ONE of the world’s most celebrated cellists, Julian Lloyd-Webber, is looking forward to his return visit to Ireland.
Opening on Saturday, Jan 31, at Cork Opera House, his tour will see him perform at several of Ireland’s more intimate venues, in Portlaoise and Offaly as well as Dublin, before finishing at Tralee’s Siamsa Tíre. He recently featured on the Late Late Show, performing an arrangement of the popular classic Greensleeves with his wife Jiaxin Cheng.
Lloyd-Webber has completed a new CD with Cheng, a cellist more than 20 years his junior, whom he married in 2009. Finding a limited choice of music for two cellos, they turned to the vocal music repertoire for inspiration.
“We recorded an album of songs for two voices arranged for two cellos,” Lloyd-Webber explains. “So you sort of get two cellists for the price of one.” A second recording with Cheng is planned for the summer.
For his upcoming Irish tour Lloyd-Webber will perform a selection of solo cello showpieces with piano accompanist, Pam Chowhan. The programme for the tour is a mix of popular classics with a few lesser-known works. It includes music by Bach, Fauré, Elgar and Debussy and a work by the British composer Frank Bridge.
“Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to explore the whole range of music written for the cello. Sometimes you come across something that has been unfairly neglected. Bridge wrote some lovely music but now he is better remembered as the teacher of Benjamin Britten. I think it’s unfair. The Scherzetto I’ll be playing by him is a great virtuoso showpiece which had never been played before I discovered it in the library of the Royal College of Music.
“Then there’s a sort of family section with music by my father and brother and myself.”
Lloyd-Webber’s brother is Andrew Lloyd-Webber, composer of huge hit musicals such as Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar and Phantom of the Opera. His father, William Lloyd-Webber, was an organist and composer whose compositions were rooted in late-romanticism and somewhat out-of-place in mid-20th century England. He has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years.
That the cellist composes himself may be more of a surprise. “I have done a little composing, yes, but very rarely,” he says. “It has to be a fairly cataclysmic event, the one I’ll be playing is a lullaby I wrote for my son when he was born.”
His son, David, was the only child from Lloyd-Webber’s second marriage, to an exiled Afghan princess Zohra Ghazi. He also has an 18-month-old daughter with Cheng.
And has he written something in her honour too? “Yes,” he replies, “I have written something for her, but it hasn’t emerged yet.” Lloyd-Webber describes his upcoming round of Irish concerts as much more informal than the ones he usually plays.
“It’s a real mixture, the idea is really to show off the cello and the music for it. I introduce each piece as we go along. I read a bit from my book Travels with my Cello in the second half and I take questions and answers from the audience.”
The format is similar to that introduced by violinist Tasmin Little, another recent visitor to Cork, in her hugely popular show The Naked Violin. “I don’t know much about The Naked Violin,” Lloyd-Webber says,
“But I think it is probably quite similar in that we both believe in breaking down the barriers that might be there between the performer and the audience.”
It is a brave approach that can be very challenging for musicians. “When I first left college I was extremely unconfident about talking. It’s something you’re never taught. You’re taught all about playing but there was never anything about presenting it and that was something you have to sort of learn as you go along.
“I would have been terrified of the questions and answers part but now I look forward to that part of the evening, I get some really off the wall questions, often from children. One little girl asked me what’s my favourite string on the cello, that’s something I’d never thought about.”
Lloyd-Webber says he’s looking forward to his return to Ireland, especially to play the smaller venues that he’ll be visiting for the first time. “I’ve found Irish audiences to be so warm, with a lovely enthusiasm,” he says. “It’s such a musical nation.”
* Travels With My Cello: An Evening with Julian Lloyd Webber, begins at the Cork Opera House on Thursday, Jan 31; Civic Theatre, Tallaght, Feb1; Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, Feb 2; Dunamaise Arts Centre, Portlaoise, Feb 3; Birr Theatre, Offaly, Feb 5; and Siamsa Tíre, Tralee, Feb 6.
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