cockcroft: But each time somebody visits, it stirs up a whole bunch of connections. I’ve seen, we’d have a guest artists coming Australia, and then two, three years later, some students start to disappear, and they’ve gone to that visiting artist, and they’ve gone study with them. The connections are formed, and those connections last for a long time.

Barry Cockcroft: It’s a very interesting process, and it only happens of course, if people come. It sounds like your vision there is to keep bringing people to South Africa.

Matthew Lombard: Yes.

Barry Cockcroft: Through your symposium, and see where that takes you. Does that sound right?

Matthew Lombard: Yeah, pretty much. Like I said, the very first one, we were fortunate to have a major sponsor, and we could bring out two saxophone quartets, internationally, which is incredible. We haven’t been able to do that in subsequent years, but we have been able to … this year, for example, we’re bringing Doug Masek out from Los Angeles. Thanks to some funding that we sourced in the U.S. That’s great, and if we can do that, even if we can for now, bring one or two international artist out every year, that’ll be great. That’s the goal.

Barry Cockcroft: You seem determined to essentially be in South Africa. I know plenty of people who leave their home country and they don’t come back. They find opportunities elsewhere. What is it that draws you to be in your own country?

Matthew Lombard: Well, I’ve always seen South Africa as home. Mostly because all my family lives there. Also just because I grew up there, it’s kind of, even when I was in England, there’s always that temptation of, “Is the grass greener on the other side?” I think the world is an imperfect place in any case, and it doesn’t matter where you go, there’s always going to be problems.

Matthew Lombard: I think South Africa’s got its problems, but I think a lot of other places have problems too. I think I’m just drawn to the country itself, mostly because of family, and because I call it home. But from a career perspective, I feel like there’s opportunity for me, because of the lack of opportunity, if that makes sense.

Barry Cockcroft: Absolutely.

Matthew Lombard: I see the fact that there’s a very small classical saxophone culture as an opportunity for me. Whereas in other parts of the world, like the U.S, there are tonnes of opportunities, but there are also tonnes of people doing the same thing. For me I feel like I can make a difference in South Africa, whereas anywhere else in the world, yes, sure, I can make a difference too, but South Africa is close to my heart. I think that’s kind of where I’d always want to end up.

Barry Cockcroft: Would you say that your career is operating to a plan or is it something more organic that is developing?

Matthew Lombard: I think it’s a little bit of both maybe. My sort of loose longterm plan is for South Africa to grow into something more similar to the UK or the U.S or Europe, in terms of classical saxophone. But at the same time, if I look short-term, my goals are dependent on what comes up and what opportunities come up. I definitely hope to try and get into a university, so that I can put more people through, sort of the undergraduate and graduate education process for classical saxophone, and produce more teachers.

Matthew Lombard: I feel that that’s an important sort of position of influence, and that’s what I’d like to try and aspire to. But in terms of how that’s going to look practically in a year’s time, I am not quite sure yet. What I do know is that my work in terms of organising the saxophone symposiums and the Saxophone Society that I’ve just founded there in South Africa. That work is going to continue no matter where I am, whether it’s South Africa or whether maybe the U.S for a while. It depends on what’s going on and where I’m needed the most.

Matthew Lombard: But fortunately I can do my work in South Africa wherever I am, which is what I’ve been doing for the last two years anyway.

Barry Cockcroft: Now one thing I’m always curious about is how people manage day to day activities of work and all of that, and practising. Is there any special, I don’t want to say techniques, but are there any special routines that you use in your practise that allows you to time manage? As opposed to when you were a student when we had many, many hours, how do you cope with it?

Matthew Lombard: Well, I mean right now I’m fortunate that I kind of am in that student phase at the end of it. Not that I necessarily have tonnes of time to devote to practising, like you say. But I think nowadays I tend to practise towards a goal, and I like deadlines because they motivate me. I set myself deadlines, and I, at UCLA for example, I have access to a world class recording studio for free as part of the university. One of my goals is to just get into the studio as often as I can to try and record stuff.

Matthew Lombard: Part of that is also preparing for that well, so my practise time tends to be not very well structured in terms of scheduled in a day. But I find that I have a lot of opportunities to … working at UCLA, I’m able to find an hour here, or an hour there, and, in between the work I’m doing or the research I’m doing, and go and practise. I find that’s quite helpful.

