Showing posts with label Julian Lloyd Webber. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Julian Lloyd Webber. Show all posts

Monday, April 09, 2018

Under African skies

It's a big day here in rainy old London. Tonight the Queen Elizabeth Hall reopens after a two-and-a-half-year closure for refurbishment, and the lucky orchestra doing the concert is Chineke!, the UK's first BAME orchestra founded by the indomitable Chichi Nwanoku. I can't go, because Garsington Opera's Learning and Participation Department is a finalist for an International Opera Award for Silver Birch and so we are trooping off to the Coliseum for the awards evening. Wish us luck. Meanwhile, if, like me, you can't attend the Chineke! concert, you can hear it on BBC Radio 3.

And you can also hear a fabulous new CD from the pianist Rebeca Omordia, which explores the music of three composers from her father's native Nigeria. I loved it to pieces. The music is gritty, passionate, imaginative, startling and irresistible by turns - highly recommended. I asked Rebeca to do an e-interview to tell us more about it.

JD: Please tell us why you wanted to make this CD?
RO: I was always interested in exploring my Nigerian heritage (I was born in Romania to a Romanian mother and a Nigerian father) and the idea of the CD emerged in 2013 after cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, whom I was working as duo partners with, suggested I investigated if there was any music by Nigerian composers. After a long research I discovered a very interesting piano repertoire which I gradually started including in my recitals. The music was very well received and I decided to record it in order to make it known to a wider audience. 

JD: What's been your own path so far? And what does it mean to you, personally, to be performing and recording African music?
RO: My path hasn't always been smooth. I was born during Ceaușescu's regime when inter-racial marriages where not socially accepted and I had to put up with a lot of discrimination as a child, especially in school. I was fortunate to have very supportive parents who helped me overcome it and I somehow managed to integrate in a society that never really accepted me. In Nigeria, you must claim your father's country, so I am regarded as Nigerian, which always gave me a strong moral support as well as a strong feeling of claiming my African roots. Things changed after the Fall of Communism and gradually the society became more tolerant. 

I came to the UK in 2006 when I received a scholarship to study Masters at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and from that moment, my life changed. I was fortunate to win the 'Delius Prize' in 2009 which opened the collaboration with cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. We started working as duo partners in 2012, touring the UK, performing at the Wigmore Hall and on live broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 and so, I was never reminded that I was 'different' but I learnt to embrace it. The African recording became very much a personal project for me where I was embracing my African roots with all its cultural beauty and diversity. The title of my CD is 'EKELE' which in Igbo language means 'Greetings' and it is my way of bringing greetings from my father-land to the western world.

JD: How did you decide on the programme? 
RO: Deciding on the programme for the CD took a long time. Apart from Fred Onovwerosuoke's 24 Studies in African Rhythms, none of the music has been published so it took months and years to gather the material, and then, I had to select what would be best for a first CD. I hope that the recording will raise enough interest and the music will eventually be published. 

Rebeca Omordia
Photo: Silas Eziehi

JD: You've chosen music by three composers - Ayo Bankole, Fred Onovwerosuoke and Christian Onyeji. Please tell us a little more about them? (I was horrified to read that the brilliant Ayo Bankole was murdered...) 
RO: The music of Ayo Bankole dominates the disc and he is one of the most prolific and probably the most famous Nigerian composers to date. After studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London as well as at Cambridge University, he returned to Nigeria in 1966 where he was appointed Senior Producer in Music at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and later became lecturer in music at the School of African and Asian Studies, University of Lagos. His early death, in 1976, at the age of 41, cut his career short  (him and his wife were murdered by his half- brother). As a composer, Ayo Bankole is renowned for his originality of blending elements of traditional Yoruba music with western classical music in his works. 
Award-winning Fred Onovwerosuoke (or FredO, as his friends call him) was born in Ghana in 1960 to Nigerian parents and was raised and studied in Ghana as well as in Nigeria. He received a scholarship and went to study composition at Principia College, MO, in the United States, where he is now residing. FredO became internationally renowned for the use of his chant 'Bolingo' in Robert De Niro's feature film 'The Good Shepherd'. The '24 Studies in African Rhythms' for piano is his most known work which has been recorded by various international artists. In 1994 he founded the St. Louis African Chorus, now renamed African Musical Arts Inc.,  to help nurture African choral music as a 'mainstream repertoire for performance and education'. 
Christian Onyeji, the youngest of the three composers (born in Nigeria in 1950), is Professor of Music at the University of Nigeria, Nssuka, and he specialises in the ethnomusicological research of African art music. 

