Julian Lloyd Webber gets in harmony for 'home from home' Shropshire concert
It's become something of a home from home. Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber has visited Shropshire so many times during his career that he smiles fondly whenever the county appears on his list of tour dates.
"Oh, I do love coming to that part of the world," he says. "I always enjoy myself there. I'm looking forward to our performance this evening, at St Chad's Church. I am very much looking toward to seeing my friends in Shropshire and to sharing some of my favourite English music with them."
Lloyd Webber will feature at 7.30pm this evening at the Shrewsbury town centre church with the English Chamber Orchestra.
"I have performed and recorded as soloist with the ECO for many years, but this is the first time I will have conducted them. I chose this particular programme because English music has always been dear to my heart. As well as three of our best-loved English composers, Elgar, Walton and Vaughan WIlliams, I have included pieces by some less well known composers, including one by my father, William Lloyd Webber.
"Conducting is a totally different thing to playing. In some ways, I think playing is much harder because you have to concentrate on getting the best out of your instrument. In a way, conducting is much easier after that.
"It is a joy to be conducting the ECO. They are such great professionals.
"I think my objective as conductor is to get the best possible performance. I like to bring my own interpretation to the music. I know the pieces very well because I have played them myself."
Lloyd Webber's connections with Shropshire go much deeper than his regular concert performances.
He has also helped to improve the lives of scores of youngsters in Telford through his pioneer In Harmony programme. The programme was developed in Venezuela 35 years ago and came to wider prominence five years ago. The idea was simple, to deliver social and educational benefit to disadvantaged communities by encouraging participation in music.
"There is a programme in Telford, which is very local. It is founded on the belief that music is for everyone.
"I saw what happened in the programme in Venezuela and the way that it had reached some of the poorest children in the community. It had changed the lives of both the children and their families. After hearing about it, I remember think that there ought to be something like that here."
And so Lloyd Webber founded In Harmony. He guided pilot projects in Liverpool, Norwich and Lambeth, in London, and was delighted by the results. Further projects were created, including one in Telford. The results have been remarkable, though it's not all been plain sailing.
"I think In Harmony faces some difficulties because there is no certainty of funding. Music is of great benefit to children and there have been a great number of studies that have illustrated the benefits it has. We ought to provide music for every child, it ought not to be a question of money or politics.
"The children who were part of In Harmony learned to socialise with other children because music is a collective thing. They would make music as part of a group, rather than sitting on their own. Music would also give children a reason for going to school, rather than playing truant.
"It is amazing to have seen children blossom through the simple pleasure of playing an instrument. They gain so much. Their confidence grows and that has a knock-on effect.
"I think some of the parents are equally amazed. They see their children grow and mature before their eyes. They realise that their sons and daughters are capable of more things than they might have imagined. Music helps children to unleash their potential."
Lloyd Webber has enjoyed one of the most remarkable careers of any British musician. Much loved around the world, he is the doyen of British cellists. He has created remarkable music and there have been many highlights.
"Well, I suppose the things that I look back on fondly would include recording Elgar with Yehudi Menuhin conduting. Yehudi had an association with Elgar and was a special man. It was wonderful to work with him. He radiated music. I also recorded a Dvorak concerto in the Czech hall where it was first performed. Those are the things that you dream of as a student."
Lloyd Webber grew up among music. He was the second son of William Lloyd Webber, the composer, and Jean Johnstone, a piano teacher. His older brother, Andrew, became one of the most popular composers of all times.
"I have vivid memories of growing up. We were surrounded by different kinds of music. I suppose the people who made the most impact on me were my teachers, rather than my family.
"Those relationships with teachers were crucial. always responded to teachers who tried to get the best out of me, rather than the ones who said this is how you do it. I don't think that's what good teaching is about."
- Details for Julian Lloyd Webbers concert, as conductor, with the English Chamber Orchestra this evening are available at www.shropshiremusictrust.co.uk
- See tomorrows Shropshire Star for a review of this evenings concert
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