Matthew Lombard: I find that may practise intensifies the closer I get to a performance or a recording session or something.

Barry Cockcroft: I guess the goal of practise is you spend as much time as possible to learn how to spend as little time as possible?

Matthew Lombard: Exactly.

Barry Cockcroft: Hopefully by that stage we’re pretty good.

Matthew Lombard: That’s a good way to put it, I like that.

Barry Cockcroft: Do you have something else outside of music that you’re passionate about?

Matthew Lombard: It depends how you define something outside of music. My family is a big part of my life, and I’ve got two little girls, and another one on the way. They’ve come to the other side of the world with me just for me to do this degree. That for me is a big thing, and I love my kids, I love my wife, and it’s great to spend time with my family whenever I can.

Matthew Lombard: We do all sorts of, being in the States, we’re fortunate to be able to go camping, and hiking, and do all those fun things that the kids enjoy, and we enjoy. We get to bond a lot like that. Two weeks ago I was in the Sequoia National Park in California, and just being in nature and surrounded by nature is incredible.

Matthew Lombard: We’re also a Christian family, so we attend a great church there in California, and that is a big part of our lives too. We are very fortunate to be able to attend a good church in California. We’re grateful to God for the blessings in our lives, particularly with actually being able to be in California, when we didn’t think we were. It’s been incredible for us.

Matthew Lombard: That’s also a big thing for me is to realise that everything that has happened in my life, in terms of career goals and everything is provision from God as well. On a personal note, it’s a great encouragement to me to know that despite uncertainty and not knowing what’s going to happen next after my doctorate, I know that my path is predestined. I have comfort in knowing that I can trust in God for that as well.

Barry Cockcroft: Do you think that’s part of, I was asking before about the plan, regardless of what plan you might have for yourself or what opportunities may arise, are you saying therefore there’s a bigger plan underlying all of that?

Matthew Lombard: We made the choice to go to the U.S, but without God’s provision that wouldn’t have been possible either. We actually made the decision to move to the U.S before we got confirmation that I received a scholarship. Thinking that if it didn’t work out, we’d just cancel it or we’d sell our house and, in South Africa, and pay for the studies in California.

Matthew Lombard: Fortunately we didn’t need to do that, because the scholarships that came through. But I definitely feel that it’s, part of it is having comfort in that fact that I don’t need to worry about it too much, because something will come up.

Barry Cockcroft: I saw a photo of you the other day, I think you’d just played the Escapades, and the photo was of you shaking hands, I think with the composer John Williams. Now I’m very curious to know, first of all how that performance came about, but also how do you respond to performing in front of a celebrated composer such as John Williams?

Matthew Lombard: The performance came about because it was programmed with the UCLA Symphony Orchestra. Because I’m the graduate student there, they asked me if I wanted to be the soloist on it, and I of course said, “Yes, I’d love to.” I played some of it before with piano, but I never played with orchestra, so it was a great opportunity for me.

Matthew Lombard: I also knew that John Williams lives a block away from UCLA, and that was, in the back of my mind thinking, “Maybe he’ll come, he probably won’t, he’s too high profile.” He ended up giving a seminar the same day of the dress rehearsal at the concert, and at the end of that seminar, that’s when the dress rehearsal started. His good friend, Gloria Chang, the professor who does contemporary music at UCLA. She brought him around to the hall where we were playing at, and he sat and listened.

Matthew Lombard: It was a surreal experience for me, I never imagined I’d play Escapades for John Williams. It was kind of like a personal performance for him in a way, a very informal type of visit. But he was quite happy with it, and that was encouraging. I don’t play it like it was played on the formal score. I don’t think many classical saxophone players do, and you never know quite how a composer will react to that. I think he was quite happy with that.

Matthew Lombard: I won’t lie and say I wasn’t nervous when I played it for him, I was probably more nervous when I played it for him than when I played it for the audience later that night. But it was an exciting experience too. In the end, he is just another composer who’s coming to listen to one of his pieces. That’s how he acted too, he was very down to earth, very humble about it, and he didn’t make a big deal about it.

Barry Cockcroft: You obviously have a considerable experience of working with composers, because you have a keen interest in developing South African repertoire, I guess. How important is it to you to work directly with the composer of a piece?