JD: What qualities in the music itself stand out as particularly African in character? 
RO: In Nigeria, there are three main ethnic tribes (Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa) and people are defined by the tribe they come from, therefore, the music of each composer has the peculiarities particular to the music of the tribe the composer comes from. 
Ayo Bankole was Yoruba and we can find many traditional Yoruba melodies and rhythms in his piano works. Even though his music might sound European (especially his Piano Sonata no. 2), it is easy to detect an African influence. To Nigerian ears, his Yoruba tunes are easily recognisable. 
Christian Onyeji is Igbo and he explores the musical language specific to the traditional Igbo music. As an ethnomusicologist, he developed the 'drummistic piano style', which is characteristic to his piano works.  
'FredO' travelled all over Africa where he gathered material which he transcribed and used in his 24 Studies in African Rhythms. Each Study is inspired by the dance or the song of a different African country. Study no. 1 'Okoye' refers to the first day of the Igbo calendar 'Orie' that marks the 'Market Day' which causes reason for celebration.

JD: What would you say are the main challenges facing classical composers in African countries today? 
RO: Classical music is not widespread in Africa and most people still don't have access to it, so it is very difficult for composers to make a living as musicians, not to mention becoming internationally renowned. Most of them are lecturers, working in universities, and hoping their works will one day be discovered. The Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) is doing a great work promoting classical music. They run the national conservatoire of Nigeria, giving young people the opportunity to learn music at a very high standard - MUSON School of Music has produced internationally renown artists, including pianists Glen Inanga and Sodi Braide, and tenor Jo Oparamanuike who has now returned to Nigeria and runs the Vocal Department of MUSON School of Music. MUSON Symphony Orchestra gives regular concerts at Agip Recital Hall in Lagos, concerts which have a very good attendance. Their repertoire includes orchestral works by Nigerian composers which are a constant presence in their concert programmes.

JD: As an artist of international reputation with roots in Nigeria, do you feel you have a personal mission to get this music 'out there' and help it achieve the recognition it deserves? 
RO: I have been promoting Nigerian classical music ever since I discovered it and I hope my CD 'EKELE', the first CD of its kind ever released in the UK, will be a step forward for African classical music to gain international recognition. 

JD: How do you feel about the current explosion of equality awareness in the music field? What's your view on achievements to date, how much further there is to go and how the change of awareness can lead to real change? 
RO: We are living in a time when equality and diversity are more than just box-ticking in the classical music world. The tables are turning with 'diversity' and we are seeing young musicians from diverse backgrounds making their mark in the classical music scene. Sheku Kanneh-Mason and the Chineke! Orchestra are evidence of how powerful their impact has been in bringing a radical change to the classical music industry. 

JD: Do you have plenty more African repertoire up your sleeve for us to hear and enjoy after this disc? What would be your recommendations for further listening? 
RO: Besides piano music there are many songs and chamber music. There was a plan in 2013, while I was still playing with Julian Lloyd Webber, for Julian and I to perform some of the chamber music at the Africa Utopia Festival in Southbank Centre. Sadly, his injury prevented this from happening. 
Composer Fred Onovwerosuoke has done amazing work as the founder of African Music Publishers (AMP), in St. Louis, USA, creating a platform of production and worldwide distribution of scores and recordings of music by African composers. In addition to his own works, we'll find available music by  Nigerian composer Akin Euba and Ghanaian composer Joseph H. K. Nketia. 

JD: You've recently been to Nigeria on tour - how did it go? 
RO: I have a large family in Nigeria whom I visited many times but this was the first time I performed there and I had the most amazing reception. In Nigeria, you claim your father's country and I was welcomed as 'the daughter of the land'. It was beyond my expectations and I truly felt at home. The Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) was the main organiser and I was impressed with how well everything was planned and how smoothly everything went. There are always unexpected things that can occur on a tour but this time everything was just right. The audience was super enthusiastic and they made me feel like a star. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Building the future in Birmingham

Lloyd Webber with a young musician from In Harmony, Liverpool
It’s all go at Birmingham Conservatoire. There's a new £57m building nearly ready for next academic year, state-of-the-art technologies to open up music education to the world – and a launch in the form of a Royal Gala concert on 11 March 2018, which the conservatoire has announced will be conducted by the CBSO’s own music director, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. The college's new home includes a 500-seat concert hall and a 150-seat recital room, an experimental projects room, a jazz club, an organ studio and 100 practice rooms, as well as some remarkable digital developments. 

