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Culture, Music, Interviews

Interview With Julian Lloyd Webber


Renowned cellist, conductor, music educator and founder of the Classic FM 30 under 30 Project, Julian Lloyd Webber OBE, will be participating in a Sky Arts  special this November, filmed at LSO St Lukes. We spoke with him ahead of the broadcast to find out more.

Julian, the first thing to acknowledge is your family background is extraordinarily musical. Is your daughter Jasmine carrying on in the tradition?

Jasmine has tried instruments without much enthusiasm, but she's really taken to musical theatre – I’ve got no idea where that’s come from(!) She was in Matilda last year at school and she was outstanding. She played Trunchbull, and she frightened everyone to death. So,

she's joined a Saturday morning course and she's really loving it.

It’s great for confidence building. 

It really brought her out of herself. Obviously other kinds of music can do that, I’ve seen that all my life, you know; really seen the effect music has on young people. It can be such a positive thing in people’s lives, but I’m mortified really that it is so patchy in schools. It should be a birth right – that children have access to music. I’m patron of the Guildford County School which I believe is the only state school left now that is a specialist music school. I went there a couple of weeks ago, and I was just so impressed. The school has gone from being a ‘Good’ school to ‘Outstanding’ because music is the centre of it, and it brings all the students together. You've got Year 10 working with Year 7; it’s a wonderful thing. I first went to Junior College when was nine and nearly everyone there was from a state school and now that’s absolutely not the case. We owe it to the children to bring that back. I’ve written about it before and so have many musicians, but the government just doesn't seem to listen. 

With young people in mind, can you tell us how the Classic FM Risings Stars project came about?

It really started in lockdown because I knew of all these wonderful young musicians who had no outlet whatsoever. Suddenly their concerts were just cancelled and there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I went to Classic FM with the idea that if they can’t play in concerts let’s play their recordings. I did a five-part series, each was two hours, so altogether ten hours of radio featuring these artists. Then we did a second list which came out recently.

Have you established ongoing relationships with these young musicians?

There are quite a few that I’m now very friendly with and we talk about careers. Obviously, I’m very happy to help them if I can. The main thing, really, is as musicians they need to be heard. That’s why Sky Arts came into it because it isn't just listening to recordings; it is obviously a visual thing, to see these musicians in action. It’s really exciting; it gives them a huge platform.

How do you go about selecting your 30?

The standard of playing is phenomenal: technical perfection you can just take for granted as these guys practice endlessly. When I was Principal at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, I saw the work the students put in, the hours they do without knowing they’re going to have a successful career. They do it because they love the music, and it drives them. In a way that makes it easier to choose, because you’re looking for ones with that little something else; they've all got the technique so what’s the difference? In a funny way, it makes it slightly easier to pick them.

As it’s our glamour issue, I must ask – what do you think of as the most glamourous instrument?

It’s pretty obvious what I’m going to say – the cello. It’s a glamorous and sexy feeling playing the cello; I mean it looks vaguely like the shape of a woman, doesn't it? For me that was something I enjoyed: wrapping myself around the instrument. 

And what about a career in music, is it as glamourous as we might imagine?

There are two sides of it, and this is assuming you have achieved success. There’s the glamorous side with all the nice hotels and acclaim in in a concert hall and visiting many exciting destinations, and then there’s the non-glamorous side; particularly traveling with a cello. It’s horrible because the airlines don’t want something different. Whatever you've done – paid for a seat for the cello – they still will give you hassle every single time. I advise to anyone reading this to never stand behind a cellist in the check-in queue. Then there’s the jet lag, so you arrive somewhere like Sydney, Australia and next day you'll be straight in rehearsal with a nine-hour time change and having just gone on a 17-hour flight. There’s also the slog of the practice; it never ends, you’re only as good as the last performance and you've got to put those hours in. 

And then return to Chipping Camden to recuperate. What lead you to settle there?

I moved into where we are now in 1989. I came here for the quiet, just to get six or seven hours a day uninterrupted to learn new music. I found it a huge blessing and I’ve held onto that ever since. When was a student at college I used to borrow my dad’s Mini and drive out in through the Cotswolds. I just thought this is the most beautiful part of the world and really, I still think that.

Finally, I must mention your dedication to Leyton Orient. You’re a famously loyal fan.

One of my friends – a brilliant pianist – came from Leyton and we used to drop him home on the Saturday afternoon. I was probably around 11 and I saw this crowd going down the high street. I was curious and it was their one and only season in the First Division. I used to go on Saturday afternoons, and they would always be losing, and I started to feel very sorry for them. Once you get a love that’s it; you can’t change.

And is that the same for the instrument? Are there other instruments that you have enjoyed playing? 

Well, I dallied with the trumpet for a while, but we used to live in a block of flats, and it didn’t go down to well. Cello has always been the one for me.

Julian Lloyd Webber created the 30 Under 30 Project last year in collaboration with Classic FM. This year the musicians are featured on Classic FM online and six candidates of particular merit have been invited by Sky Arts, Classic FM and Julian to appear on the Sky Arts Special Classic FM's Rising Stars to be broadcast on Saturday 20 November at 9pm on Sky Arts, Freeview Channel 11.

For more information on the musicians visit:


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