Matthew Lombard: I think it’s very important depending on the composer. I’ve been fortunate … in South Africa, we’re fortunate to have the South African Music Rights Organisation, which … or SAMRO for short. They actually pay to commission composers, I don’t think it works like that anywhere else in the world.

Matthew Lombard: As an artist, I don’t have to pay for it in South Africa. I can send an application to them and they can commission a composer to write something. I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of music written that way for me, for various projects. I was teaching at Pretoria Boys High School before I came to LA, and the head of department there is also a composer – Niel van der Watt.

Matthew Lombard: Just before we moved to LA, we actually in collaboration with him recorded a whole CD of his music for saxophone. Which was an incredible opportunity, because a lot of that was music that I had commissioned. A lot of the time with him, I would definitely work with him. He tends to be more of a choral composer, but has written quite a bit of wind music as well, especially in recent years.

Matthew Lombard: In my experience with South African composers, they are, and I think in general with composers, is that relationship is always great in terms of the composer wanting feedback in terms of, “Can this be …” not better, but, “Can this be different to make it more natural on the instrument?” That type of thing is one of the most common.

Matthew Lombard: Another composer I’ve worked with in South Africa, Clare Loveday. I’ll be playing one of her pieces here in Zagreb. She wrote a concerto for me a few years back, and also even in the early stages, just talking about ideas and influences with her. How interested she was in what I liked influenced her composition style as well.

Matthew Lombard: That’s been very interesting for me, and very satisfying going through the process with a composer often, and then performing the piece ultimately.

Barry Cockcroft: One of my passions is, besides the first performance, is making sure music gets played again. Have you found pieces that have started to find a voice that creep into the repertoire, that get performed multiple times? That become favourites, I guess in a sense even if they’re your favourites that you like to programme. Or do you focus more on a stream of new pieces?

Matthew Lombard: That’s a good question. I think because there’s so few people playing the South African repertoire, I tend to focus on a stream of new pieces more than bringing out the same stuff over again. But there definitely, I mentioned Doug Masek earlier who toured South Africa a lot in the recent years, and he actually worked with a lot of South African composers too. A lot of those pieces from a while back, certainly in my repertoire do come up again.

Matthew Lombard: There’s a little bit of both, I guess, a little bit of bringing back music that’s recognisable. But I think I probably lean towards focusing on bringing out new stuff or presenting new things.

Barry Cockcroft: I guess the reason I’m interested in that area, because the way you describe the funding of a new composition, if it’s performed once and they’re paid, let’s say a substantial amount or a fair amount for their work, we call it an expensive piece. If it’s played twice, then it is half the cost, it has twice the value. Then if it’s played a hundred times and so on, its value increases from that initial funding, and therefore the funding essentially, it’s very easy to justify.

Matthew Lombard: Yes.

Barry Cockcroft: “Oh, if we commissioned this piece, it’s going to get played hundreds of times.” I’m very interested in that process, there’s no magic formula. Of course it depends ultimately on the repertoire, and the quality of the performances. But it depends also on, another aspect is how that music is then transmitted out to the wider community.

Barry Cockcroft: It sounds like if you’re organising international events, and presenting within those some South African music, there’s a bigger chance, therefore that that music will exit the country, and into the mainstream outside.

Matthew Lombard: That’s definitely my hope. I have certainly done that in the U.S. The North American Saxophone Alliance Conferences, the last two years I’ve performed, I’ve included South African recitals in those, and same here in Zagreb. I think that’s important.

Matthew Lombard: For me, there’s no point in playing music that everyone else is playing, I need to be presenting the music from my country, and letting people hear it. I’ve had some good feedback that way as well, with people that hear it and are interested in getting the music. That’s the way it spreads, and the way we ultimately get more performances. I suppose time will tell how that continues down the line.

Barry Cockcroft: Now is improvisation something that forms part of your music making?

Matthew Lombard: A little bit. I find that I do enjoy going a little bit out of the box here and there or being flexible enough to change something sort of organically or as it happens. I wouldn’t call myself a good improviser, but I would say that I’m certainly open to using improvisation when I need to, and feel that it’s an important part of classical playing nowadays.