I caught up with the conservatoire’s head, Julian Lloyd Webber, who assumed the post in 2015 after having to bring his cello career to a close, to ask him about the challenges facing an institution on the brink of what should be a historic breakthrough, yet at a time of enormous national uncertainty. But the main challenge is not Brexit, says Lloyd Webber: instead, it is a national education system that fails the creative side of life...

JD: Julian, how’s the progress on the new building?

 JLW: It’s manic at the moment. From the outside it almost looks complete now. There’s still a lot of work to do inside, but we’re promised it’s all on schedule. We’re a little bit nervous because we know we’re going to have a great, great building and we have to go in there and make sure everything is working properly. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be here.

JD: The, er, Walk of the Valkyries preview on Youtube is most impressive. The new facilities look state-of-the-art.

JLW: It really is. The whole place is built around a “digital core”. In practice what it means is that any room in the conservatoire can be linked with any other room. So if you’re giving a class it can be relayed to someone in a practice room five floors up. Everything is interconnected.

A lot of it is about being able to do live classes outside, to relay and receive streaming live. Already we have a Soweto project Arco, run by our head of strings, Louise Lansdowne, who comes from South Africa and has created this programme, which is just growing and growing. We had Sheku Kanneh-Mason come in to do a recital which was shown live to our students in Soweto, so already we’re starting – but in the new building you’ll be able to do that anywhere and at any time.

JD: It’s great that Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is going to conduct the conservatoire orchestra's royal gala. Does this represent a strengthening link between the institution and the CBSO?

JLW: The conservatoire opens to students on 25 September and we’ll be doing quite regular concerts from soon after that, with quite a lot of broadcasts. We open officially with our royal patron, Prince Edward, at a gala concert in the main hall with our orchestra and Mirga has agreed to conduct it. It’s good for the city and I think it’ll be wonderful for the students. And it shows her interest in music education – she’s pretty keen on working with the conservatoire. 

We already have a very strong link with the CBSO – possibly a closer link than any other conservatoire with any symphony orchestra. A lot of their principal players teach in the conservatoire; we have an arrangement where sometimes our students can play along with the CBSO in rehearsal; and also we have showcases where our students play at Symphony Hall just before their concerts, twice a year with the orchestra and twice a year with our pianists. Many of our students are in the CBSO Youth Orchestra. I think the links are closer than anywhere else. It’s a great opportunity for the students to be playing alongside people of that level.

An envisioning of the new-look Adrian Boult Hall

 JD: What other ‘USPs’ do you want to develop further?

JLW: When I first came in I was expecting to have to make changes, but I’ve been really impressed with the heads of department. The piano standard is extremely high – for instance, one student has just been accepted for the Van Cliburn Competition, which is difficult to get into. Some of them are so good, really good, but what this brings me to, which I think is a USP for the conservatoire, is this: they are friendly, they collaborate and they try to help each other. I think that’s an atmosphere we have which is very special. Colleges can be very competitive. We’re competitive, but some institutions encourage that competitiveness and sometimes almost encourage students to compete against each other. We don’t. We try to encourage them to help each other, which is quite a different ethos.

We have had a pretty hard time at the end of the old building’s life – it felt unloved and uncared for in the middle of a building site. It hasn’t been easy. We lost our main concert hall, so this season we’ve been going out into the city to play, which in many ways has been a good thing and a real learning curve for students. Because we haven’t had a hall to give orchestral concerts in, we’ve been going to lots of different venues around Birmingham, including the Town Hall and Symphony Hall. I think there really is a spirit here of pulling together and getting down to the job of making music as best we all can, and I want to carry that spirit into the new place. It’s a completely different kind of building – bigger, more open, state of the art – but I want to keep that community spirit.

