Julian Lloyd Webber celebrates his 60th birthday this year – but, as he tells Femke Colborne, there’s no time for looking back, only forward

It’s the morning after Julian Lloyd Webber’s 60th birthday concert at the Royal Albert Hall and the party is over. There’s an air of dejectedness in his voice as he describes the festivities of the night before – and perhaps the slightest hint of a hangover. ‘It was a very long concert,’ he sighs. ‘We didn’t get off the stage until 10.30pm and then we had a party at the Southbank Centre.’

I try a little light-hearted teasing about how it feels to be 60, but this doesn’t seem to lift his spirits. ‘Horrible,’ he says. ‘No, it’s all right. You don’t feel that different from being 59.’ But in truth, Lloyd Webber has an awful lot to be happy about – not many cellists can claim to have had an entire concert devoted to them at the most prestigious concert venue in the country.

Described by Lloyd Webber as a ‘very cello-centric’ evening, the celebratory concert included a number of popular works in which the instrument plays a starring role. The star-studded line-up included host Melvyn Bragg, soprano Danielle de Niese, violinist Tasmin Little and legendary jazz singer Cleo Laine. There also appeared works by Lloyd Webber’s father William, his brother Andrew and the American composer Eric Whitacre, as well as a performance from children taking part in the In Harmony project, of which Lloyd Webber is chairman.

‘I have been very fortunate as a musician and would like to give something back’

But perhaps the centrepiece of the evening was a performance by Lloyd Webber himself of the Elgar Cello Concerto, a work to which he has returned time and again throughout his long career.

‘I don’t think anyone is ever the best judge of their own playing, but I think it went well,’ he says. ‘I’ve played that work a lot, and this time I took it right back to the roots of how I think the piece should be played. It is a very gentle piece, associated with the countryside – the fast movement is the wind on the hills and is marked pianissimo all the time, even for the soloist. For me, I think it worked.’

Lloyd Webber was born in London in 1951 and began playing the cello at the age of four. His mother, a piano teacher, had previously tried to introduce him to the piano, but it was when she took him to a children’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall that the seed was really sown. ‘I spotted the cello in the orchestra and was immediately interested in it,’ he remembers.

Until he was 12, music was ‘just a hobby’, but during his teens Lloyd Webber became increasingly interested in the cello repertoire, collecting LPs and taping concerts from the radio. He began studying privately with Douglas Cameron, a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, and when he was 13 he saw Mstislav Rostropovich perform in concert – a literally life-changing experience. ‘I was blown away,’ he recalls. ‘He is to blame for me wanting to be a cellist.’

Lloyd Webber insists there was no rivalry, growing up, between him and his brother. ‘Andrew was always composing and I was performing,’ he tells me. ‘We went different ways. We are very different personalities, although of course we have some things in common.’

The importance of family to Lloyd Webber was evident in the programme for his birthday concert, which included All I Ask of You from The Phantom of the Opera as well as Benedictus for the violin and organ by William Lloyd Webber.

‘I am very blessed with my family,’ he says. ‘My father was a very shy man, very reticent, and a very talented musician. And we all know about Andrew – Phantom of the Opera is a brilliant piece of music, so it was nice to do that.’

‘Andrew was always composing and I was performing. We went different ways’

Another notable addition to the programme was a performance from youngsters taking part in In Harmony, the community development programme that uses music to bring positive change to the lives of very young children in some of the most deprived areas of England. Lloyd Webber talks with enthusiasm of his involvement in music education, and says it is something he would like to become more involved with in future.

‘I don’t want to go on playing beyond the point where I’m not as good as I used to be,’ he says. ‘I want to keep it fresh. Music is all about communication and I want to do that well, at my best. As soon as I feel I’m not at my best I would like to move into music education. I would love to be more involved with that. I just love working with young people, seeing them get so much out of music. I have been very fortunate as a musician and would like to give something back.’

But for now, the revered cellist feels he is still learning himself. ‘Who knows how long I will go on – I think the day you start thinking you know it all, you are really in trouble,’ he says, wisely.

By the end of our interview I feel sure that, once the dullness of the morning after has subsided, Julian Lloyd Webber still has a lot to look forward to.

www.julianlloydwebber.com

This article first appeared in Muso issue 53 (June/July 2011)

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