Matthew Lombard: Because so often that happens where you get, even in contemporary music, you’ve got a lot of free sections where you’ve just got to do something. You need to be creative and think stylistically in context of the piece. I think that is an important part of it, and I do, I don’t necessarily do it very often, but I do certainly when it’s required, I do that.

Barry Cockcroft: How important has recording been to you, both developmentally but also career wise?

Matthew Lombard: I’ve found it really great to be able to listen back and hear from a … I suppose kind of like a, not an audience perspective. It’s not quite the same, but I find it very helpful. I find it also very encouraging, when you’re not sure what something sounds like or how it’s perceived, and you listen back. If it sounds good that’s really like, I suppose a motivator to keep going.

Matthew Lombard: In terms of general practise, I find it really helpful to record myself just to hear how things come out. As a performer, you always need to exaggerate things a little more than you think you do, so that the audience actually gets the picture. That’s valuable in terms of recording repertoire, again, it’s just a great way to improve your technique, and to make sure that you’re polishing the music as much as you can before you get into that studio. Just generally a great way to learn pieces.

Barry Cockcroft: Now I have some, let’s call them rapid fire questions, so a quick question, if you like, with a quick answer. It doesn’t always work out that way. Is there something that you believe that other people disagree with?

Matthew Lombard: Vibrato I think.

Barry Cockcroft: What is it about your vibrato, perhaps that’s different?

Matthew Lombard: Well, everyone’s vibrato is different. I feel that I tend to use vibrato as an expressive tool mostly, and use it also to shape phrases, rather than sort of having a on off switch type of idea. But at the same time realising that different styles require different styles of vibrato, and I find that, some people do that, some people don’t do that. Some people have a like a go to vibrato for everything, some people vary it. Like I said, everyone’s got a different vibrato.

Barry Cockcroft: If you just had one piece of music that you can play now, forever, what piece would that be?

Matthew Lombard: I love the Dubois concerto, the very opening with that cadenza in the beginning. One of my first teachers gave me that when I was sort of late high school years, and I’ve just loved it ever since. It’s just beautiful.

Barry Cockcroft: If you just had one hour to practise … maybe that’s a lot, but if you just had one hour to practise, how would you spend that time?

Matthew Lombard: I would probably focus most … if I had one hour, it would probably be because I needed to rehearse something or perform something in a chamber setting or something. I would imagine that I would spend most of my time on the technical aspects, and thinking about what type of sound I want to create.

Barry Cockcroft: In your experience, who is one of the largest contributors to the saxophone?

Matthew Lombard: I think there are many, and it’s hard to pinpoint one, but I have huge respect for Arno Bornkamp camp and what he’s done. Mostly in terms of the way he plays and how he kind of moves away from tradition in some ways, in a lot of ways in his playing. Also plays around with ideas of performance practise, which is, he released a CD, what was it? Vintage Saxophones Revisted [Adolphe Sax Revisited]. It was a 19th century performance practise focused, informed performance on period instruments.

Matthew Lombard: I’m interested in this because it’s basically my dissertation topic for next year, and I just find that fascinating. I think that’s going out of the box, it’s doing something different, even though it’s, it’s normally not done like that, and I think that’s really great. He pushes the boundaries, he also blows those lines between classical and jazz, and I think that’s, it’s what typifies the contemporary performance today.

Barry Cockcroft: If we learn from our mistakes, is it okay to make mistakes?

Matthew Lombard: Yes.

Barry Cockcroft: Do you cope okay if a mistake happens in performance?

Matthew Lombard: Yes, I think I do. One of the things that really struck me was when studying with Rob Buckland, one of his early CDs, he, I think it’s in the liner notes or something. Where he mentioned that, everything was one take, and there might be a mistake here or two, but he wanted to keep that authenticity. That’s always stuck with me, I feel that we’re all human, we all make mistakes, and a clean, polished performance is not necessarily better than something with a mistake here or there. But that has the right intensity and the right feel, so I feel that making music is more important than playing all the notes perfectly.

Barry Cockcroft: Do you do find that to be a common approach?

Matthew Lombard: No, I don’t think it’s a common approach.

Barry Cockcroft: But it’s one you appreciate?

Matthew Lombard: Yes. A live recording I think is so much more genuine sometimes. Even me, I get into a studio, and I edit stuff, and that happens, I know how that goes. But there’s something more exciting and more energetic about a live recording, even with mistakes.