JD: One hears that you’re an extremely hands-on principal, always there and interested in everything…

JLW: For me it’s a natural extension to what I’ve always done. I didn’t particularly want to go into conducting when I had to stop playing the cello. I’ve always been involved in music education with Sistema, In Harmony, etc. My father taught at the Royal College of Music for many years and became director of the London College of Music, so that side of it feels very much in the blood. 

I can’t get to as many concerts as I’d like because there’s so much going on here! We have a great jazz department – we offer degree courses in jazz, which is quite unusual – and the standard is very, very high, with people coming from all over the world for them. We had a whole string of concerts at the end of last term and a concert at BirminghamTown Hall where they launched the conservatoire's Ellington Orchestra. I had so much on that I nearly didn’t go, but I was extremely glad that I did because they were so superb. It was really one of the best things I’ve heard.  

I try to be hands-on and I try to care for the students, because the music profession is tough, it costs a lot of money now for students to go to conservatoire and I feel a hundred per cent on their side. I want to help them as much as I can.

Julian Lloyd Webber in Birmingham

JD: So all these wonderful possibilities are opening up, there’s this fantastic new building…and then along comes Brexit. What do you think the main challenges are going to be, specifically for the conservatoire but also for music education in this country generally?

JLW: You said Brexit?

JD: Yep…

JLW: There was a sudden bleep on the line.

JD: Maybe someone’s censoring us!

JLW: Well, Brexit…It’s kind of impossible to know what exactly is going to happen. I’ve tried not to be pessimistic and decide the whole world has ended. The Erasmus exchange programmes we’ve had have been brilliant and I would hope and pray that they continue. But we have a huge number of students from China and we’re developing the relationships with Japan and Korea – we have a lot of far-eastern students. To be honest, I’m more concerned about the state of the UK’s music education system than about Brexit. 

That’s because we can only reflect, in conservatoires all over the country, the students that are coming through. Of all those countries in the Far East, I can’t name one in which music education isn’t absolutely the norm. Children learning music is a normal thing; in families that’s what children do. That’s increasingly reflected in the standard of what they’re producing. But here, with the EBacc and taking arts subjects out of the curriculum, we will pay the price for that. I think we already are.

That concerns me more than anything else at all, because it’s so hard to bring these things back. There’s a knock-on effect through the whole profession, with peripatetic teachers deciding not to do that for a job because there’s no work. That is the thing that really, really concerns me. We’ve been around a while, this country; we can deal with Brexit and I cannot believe that we will not be working with students and people in Europe, so I haven’t been as pessimistic as everyone else. That doesn’t mean I think it’s a great idea, and the whole situation with visas could be a nightmare. But I think we will survive it and I think ways will continue for us to do a lot of business in Europe.

JD: How much can the Conservatoire do to encourage music education at grassroots level?

JLW: We’re trying to do that. Richard Shrewsbury came in at the same time as me, July 2015, as learning and participation manager, which we didn’t have before. He’s full of ideas and now we’re working with over 3,000 school students. These things cost money, of course, and we don’t have as much as we would like, but he’s doing an absolutely brilliant job. 

Now we’re trying to work with the music hubs, we’re going into schools and we’ve just had a competition for Shakespeare Week among schools all over the region, composing a piece based on Shakespeare works. We need to do this, we need to be filling the gap the government has created – and I think that applies to all conservatoires. I think we have a duty to do it. By definition it’s only a drop in the water, though it still is a drop. But I think the core responsibility for music education has to lie in the national curriculum. Why should the whole state school sector be deprived of music?

JD: Last but by no means least, what’s your long-term plan for the Birmingham Conservatoire?

JLW: We’re going to have the best building and the best facilities and we already have a stream of great visiting artists, so it’s not a question of making huge changes; it’s adding to what’s already there. We’re making judicious appointments – for instance, we’ve brought in James Galway as international chair of flute, we’ve got Catrin Finch as international chair of harp, we’ve got people coming in now who are the top and I want to continue that. I said the first time I came in to all the visiting teachers that the standard is really good already, so nobody needs to be worried – but I want to make sure it goes on and that we bring in the best that we can and therefore attract the best students that we can. We want to make it the best.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sad news: Julian Lloyd Webber must end his performing career

A statement from Julian's press agent informs us:

Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber announced today that he has been forced to stop playing due to a herniated disc in his neck which has reduced the power in his right arm.  His final performance as a cellist will be on 2 May at the Forum Theatre, Malvern with the English Chamber Orchestra.

