12 December 2022

You never hear anybody say I wish I didn't play a musical instrument!

By Lark Music

World-renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber continues to champion music education and talks to Lark Music about his latest work. He has also got plenty of news for 2023!

You never hear anybody say I wish I didn’t play a musical instrument! In fact, people often tell me that they regret never having learned to play music ­­– and that’s something which is much easier to do when you’re young.

I wish I could say that music education in schools is improving but, to be honest, I can’t. In England, it is so patchy and so hit and (mostly) miss. In some schools, where a head teacher wants to take music on board, children will have an opportunity, while so many schools just cut, cut, cut because music is often the first thing to go in a budget review. This is so short-sighted as, many times, I have witnessed schools that put music at the heart of their curriculum progress from ‘special measures’ to ‘good’ right through to ‘outstanding’. We need to re-examine the whole situation as, at present, the thinking is not joined-up.

All children deserve access to music, not just the ones whose parents can afford to pay for expensive lessons and even more expensive instruments. During my time as Principal at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire an Arts Council representative came in to talk about the lack of diversity in classical music. I said that young people from all backgrounds need access to music from childhood.

Iyad Sughayer 35 © Kaupo Kikkas.

You can’t just click your fingers when someone is 18 and say they are ready to study music at conservatoire level if they have had very little training: music-making has to begin at school age so that young people are equipped to make an informed decision about whether it is something they want to take forward.

This is one reason why I am so passionate about highlighting and supporting young talent. Classic FM’s Rising Stars is one exciting project that I have initiated. Together with Classic FM I select a list of ‘30 under 30’ international stars on the classical music scene. We have already featured three of the Kanneh-Mason family – Sheku and Isata in 2021 and Jeneba this year.

We are now into our second year of Rising Stars. Sky Arts have come onboard and we will soon be selecting 2023’s Rising Stars and, by the time of the third series, we will have chosen 90 Rising Stars under 30!

I have no difficulty in selecting the future stars. In fact, the main problem is not including more of the incredible global talents that are out there.

Several of the 2022 Rising Stars are with the Young Concert Artists Trust, a charity I know that Lark Music supports, including the French oboist Armand Djikoloum and the Jordanian-Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer. They are very exciting musicians; they have a lot to say and they are interested in challenging repertoire. I very much admire what YCAT, led by Alasdair Tait, is doing for young musicians.

Armand Djikoloum 1 © Kaupo Kikkas

When you consider that the combined figures for classical music on UK radio are at around six million listeners a week, it is really strange that so many people still believe classical music is ‘elitist’ or for a small minority. Since when is six million people a minority?

Looking ahead to 2023

World news during 2022 has been relentlessly miserable but, now that lockdowns are over, I am looking forward to 2023! I have several new projects including a new series of concerts together with my wife and fellow-cellist, Jiaxin, where we tell the extraordinary story of Bach’s cello suites through words and music. The suites were not played for 200 years until, in 1889, the then 13-year-old cellist Pablo Casals discovered a tattered copy of the sheet music in a Barcelona second-hand bookstore. He began to play them in public, but it took about 25 years before he could be persuaded to record them. Once he did, everyone followed and they are now among the most iconic of all cello pieces.

My wife Jiaxin has always loved playing the suites and I introduce her playing three of them alongside Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy for Cello which he wrote for me and I first played at Wigmore Hall in 1987. The concert is informal and light-hearted – and it also gets me back ‘on the road’ which, having done it for so long, is something I really miss!

Details at www.julianlloydwebber.com

New appointments

I have recently become Patron of two wonderful specialist music schools. The Purcell School is going from strength to strength and I can’t wait to get involved and Guildford County School is the last surviving specialist music state school which, unsurprisingly, is rated ‘outstanding’!

Tune in

More Classic FM’s Rising Stars with Julian Lloyd Webber at classicfm.com or visit Sky Arts, which showcases six of the young Rising Stars alongside the 12 Ensemble which was filmed at LSO St Luke’s, an 18th-century Grade I listed church. Music ranges from Mendelssohn and Mozart, Schumann and Schubert, Bittencourt and Boccherini.