Barry Cockcroft: Now you’ve got some big performances to do this week. What do you do right before you walk on stage that helps you to play at your best?

Matthew Lombard: I make sure I’ve got the best possible reed.

Barry Cockcroft: Can I use your best possible reed?

Matthew Lombard: Funny thing about me, I tend to get sleepy just before I go on stage. I don’t know why, especially in a big performance, and then by the time I’m on, I’m fine. I like to just be calm and ready, I like to be early, I like to make sure everything’s set up, make sure I’m in tune so that when I get onstage I don’t need to worry about that.

Matthew Lombard: I’m fortunate in that I don’t tend to get very nervous when I play. I like to speak to the audience before I play just to calm myself, and so that there’s no sort of awkward silence before we start. I think that’s a great thing for me.

Barry Cockcroft: Now, if you could send a message back in time to your younger self, is there any piece of advice you would have liked to have heard?

Matthew Lombard: I’d probably say that I don’t need to worry as much about what everyone else is doing, and I need to worry more about where I see myself in the next five to ten years, in terms of what I want to do.

Barry Cockcroft: What are some of the changes that you’ve seen in the development of saxophone and what are some of the things that haven’t changed that you thought might change?

Matthew Lombard: Players are taking it more seriously in South Africa, slowly, but, there are certainly more people than there were five years ago playing the classical saxophone seriously for concerts, and for recitals, and touring, and that’s encouraging. Things that I would expect to have developed more are things like, audience expectation in South Africa particularly. Whenever I play a recital there, people are surprised that the saxophone can sound like that. That I would have hoped would change by now. But that’s also a difficult thing, because you can never reach more than like however many people at a time. It’s a challenge to make that the norm when people think of the saxophone everywhere in the world, but in South Africa particularly.

Barry Cockcroft: Sure, now is there a recent project that you would like to share, tell us about that people might be interested in having a look at?

Matthew Lombard: I sort of have a number of things going on, and the one thing that I’m trying to push now and working on actively is the South African Saxophone Society, that is overseeing our saxophone symposiums in South Africa. And will eventually oversee a number of other things like professional development, things for teachers, and more masterclass settings or workshops for students. That’s something, that’s my big sort of passion back home, and the thing that I’ll be going back for next week as well.

Matthew Lombard: Other than that, I mean other than being here in Zagreb and doing all this, I think that’s my next month’s focus. Probably in the next year or so, I’ll be, I’m slowly working on a CD to release as well. I’ve been recording a lot of music with electronics recently, and I hope to record some chamber music as well. Not quite sure what the CD’s going to look like yet, but I’m putting a whole bunch of stuff together for, hopefully for release by next year.

Barry Cockcroft: Where’s the best place for people to find more about your activities? Are you big on your website? Do you prefer social media? What’s the best place for people to find out about you?

Matthew Lombard: I tend to prefer social media, I do have a website which is (or Zed A), not sure how you like to pronounce that, in America I get trouble for that. Also the Saxophone Society’s online at But Facebook, I’ve got a Facebook page under my name, so does Saxophone Society, and that’s mostly where I will post stuff. The websites usually gets updated too.

Barry Cockcroft: I’ll put links to all of these in the show notes.

Matthew Lombard: Thank you.

Barry Cockcroft: So people can find you easily. I guess finally, you’re already making such a big contribution to the saxophone in your home country. What do you see for yourself over the next 10, 20 years?

Matthew Lombard: I would hope that I could establish myself in a university in South Africa, so that I have the freedom to perform, and to teach, and to record, and to research. Also to develop the Saxophone Society to something bigger. I have a longterm dream to one day host the World Saxophone Congress in South Africa. We’ll work on that in the coming years, and hopefully we’ll have something ready to present as a proposal at one of the next few congresses. But that’s something that I’d like to do in South Africa, I think that would be a really great opportunity. Before we can do that, however, we need to just develop a few more things in the country.

Barry Cockcroft: Fantastic, Matthew, thank you very much for your time today.

Matthew Lombard: Thank you.

Barry Cockcroft: And I wish you the best for the week here in Zagreb.

Matthew Lombard: Thank you very much.

Share This