Cellist  Julian  Lloyd  Webber

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Julian Lloyd Webber (born April 14, 1951) is the second son of the composer William Lloyd Webber and his wife Jean Johnstone (a piano teacher). He is the younger brother of the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. The composer Herbert Howells was his godfather. Lloyd Webber was educated at three schools in London: at Wetherby School, a pre-prep school in South Kensington, followed by Westminster Under School and University College School. He then won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music and completed his studies with Pierre Fournier in Geneva in 1973. 

Lloyd Webber made his professional debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, in September 1972 when he gave the first London performance of the Cello Concerto by Sir Arthur Bliss. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with a wide variety of musicians, including Yehudi Menuhin, Lorin Maazel, Neville Marriner, Georg Solti, Yevgeny Svetlanov, Andrew Davis and Esa-Pekka Salonen as well as Stéphane Grappelli, Elton John and Cleo Laine. He was described in The Strad as the "doyen of British cellists".

His many recordings include his BRIT Award winning Elgar Cello Concerto conducted by Menuhin (chosen as the finest ever version by BBC Music Magazine), the Dvořák Cello Concerto with Václav Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic, Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations with the London Symphony Orchestra under Maxim Shostakovich and a coupling of Britten's Cello Symphony and Walton's Cello Concerto with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Several CDs are of short pieces for Universal Classics including Made in England, Cello Moods, Cradle Song and English Idyll.


Lloyd Webber premiered the recordings of more than 50 works, inspiring new compositions for cello from composers as diverse as Malcolm Arnold (Fantasy for Cello, 1986, and Cello Concerto, 1989), Joaquín Rodrigo (Concierto como un divertimento, 1982) James MacMillan (Cello Sonata No. 2, 2001), and Philip Glass (Cello Concerto, 2001). More recent concert performances have included four further works composed for Lloyd Webber – Michael Nyman's Double Concerto for Cello and Saxophone on BBC Television, Gavin Bryars's Concerto in Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Philip Glass's Cello Concerto at the Beijing International Festival and Eric Whitacre's The River Cam at the Southbank Centre. His recording of the Glass Concerto with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Gerard Schwarz was released on Glass' Orange Mountain label in September 2005.

Recent recordings include his debut recording as a conductor of English music for strings 'And the Bridge is Love' (2015).

In May 2001, he was granted the first busker's licence on the London Underground.

Demonstrating his involvement in music education, he formed the "Music Education Consortium" with James Galway and Evelyn Glennie in 2003. As a result of successful lobbying by the Consortium, on 21 November 2007, the UK government announced an infusion of £332 million for music education. In 2008, the British Government invited Lloyd Webber to be Chairman of its In Harmony programme which is based on the Venezuelan social programme El Sistema. The government-commissioned Henley Review of Music Education (2011) reported, "There is no doubt that they (the in Harmony projects) have delivered life-changing experiences." In July 2011 the founder of El Sistema in Venezuela, José Antonio Abreu, recognised In Harmony as part of the El Sistema worldwide network. Further, in November 2011 the British government announced additional support for In Harmony across England by extending funding from the Department for Education and adding funding from Arts Council England from 2012 to 2015. Lloyd Webber now chairs the charity Sistema England. In October 2012 he led the Incorporated Society of Musicians campaign against the implementation of the EBacc which proposed to remove Arts subjects from the core curriculum. In February 2013 the Government withdrew its plans.

Lloyd Webber has represented the music education sector on programmes such as BBC1's Question Time, The Andrew Marr Show, BBC2's Newsnight and BBC Radio 4's Today, The World at One, PM, Front Row and The World Tonight.

In May 2009, Lloyd Webber was elected President of the Elgar Society in succession to Sir Adrian Boult, Lord Menuhin, and Richard Hickox.

In April 2014, Lloyd Webber was awarded the Incorporated Society of Musicians' Distinguished Musician Award (DMA) at their annual conference. In September 2014, the charity Live Music Now announced Lloyd Webber as its next public spokesman.