Lloyd Webber said: “I am devastated. There were so many exciting plans that cannot now come to fruition. I have had an immensely fulfilling career and feel privileged to have worked with so many great musicians and orchestras but now I have to move on.

I have no intention of enduring a forced retirement though. I would like to use the knowledge I have gained through my life as a musician and an educator to give back as much as I can to the music profession which has given me so much over the years.

I have just completed two new recordings which will be released later this year but after 2 May my cello will fall silent.  I now need time to reflect and to consider this sudden and distressing life-changing situation and there will be no further comment at this time".

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The other Lloyd Webber

That was Aurora by William Lloyd Webber - the most substantial piece of orchestral music, as far as we know, by the father of Andrew and Julian. His centenary falls this year, on 11 March, and there's to be a big celebratory concert that day in St Martin-in-the-Fields, led by Julian. I've been exploring William's music and, in short, am quite in love with it. The other day I had a good chat with Julian about life with his father and the legacy of William's music - personified by his influence on Andrew.

I also had a wonderful talk with John Lill, who knew the family extremely well as a young man, and as I'd like this celebration to be an ongoing thing, I will post that interview here a little closer to the anniversary date. In the meantime, here is my introduction to William Lloyd Webber in today's Independent. Enjoy.

Monday, April 04, 2011


Music education in the UK is facing a shaky future due to financial cutbacks. Despite an apparently positive response from central government to Darren Henley's recommendations in his official report, local authorities have already begun to slash their music services and budgets for music teaching. Some are putting fees for instrumental tuition up to levels way beyond the recommended MU rates, pricing the non-privileged out of the market. This discrepancy between apparent central intent and what's really happening "on the ground" needs to be recognised and spotlighted. And it needs noticing now. 

I, for one, don't want to see music-making in the UK barred to those who can't afford to pay for lessons. Yet while authors jumped forward with alacrity and tough words about the iniquities of closing libraries, and were instant fodder for headlines, even the most prominent musicians seem to lack suitable outlets to speak out. An entire musical country has therefore been feeling voiceless and hopeless. 

Enter JDCMB. I've asked some of the prominent British musicians I know to please consider voicing their concerns via my site and I'll be running their responses throughout the week ahead. Today we begin with no less a team than Tasmin Little, Barry Douglas and Julian Lloyd Webber. 

"My point is short and far from sweet.  If we do not keep music education high on our agenda, it is not just the current generation of children who will be deprived of profound experiences which can affect their whole lives, but future generations, who will wonder why they cannot understand emotions which lie deep within themselves.  

I have had so many experiences of the power of music on children of all ages, nationality and social background - from kids with communication disabilities in UK, to groups of Chinese children who have never heard a note of any live music, to young Zimbabwean children whose animated faces at their discovery of music will never leave my memory.  However, a teacher in Yorkshire emailed me recently and her words sum it all up for me:

“I also teach minority ethnic children English, and thought you would like to hear this story:  one of these children had selective mutism, and it was only when I took my guitar in to her English lesson and gave it to her to hold that she said her first sentence to me, which was 'I'd like to learn the violin'!  From that point she has begun speaking, and after I arranged violin lessons for her, it turns out that she has musical talent and is doing well.  This is the power of music!”

"We like to define society by the expressiveness and achievement of its people. OK - fine.  But in this era of cutting mercilessly, it's not 'just about the economy, stupid!' The wealthy class always hold all the cards and the rest try 'their best'; and here is an amazing example of, potentially, a whole generation of young people being barred from the fulfilment and delight of music and the arts. When all other European countries except Ireland are freezing or increasing funding, the one-time hub of the music world is cutting and imploding.  How short-sighted and how cruel. Even when I was growing up during the conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, the concerts, festivals and music education available helped sustain us. Think again, please, for the sake of your children and grand-children." 

"It is extremely frustrating when the Coalition has given its support to the importance of music in schools – having recognised the huge social benefits music brings both to children and their communities - to then discover slash-happy local authorities lagging far behind in their thinking. It is so easy to make a knee-jerk ‘cut’ to provisions for music and so hard to reinstate it later.

"Music is a universal language which brings people together and which provenly enhances children’s skills in so many other ways. There is no better way to build a ‘Big Society’ than through music – one thing EVERYONE can share together."