I feel I had at least five, maybe, 10 years of music making left - Bury St Edmunds bound Julian Lloyd Webber opens up to Event
One of the world’s finest, most influential classical musicians invites you on a unique trip down memory lane.
Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber talks to entertainment writer Wayne Savage about his latest concert series and the injury that forced him to call time on his career.
Clearly excited about taking audiences on a historical and musical journey through his extraordinary life, it’s somewhat bittersweet.
“Yeah, it is in one sense but I’m an optimistic person,” says Webber, who was forced to call time on his career due to a slipped disc in his neck which reduced the power in his arm.
“It’s unfortunate what happened, I feel I had at least five maybe 10 years of music making left and that’s a long time. It was a real big shock when it first happened, but since then I’ve done my first conducting CD. I’m doing things I wouldn’t have had the chance to do and you have to look at it like... You can’t sit around saying ‘now there’s nothing I can do’.
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“I’m fundamentally a musician, that means I can get involved with music education, all those kind of things - just being a cellist isn’t the only thing in life.”
Diagnosed while in the middle of a big tour with his wife and fellow cellist Jiaxin, he saw several specialists in the hope for a cure.
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“That was a very depressing time... I had a scan done, it was very clear; you could see this pressing on the nerve root. The extraordinary thing about it is I had some slight discomfort but I’ve never been in pain. That’s why I decided not to do the operation because it’s risky, we have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter...
“I saw a lot of different experts, there was only 50% chance of it working. You might go through all that and then it doesn’t work so I thought ‘nah’.”
Webber could still play gentle pieces or flat out for five minutes.
“Then I really lose the power, it feels like I’m going to drop the bow; it’s horrible. It came to a certain point last year... I had to cancel a lot of concerts. That’s when I made the decision ‘okay, I have to stop and move on to something else’. I didn’t want to be a cellist that sits around and plays The Swan for the rest of my life. I was a very strong player and you can’t be restricted to that degree.”
He will be playing a little on the latest tour though. Webber is inviting fellow cellists to bring along their own cello to perform on stage with the maestro himself. A once in a lifetime opportunity to get a mini-masterclass with one of the most successful British musicians of the last 50 years.
“The idea is if a young cellist brings their cello along I’ll do an encore with them at the end. We’ll play a little Vivaldi movement and if they want to play maybe I can give them a couple of tips. They need to bring their cello because we don’t have room in the car for two,” he laughs.
Tuesday’s concert at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, will feature music performed by Webber and his wife, together with pianist Pam Chowhan.
Part of arguably the most influential musical dynasty of modern times, Webber will recount stories and anecdotes of touring, recording sessions, concerts and TV shows alongside rare video footage of him talking and performing with the likes of Nigel Kennedy, Elton John, Katherine Jenkins, Tim Rice, Yehudi Menhuin, Joaquin Rodrigo, Cleo Laine, Stephane Grappelli and many more.
The show will also see works performed from Faure’s Elegy, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Music of the Night and Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata through to composers William Lloyd Webber, Frank Bridge, JS Bach and Philip Glass.
“It’s totally unusual, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a musician doing an evening like this before,” says Webber.
The music, for the most part, will be provided by Jiaxin who will illustrate things he’s talking about and pieces that have been really important for him during his career.
“As we go along I’ll be taking questions from the audience and showing a lot of video clips. I’ve discovered stuff I never really knew I had you. I even have one clip with Kenny Everett and I smash the cello over his head. It’s like almost being in someone’s living room, it’s going to be that kind of show.
“I’m just amazed how much stuff there is... A lot of clips with composers, performing with people like Stephane Grappelli, Cleo Laine... I think there’ll be some real surprises for people - There were things I’d forgotten I’d done.
“I had most of it (the footage). It was all on old VHS tapes which weren’t properly marked up so I had to go through hours of material. Then we whittled it down to what might work and put a montage of things together. Honestly, I’d forgotten I had any of this stuff.”
While it brought back a lot of memories, Webber wants the show to be more than that. He wants to give people a flavour of what life is really like for a musician on the road.
“That, I think, is quite unusual because concerts are always presented in quite a formal manner aren’t they, orchestra comes on stage.... There is really going to be a lot of interaction. People can ask whatever they want and I would really like to look out in the audience and see a lot of children there, that’s the sort of evening I want it to be - an introduction, a celebration of music.”
Given the circumstances, you’d forgive Webber for not wanting to look back. Not so.
“I don’t think there’s any (moments) I’m not looking forward to... There’s always going to be a ‘what if I could have gone on’. There were various plans I had which I would have loved to have done but I’m thinking ahead now. I don’t think I’ll do a tour like this again, I’m almost certain of that; but this is just a moment to maybe stop and look back with pleasure.”