On 28 April 2014, he announced his retirement from public performance as a cellist because of a herniated disc in his neck. His final public performance as a cellist was on 2 May 2014 at the Festival Theatre, Malvern with the English Chamber Orchestra when he played the Barjansky Stradivarius cello (dated c. 1690) which he had played for more than thirty years.

In March 2015, he was announced as principal of the Birmingham Conservatoire.

Lloyd Webber received the Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum in 1998 and a Classic FM Red Award for outstanding services to music in 2005. He won the 'Best British Classical Recording' in 1986 at the Brit Awards for his recording of Cello Concerto (Elgar) with Sir Yehudi Menuhin and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Music in 1994 and has received honorary doctorates from the University of Hull, Plymouth University and Thames Valley University.

He is vice president of the Delius Society and patron of Music in Hospitals. He has been an ambassador for the Prince's Trust for more than twenty years [photo below shows Lloyd Webber with HRH Charles] and a patron of CLIC Sargent for more than 30 years.


In September 2009 he joined the board of governors of the Southbank Centre. He was the Foundling Museum's Handel Fellow for 2010. He was the only classical musician chosen to play at the Closing Ceremony of Olympics 2012.

On 16 April 2014 Lloyd Webber received the Incorporated Society of Musicians Distinguished Musician Award.

--  Note: Names which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber was in the Chicago area in November of 1995 to play the Rococo Variations of Tchaikovsky with the Lake Forest Symphony conducted by Paul Anthony McRae.  Despite a brief and hectic schedule, he graciously agreed to do the interview, portions of which were used on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago.  On this webpage, the entire conversation is presented.

The most convenient place for us was his hotel room, so that is where we met . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   We’re talking about recital records, and you’re here in Lake Forest to play a concerto.  How do you divide your career between solo recitals and concerto repertoire?

Julian Lloyd Webber:   It very much depends on how things pan out I suppose, perhaps depending on what I’m going to be recording.  Basically, I like to do a mixture anyway.  I wouldn’t only want to be playing concertos or only playing recitals.  I like doing both of them.  Perhaps the significant difference is that when you’re working with a pianist, you have as long as you like to prepare something... or at least that should be the way it is.  With an orchestra, particularly in England actually, you often just rehearse on the day of performance, which is not that satisfactory.

BD:   Will you have gotten together with the conductor beforehand to rehearse with him?

JLW:   If the conductor is prepared to do that.  There are conductors who the first time you meet them is actually on the platform of the first rehearsal, and perhaps the only rehearsal.  Thankfully there aren’t that many conductors who take that approach, but there are one or two.

BD:   Does that put immense pressure on the soloist to come completely prepared?

JLW:   [With a wry smile]  The soloist basically should always come completely prepared.

BD:   Then the other side of the question becomes does that put immense pressure on the conductor to be completely prepared for concerto repertoire?

JLW:   Yes, of course it does, but then if they don’t know your interpretation, that can be very difficult.

BD:   When you come to a piece, how much leeway do you allow yourself for interpretation?

JLW:   When you’ve worked on a concerto for a large number of years, you should have evolved an interpretation which I’m not going to say is
set, but you should certainly know what you want to do.  Therefore, I really think it’s vital to go through something with a conductor so that they know what you’re going to do.  There are very few conductors who are not interested in what a soloist wants to do, but there are some.  I have met a few.

BD:   Without naming names, are there some who are better at accompanying than conducting orchestral repertoire?

JLW:   Yes, I think that’s true.  There are some conductors who have just a special ability to accompany, and to almost read what you’re going to do.  I must say it’s a joy when you come across those.  I did a lot of work with Charles Groves in England, and Alexander Gibson was another one.  They are wonderful accompanists.  You didn’t have to say a word, and they were with you.  

BD:   Do you have any advice for conductors who want to be better accompanists?

JLW:   I sometimes feel conductors get a little bit too het up and too nervous when accompanying soloists.  Sometimes they’re so anxious to catch every little thing that they stand there rigid and tense, and end up missing everything.  The real pro conductors, the great conductors that I’ve worked with, they’re not like that.  They are almost blasé accompanying a concerto.

jlw BD:   It’s not that they’re not interested, are they?

