Interview: Julian Lloyd Webber
M USIC education and Elgar's Cello Concerto have both played big parts in Julian Lloyd Webber's musical life. The musician is a campaigner for music education – a Nottingham branch of In Harmony, the youth music programme Julian helps lead, recently launched. And Elgar's concerto is forever linked to Julian's career.
So, it seems somehow right for Julian to come to Nottingham to perform Elgar's celebrated work with Nottingham Youth Orchestra.
He couldn't begin to know how many times he's performed the piece.
"I used to keep a count," he says. "When I started out and kept a count of everything I played everywhere. And then I thought, 'I don't see a point to this, it's rather silly'."
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But no matter how many times he goes back to it, the piece always finds ways to challenge and surprise.
"I find it's a piece that's incredibly responsive to different atmospheres. There are so many ways you can play it."
Today the piece is afforded its rightful place in the canon. But that wasn't the case when Elgar wrote it.
At the end of the First World War, people wanted a celebration.
But Elgar, shaken by war and suffering with illness, wasn't in the mood to give them one.
So instead, they got melancholy.
"I think it's why the piece took such a long time to be accepted – it wasn't what people were expecting from Elgar," Julian says.
"He was withdrawing into his private world and his private grief. The world was changed forever, and he knew it."
For Julian an interpretation of this or any other piece must include this context.
"It's so clear from the music itself really. I think it is important to know the background into which a piece is written. I try to interpret a piece as near to what I think the composer wanted as possible.
"You need to know what the composer was trying to convey."
The idea of needing to know things about music is never far off from Julian. His work on behalf of music education has been tireless.
"It's very, very easy to stop something and very hard to bring it back. We can make decisions that last generations.
"We fought long and hard to keep music in the school curriculum, and we will miss out on a lot of talent because schools won't do it. If it isn't part of the school curriculum, they will pay scant attention to it."
That creates the situation where only the richest can afford lessons.
"It reinforces what I think is a completely wrong impression that the arts are elitist."
He's seen enough youth musicians performing to dismiss talk of elitism out of hand.
"You see in the enthusiasm in which they play – the thought that the music might be elitist doesn't cross their minds," he says.
So he does what he can through his work with groups like In Harmony – and through concerts, giving the young access to the music.
"If I can inspire children and show them the way I approach the concerto," he says, "I really think we will bring something special to this."