Julian Lloyd Webber talks to Shelley Carter about his role at Birmingham Conservatoire, how he came to terms with a career-ending condition and why the city’s ‘world class’ musical offering defies its size
Widely regarded as one of the UK’s most successful classical musicians of a generation, Julian Lloyd Webber was left devastated when his playing career came to an abrupt end due to a horrible neck injury. “I just lost power in my right hand mid-performance and felt I might drop the bow,” he says. “Instinctively I knew it was bad.” With a heavy heart and after many medical consultations he accepted it was over. Ten months ago an opportunity arose at the Birmingham Conservatoire which helped fill the void. Julian accepted the role of principal and threw himself into it with the same irrepressible vigour as his playing career. “There’s no question I would have gone on playing,” he admits. “But I love bringing music to an audience, so the Conservatoire has become that.”
On his role as principal, he adds: “It was a simple decision. The organisation is spending £46million on a new state-of-the-art facility allowing us to embrace the digital age. It will be absolutely up-to-the-minute, so it’s a very exciting prospect.” Due to open in September 2017, the building in the Eastside of the city is well under way and the fine tuning stage is in full swing with Julian checking out potential technologies and systems. He’s just returned from San Francisco looking at a brand new piece of kit that will enhance the facilities. The building will knock spots off some of the most established musical organisations in the UK drawing more people into the city and boosting its already significant reputation. Julian explained: “Many music schools, even the Royal Academy, are housed in Victorian buildings that makes responding to new requirements difficult. It’s such a luxury to start from scratch.” Julian talks with incredible enthusiasm, not just for the Conservatoire but for Birmingham too. He lives in the city centre with his wife and daughter and has embraced the way of life and in terms of what Birmingham offers musically Julian thinks the city is punching way above its weight. “Birmingham is incomparable to a city of its size,” he says. “With two top class music halls – among the best in the world, not just the country – the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and its own Conservatoire, Birmingham performs musically like a capital city. The CBSO prom last year was as good as any I’ve been to. It’s a truly world class orchestra.”
Julian approaches the education side of his role with an open door policy and is eager to teach the students the practicalities of life as well as music. “It’s an important part of training. We teach the students how to get a job and we’re succeeding. Eighty-nine per cent are employed within two to three months of leaving. We teach them how to set up websites effectively and how to promote themselves properly. It’s hugely important.” Outreach is a bit of a buzzword but introducing Birmingham Conservatoire to the masses is high on Julian’s list of goals. “We have the junior Conservatoire but I’d like it to have a larger reach. We’re not a closed shop and reaching more people should be at the heart of everything we do.” As Julian joined the organisation, an outreach officer was brought in too and together they are committed to achieving this. Julian was lucky enough to have had access to music through his composer father, so was more fortunate than most in that respect, but he was never pressured into playing. “Although my brother and I have both gone into music they’re very different routes, probably a result of not being pushed.” He recognises the difference a good teacher can make as he didn’t get serious about the cello until he was aged 13 when he switched tutors. “I got a new teacher and everything changed. I dropped all other school work and began to focus.”
CITY OF SOUNDS
A fan of many forms of music, not just classical, Julian is hugely excited about the six-week City of Sounds Festival, which is both a celebration and send-off for the Conservatoire’s Adrian Boult Hall, which disappears as part of the redevelopment of the Paradise area of the city. The festival encompasses many genres including jazz, folk and classical which will recognise the history and significance of the Hall. It’s an exciting time to be in Birmingham and Julian’s here for the long haul. “It’s very exciting. I can’t think of anything that would tempt me away,” he says.