JLW:   No, it’s not that they’re not interested, but they actually find it quite easy.  One example of a conductor who, at his best is a very great conductor, is Eugene Svetlanov.  He’s just like a glove.  He’s fits.  He’s absolutely with you, and he doesn’t seem that bothered about it at all.  I think he’s a genius actually, and I very rarely use that word.  It comes very naturally to him.

BD:   Are those the best musicians
where it comes naturally?

JLW:   Not necessarily.  Sometimes, if you really had to work at something, you can say something different to somebody who maybe hasn’t had to think about a piece at all.  It would be a very interesting question to ask someone like Yehudi Menuhin who, at sixteen made that wonderful recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto with Elgar conducting.  It seemed to come to him without thinking at all.  He could just play the violin in a wonderful way, and I wonder what he would say about that because later on, I would imagine that he had to think much more carefully about how he was doing things.  I don’t know what makes for it, but certainly, with a prodigy you get a very fresh interpretation.  There are so many of them nowadays, everywhere.  For us forty-ish kind of people it’s devastating, and record companies will pick up twelve year olds and eighteen year olds... though someone eighteen is on the scrap-heap by then, so let’s keep it at twelve.  What are we all supposed to do?

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Well, answer your question!  What are you supposed to do?

JLW:   [Laughs]  You just keep at it.  That’s the answer, but it is quite a frightening spectacle to watch.  The question really stems from this interpretation business.  How much of life can someone at that age know, and what of the compositions
particularly with the cello repertoire.  You think of great cello concertos, and many of them are very late worksthe Elgar, the Dvořák, the Schumann.  They are late works from composers who’d seen a lifetime of often not exactly very pleasant experiences.  All that goes into their music, and along comes a twelve-year old to interpret it, and you wonder how they can.

BD:   Are they doing more than just playing the notes accurately?

JLW:   This is the big question.

BD:   When you come to a new piece, how much is just technical perfection, and how much is musical thinking and artistry from the heart?

JLW:   It has to be a mixture of both.  It’s no good knowing exactly how the piece should go if you can’t play it.  You obviously have to master the notes, but it is important to have experienced life.

BD:   Put an old head on young shoulders?

JLW:   In a way.

BD:   As you come back to some of the pieces that you’ve played for years and years, do you find that your interpretation deepens each time?

JLW:   I hope so.  I don’t think you can ever reach a point where you say you know how this piece should go.  You feel that you’re getting as close to it as you can, but I hope it does deepen, and I hope it does change.  Otherwise it would be really boring to go on playing a piece exactly the same, year after year.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’ve been somewhat of a champion of new music for the cello.  When you’re presented with a piece
either world premiere or a just a recent piecehow do you decide if you’re going spend the time working on it?

JLW:   It’s very difficult because if you ask a composer for a piece of music, it’s because you’ve got to know their music a bit, and you like what they do.  But you never know what they’re going to write.  They might decide to have a sudden change of style.  In fact, as soon as I get back after this trip, I’m performing a new concerto by Gavin Bryars, which is a half an hour piece.  I’ve been looking at it while I’m here, and it looks very interesting to me.  Luckily, he hasn’t changed his style because he’s a composer whose recent music particularly I like very much.  So, I’m fascinated by this.  I have had experiences in the past where I’ve asked a composer whose music I like, to write something, and I haven’t liked the work.

BD:   You still go ahead and play it?

JLW:   Well, yes.  I certainly won’t mention the name, but there was one particular case where a composer whose music I like enormously wrote me a piece that I really didn’t feel was very good at all
nor did anybody else involved with itand I just couldn’t tell him.

BD:   So you played it the once and that was that?

JLW:   I played it once and I’ll never play it again.

BD:   Would you ask him to write something else, and hope he changes his style?

JLW:   Not in this particular case.

BD:   You mentioned that a work has to be interesting to you.  What about a piece of music makes it interesting for you to play?

JLW:   I’m a romantic at heart.  I like music that speaks to me and to other people, and I like music which is well written for the instrument.  Things are getting better in that field as far as I’m concerned, but there certainly was a period in modern music where what was being written was very much against the nature of the cello as an instrument.  It’s difficult to talk without giving examples, but a piece that had a little bit of vogue for cellists at one time was called Nomos Alpha for solo cello by Xenakis.  To me it didn’t make the best use of the instrument.  That’s all I can say.

jlw BD:   It was just ground up sounds and noises?

JLW:   Yes, playing behind the bridge and all that kind of stuff.

BD:   Despite what was produced, was it right that we explored these paths?

JLW:   Yes, but maybe we did it for a bit too long!  [Laughs]

BD:   When you give a commission, do you say anything more about the piece than just to write it?

JLW:   Yes.  What I do try to do is try to draw attention to the things in their work that I like.  I did this in the case of Gavin Bryars, and, in fact, every composer that I’ve worked with, though there haven’t been that many.  I certainly want to do more in that direction, and therefore hope that it will set them thinking in a certain way.

BD:   Do you find that they do that, or do they tell you they’ve moved on from that?

JLW:   No, it seems to have been fine with Bryars.  Malcolm Arnold [shown together with Lloyd Webber in photo at right] wrote me a solo cello piece, and I particularly said to him that there was something I liked in his Fifth Symphony, something he did at one point.  He could always write to order, and he wrote something that was absolutely like it but not the same.  I was really pleased about that.

BD:   Should it be combined on a program with Fifth Symphony and the cello piece?

JLW:   It’s actually not a bad idea, but people never seem to do things like that.

BD:   When you come to an orchestra and you’re playing a concerto, do you have any hand at all in the rest of the program that has been built around it?

JLW:   No.  Occasionally I’ve made suggestions, but basically, no.  That is always something that conductors seem to choose.  I suppose if a soloist came up with some wonderful idea involving a concerto for their instrument and a program, and a conductor happened to agree, it might work, but it’s so rare.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   This is a question I often ask singers but I rarely ask instrumentalists.  Do you change your technique at all if you’re playing in a small house or a very large house?

JLW:   Probably unknowingly you do when you have to project in a huge hall.  You probably are playing out more, but I don’t know.  Say you’re giving a recital with piano, and you’re doing a big sonata of Brahms or Rachmaninoff.  Even in a smaller room you’ll pretty much playing flat out against a concert grand piano.

BD:   Is the piano lid down, on the small peg, or all the way up?

JLW:   It depends on the pianist and the instrument.  With a sonata like Rachmaninoff’s, for example, it’s very difficult to play with a nine-foot concert grand with the lid full up.

BD:   You just get swamped?

JLW:   You just can’t compete.  The pianist has a hundred notes to every one that the cello’s got in that piece. 

BD:   I assume that try to play with a singing tone?

JLW:   Definitely!

jlw BD:   Is there some vocalism that works with this?  Can you bring a singing tone to a purely instrumental sound?

JLW:   Yes, particularly with the cello because it is such a vocal instrument.  I really try to sing, particularly when I’m playing a miniature
something like Dvořák’s Songs My Mother Taught Me, which works very beautifully on the cello.  You really do sing it through the instrument, and that’s how it should be.  Singing has to be the most natural thing, and you shouldn’t be too caught up with the bowing and the fingering.  Your technique must serve the music, obviously, but it should be aimed so that the listeners don’t hear the technique.

BD:   Right, they just hear the music.  Is there anything more that the listener should know?  Should they be instructed in cello technique, or in musical technique, or should they just come and hear the sound?

JLW:   They should come and hear it.  I don’t think that a listener needs to know the intricacies of an instrumental technique.  That’s what our job, the musician’s job, and they don’t want to be bogged down with that.

BD:   But you don’t mind being bogged down with it?

JLW:   [Laughs]  Well, I wish I didn’t have to be.  I wish I could just sit and play like Menuhin did when he was a prodigy, without thinking about it at all.  It would save an awful lot of practice.

BD:   Is the music that you play for everyone?

JLW:   Yes!  I’ve always believed that.  I think it’s very important.  I don’t have much time for classical musicians
and particularly some criticswho believe that music should be some sort of tiny minority thing which is their preserve and nobody else’s.  The comparison was made to me once about kinds of winethat as soon as the wine is put into a supermarket, the wine connoisseur would say, This can’t be any good.  There is an element of that attitude in some classical music circles, which I really disapprove of.  Rachmaninoff suffered from that.  People said that the Second Piano Concerto can’t actually be any good because too many people like it, and I think that is so wrong.

BD:   Does there come a time when composers, or even performers, start to pander to the audience and turn the whole thing on its head?

JLW:   Then that has gone too far, and that’s wrong as well.  Today there are a lot of things going on in music in that way which I really don’t like to see, where things have no longer much to do with the music, but it’s about some hype or promotion of a particular artist.  But we live in a very difficult world for classical music, and it is a very difficult time.  There’s not so much money about, particularly in Europe, and I believe here as well.  There’s not so much public funding now.  Orchestras are finding it difficult.  There’s so much entertainment.  In this hotel room where I’m sitting, there’s sixty TV channels.  People have got so many alternatives, so in order to get them to go out to a concert, there seems to have to be something different or something special.  You can’t just put on a Mozart piano concerto and a Beethoven symphony and expect everybody to come out like they used to.  They did come for those programs, but now it needs a certain combination of artists and orchestra, or composers.  It just has to be right, and if it’s not right you’re going to have an empty hall.

BD:   Do you need the dash of pizzazz or not?

JLW:   Maybe you do, and that’s why it’s a very difficult time, because people are tempted to go for gimmicks, and artists are tempted to be gimmicky to attract attention.

BD:   [Being hopeful]  Presumably, though, one of your sixty channels is going to have a concert from some place, or even one of your videos!

JLW:   But not among the things I looked through this afternoon.  There was a tiny snatch of The Three Tenors.  As for classical music on television, I don’t know quite what the situation is here, but in England now all we ever get in terms of a concert is a few of the Proms in the summer
because that’s a BBC thingand a few programs get shunted out on our second BBC channel late at night, and that’s about it.  You hardly see any classical music at all.  I’ll give you one rather horrifying example.  I recently recorded a disc which, I suppose, the very least you could say was ‘light classics’.  It’s a very light disc called Cradle Song, and it was inspired by my young son.  I actually wrote a little piece on it.  For the first time in my life I wrote something, which is a very sentimental, very light lullaby.  I haven’t told this story anywhere else, but I think it’s relevant to what we were talking about.  I was asked to appear on the charity program called Children in Need.  It is a huge event that happens once a year on the BBC.  The whole of an evening is given over to various things.  All kinds of people come on and they do something, and people contribute money.  They raise a lot of moneymillions of poundsto this charity, which is something I believe in anyway.  They contacted me when they read in the paper something about this disc, and they said they wanted me to do it.  So I thought this is really good, I’d like to do it.  Then recently I heard that they don’t want it because they think it’s too serious.  Obviously your (radio) listeners haven’t heard this particular thing, but if they think it’s serious, I really give up.  I find it very demoralizing and very depressing because they’re not prepared to trust their audience.  They really think people are going to switch off for a piece which is really not dissimilar to the Brahms Lullaby that we all know and love.  It’s a worrying situation.

BD:   Then how can we get more audiences into the concert hall?

JLW:   I don’t know.  Just to touch on that point again, the people in the media are not brave enough, and they insult their audiences when they underestimate people, because when the BBC used Puccini’s Nessun Dorma for the World Cup when it was held in Italy in 1990, it was a huge success.  That was a No. 1 single in the pop charts
Pavarotti singing Nessun Dormabecause it was the TV theme.   But the ITV theme was some usual old pop thing, and nobody wanted it!  So it proves that if classical music can be heard by a wide number of people, they like it, and what’s more, they’ll go out and buy it!  But constantly the media think that people don’t want to know about classical music.

BD:   We’re kind of dancing all round this, so let me ask the question straight on.  What is the purpose of music?

JLW:   I don’t know if it has a single purpose.  Music should move people; it should have the power to arouse different emotions in an audience; but finally, it should be something that is uplifting.  It’s a glimpse of ‘the other side’, a glimpse of spirituality.  If man can produce some of the greatest music, it’s actually a proof of some kind of divinity
to me anyway.  It shows that we are in touch with a higher force, because all the great composers have said that when they’ve been writing at their best they felt inspired.  It’s not something that wholly came from them.  Mozart used to say that he was completely possessed.  He didn’t know what he was writing, it was just coming.  He was like a channel.  Music has many purposes.  It can be funny; it can make people laugh; it can be tribal; it can arouse all kinds of devilishness notions; but primarily the great classical music should inspire.

BD:   You mentioned that the composers are inspired when they write.  Are you, the performer, inspired when you perform?

JLW:   On a very lucky day, if you’ve done all the preparation, and the conditions are right, and everything is fine, you can be, yes.  If you’re open, you can be inspired to do things which are beyond your everyday ability.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   We’ve talked a bit about concertos and we’ve talked a little bit about solo.  Do you also play chamber music?

JLW:   I’ve been trying to play more recently because I haven’t done that much in the past.  

jlw BD:   Quartets are balanced well, but it seems like the cellist gets a bit lost in trios.

JLW:   Really???  Oh, I don’t know.  I’ve recently been doing the Brahms Clarinet Trio a little bit, and that has a wonderful cello part.

BD:   Oh, the musical lines are wonderful!  It just seems that the cellist gets swallowed up by the piano at times.

JLW:   What a shameful situation!  I’ll have to put a stop to that.  [Both laugh]  Basically, the soloist’s life is very lonely in a way.  In fact, just before I came down here I gave a recital in Toronto.  My pianist came over from England, and it was really just nice to see him, because I’d been over here for a week or so on my own, and it is nice to actually make music with musicians you know and respond to.  It can be more satisfying than going and playing concertos with the conductor you meet the day before.

BD:   Perhaps a dangerous question.  Do you like being a ‘wandering minstrel’?

JLW:   Yes, I do in a way.  There are times when it can be difficult.  When I first started, I went to some fairly strange countries.  I remember a trip to Bulgaria was one of the first, and I really didn’t like it at all.

BD:   Were you in Sofia?

JLW:   I went to Sofia and a few other places in Bulgaria, but I was working with a Bulgarian pianist and I had to prepare everything very quickly with him.  It just wasn’t a very pleasant experience, but I’m used to it now.  I think if I stayed at home in England all the time, I’d become very restless after a week or two.  [Laughs] 

BD:   Can you travel with wife and child periodically?

JLW:   My child is very young.  He’s only three and a half, so it really is a little bit too early.  He’s gone to a few things in England but he can’t sit through a concert yet.

BD:   Once he gets into school, though, the days of traveling will be over.

JLW:   Could be, yes.

BD:   A lot of the opera singers are now traveling with child and nanny

JLW:   I’ve heard about that, and they put them into local schools if they’re in a long run.  I wouldn’t want to disrupt his life like that, really.

BD:   Is a musician’s life too disrupted?

JLW:   It’s totally disrupted, which makes some kind of family-base all the more important
at least for me.  I suppose everybody’s different.  There are musicians who don’t have any attachments at all, and have gone around the world for years without having any family or live-in companion.  There are people who can do that, but it’s not for me.

BD:   [Contributing a wisecrack with a gentle nudge]  Have a girl in every port like the sailors used to!

JLW:   [Good naturedly]  Well, that wasn’t quite what I meant!  What I’m saying is goodness knows what musicians get up to when they’re on tour, but I would find it very difficult to do the job without something to come back to.

jlw BD:   In the end, though, is it all worth it?

JLW:   Oh, yes... although it can be hard work, very difficult with traveling, and particularly with the cello.  There’s always problems, always problems.  Even if you buy a seat for the instrument on the airlines, there’ll still be some kind of problem.  In coming down here from Toronto, I got on the flight, had a ticket, and came on with my hand luggage.  I’ve really got traveling down to a fine art, and everything was set.  The cases become fairly heavy, so I was put right down to the back of the plane.  Then, after settling in and putting the case up at the top, I was moved again because they said I should have been put by the bulkhead!  So you’re just moved up, round, and around the place because they can’t sort their own rules out.

BD:   So the cello is baggage, and since you’re with the cello, you become baggage???

JLW:   That’s right!  Yes, actually you’ve hit it on the head!

BD:   At least you can be high-class baggage!  [Both laugh]  As long as you’re not stowed underneath, that’s all right!

JLW:   The airlines just hate the sight of cellists, they really do.  

BD:   If it were any bigger you would have to put it as checked luggage.

JLW:   This is true.  Double bass players really have a problem.  They have to check it, I suppose, w
hich means they’d have phenomenally large and bulky cases.

BD:   Yes.  
[See my Interview with Contrabassist Bert Turetzky for his crafty solution to the problem.]  Do you ever wish you had taken up the violin or trumpet?

JLW:   [Laughing]  It would have been a lot easier, wouldn’t it?

BD:   Did you start out on cello, or move up from the violin?

JLW:   I started out on cello.  My mother tried to teach me the piano but it was a big failure with me.  She was a very good piano teacher with young children, actually.

BD:   Did you start with a quarter-size or half-size instrument?

JLW:   No, it was on a tiny one
an eighth-size.

BD:   Then as you grew, the cello had to grow and hopefully keep in proportion?

JLW:   That’s right, yes.

BD:   Tell me about the instrument you’re using now.  Is it a very special instrument?

JLW:   It’s a lovely cello.  I’ve had it now for twelve years.  It’s a Stradivarius, an early Strad.

BD:   He didn’t make many cellos, did he?

JLW:   He didn’t make so many, no.  This one was owned by a Russian cellist called [Alexandre] Barjansky, and it’s known as the Barjansky Stradivarius.  He was the cellist for whom Bloch wrote Schelomo.  He premiered that work, and he also premiered the Delius Cello Concerto.

jlw BD:   Is it then very special to play those two pieces on that cello?

JLW:   Yes.  In fact, I know he played the Delius Cello Sonata to Delius, which is a work I play a lot, and he must have played it on this cello.  It’s quite an extraordinary feeling, really.

BD:   You get a bit of the resonance of history right there.

JLW:   Yes, yes.

BD:   Is it special, the fact that you don’t have the instrument just in front of you, but you’re actually surrounding it, as if you’re cradling the instrument?

JLW:   I suppose it is, but having never played the violin, I don’t know how they feel.  The cello is a very physical instrument.  I love the look of it being played.  It really does look part of the performer, and I’ve always liked the way that you can see exactly how the sounds are made and the notes that are made.  Anybody could see that, and that makes it a very immediate instrument.  With a piano, you’re sort of sideways on, and unless you happen to be right in line with the keyboard, you can’t really see what’s going on.  With a cello, you can immediately see how the sounds are made and how the notes are produced.

BD:   Do you play differently for microphone than you do for a live audience?

JLW:   [Hesitates]  No... the only reason there’s a hesitation is that when things are really close-miked
which often they areI would not try to really smash something out, as perhaps I would in a concert hall.  But apart from that, no.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you have any advice for young cellists coming along?

JLW:   It’s a very crowded profession, but then it always has been, and it’s a difficult time now for classical music, as I said earlier.  I suppose my biggest advice to any young cellist aiming for a solo career would be to try and be imaginative about repertoire, and about perhaps keep trying to get some composers to write specifically for them.  The times when we can all just go round playing 
Dvořák and Schumann are perhaps getting increasingly difficult.

BD:   I assume you’ve spent little or no time just being a cellist in an orchestra, but is that a completely different kind of experience?

JLW:   It’s totally different!  I haven’t played in an orchestra since I was at college as a student, and I used to get very frustrated after orchestral practices because I was trying to work on my technique a lot at that time.  This is not in any way insulting orchestral players, because it’s basically a different art, it’s a different thing, but I used to feel my technique had been dirtied in some way.  I couldn’t hear what I was personally doing in the orchestra.  Being one of a section, I’m sure that my technique was sloppier because there’s nothing like being put on the spot playing a concerto.  I felt that I had to do fifteen-minutes of scales to just clean up.  I didn’t really enjoy playing in an orchestra.

BD:   But you do enjoy playing solo?

JLW:   Very much so.

BD:   Are you at the point in your career that you want to be now?

JLW:   That’s a very difficult question to answer.  There’s so many more things that I want to do, and so much I feel that I haven’t done.  I want to get more music written for the instrument, and I want to play new pieces that I’ve helped originate.  That would be the main thing that I really want to do.  I haven’t played enough in America.  My career has basically been European-based, and America is a good country for me.  There’s no language problem, and I’ve always enjoyed the audiences here.  I find them very receptive and very quiet, very well behaved on the whole... not coughing, and really attentive.

BD:   Hurray for us!

JLW:   There has been a great interest in classical music here.  The orchestras are wonderful, and there is a great tradition here in classical music.

BD:   Have some of the pieces that you have commissioned been taken up by other cellists?

JLW:   Very few.  I play the Concierto by Rodrigo, which he wrote for me, and I don’t think many other cellists have played it.

jlw BD:   Would it give you a good feeling to be taken up by others?

JLW:   Oh, yes, it would do very much.  There’s no point in having a piece that only one person plays.  The pieces that were written for Rostropovich [shown together with Lloyd Webber in the photo at right] suffered a little bit first by the fact that he played them so wonderfully.  He played them so marvelously that people were quite scared of taking them up.  But now it’s just a question of time.  The good pieces probably do come through in the end.  He has a wonderful legacy to look back on.  He’s inspired those great works for the cello, and I must say I’m quite green with envy at that.  It must be a marvelous feeling to know that you’ve inspired five works from Benjamin Britten, two from Shostakovich, Prokofieff, Lutosławski... all really great music.

BD:   But now is your time, and you’re inspiring.  You’ve got the Rodrigo...

JLW:   Yes, and I’m very optimistic about this new Gavin Bryars piece.  I like the solo Fantasy Malcolm Arnold wrote for me, very much.  That’s a good cello piece, but I’d like to do more, and it’s a better climate for someone like me now.  There are far more composers around now that I’m interested in getting something from.

BD:   Tonality is making a come-back?

JLW:   Tonality is making a come-back, and people are more ready to listen to music on its own terms, and judge a piece as to whether it’s actually a good piece, and not worry too much about the particular style or method that it’s written in.

BD:   There’s a camaraderie amongst musicians, especially chamber musicians.  Is there a special camaraderie amongst cellist?

JLW:   It seems to me to be!  There’s some wonderful cello festivals around the world.  There’s one that’s held every couple of years in Manchester in England, and cellists seem to congregate there and get on very, very well.  They’re certainly fascinated in the music for the instrument, and it is a little bit like a club!

BD:   Is it impressive at all that someone such as Toscanini was a cellist?

JLW:   Not only Toscanini, also Barbirolli started off as a cellist.  It’s quite interesting, yes.

BD:   Do you have any conducting ambitions of your own?

JLW:   Not really, no.  I’ve done a tiny few little things.  I did a tour in England where I conducted the Elgar Serenade for Strings as the first thing in a program, which I really enjoyed.  I don’t know whether the orchestra did, but I really loved it.  But you really need to study something like that, and my time is best spent with the cello at the moment.

BD:   Thank you for coming to Lake Forest for these concerts.  I hope you’ll be back to the Chicago area again.

JLW:   It’s a pleasure, and I certainly hope so, yes.


© 1995 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Lake Forest, Illinois, on November 16, 1995.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB three months later.  This transcription was made in 2017, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.