Name: Julian Lloyd Webber
Occupation: Cellist, conductor, educator
Current events: Together with Classic FM, Julian Lloyd Webber founded the 30 under 30 Rising Stars Project and personally selected the Classically trained musicians. 6 of the musicians have now been invited for their excellence within their chosen instrumental field to participate in a Sky Arts 1 hour special, which Julian presents at 8pm 17th November 2022.
If you enjoyed this interview with Julian Lloyd Webber and would like to stay up to date with his activities, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Although I haven’t played since 2014 (a herniated disc in my neck reduced the power of by bowing arm) I remember the creative process as if it was yesterday!
I’m going to talk about recording because classical recordings are often made in only two days so the preparation and the actual process is extremely intense.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Often classical musicians will be asked to record a particular piece of music but I want to talk about the programmes that are more conceptual. I always felt that there needs to be a reason to record as there are so many existing versions oft he great classical pieces. So I was very careful when choosing my collaborators!
For instance, I had been asked to record Elgar’s Cello Concerto several times before I agreed to do it. It’s a seminal work for the cello and it was only when I had the opportunity to record it with Yehudi Menuhin (who had worked with Elgar himself) as my conductor that I felt it was time.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Recording ideas should feel unforced and natural. I must have made more than forty full length recordings but from 2006 - 2011 I didn’t record because I didn’t have the ideas.
Then in 2012 two British composers I love - John Ireland and Frederick Delius - had important anniversaries. As I always feel the cello is the closest instrument to the human voice I decided to investigate their songs. Between them they wrote well over a hundred and I went through them all with my excellent pianist John Lenehan.
There were some gems that were hardly ever performed and we even went through their part songs for two voices. That led to me asking my fellow cellist wife, Jiaxin, to record two arrangements for two cellos and piano. They went so well that we went on to record a complete album - which we called A Tale of Two Cellos - the following year.
It became one of the Naxos label‘s all time biggest sellers!
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
On concert days - and especially, recording days, I just looked for peace and quiet! I didn’t want small talk - I needed to concentrate on the matter in hand. If I wasn’t playing but was involved in the editing or mixing studio process I wanted lots of coffee to keep me going.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
For seven years I wrote a monthly column on music for the Daily Telegraph and I have written a lot over the years (about music education, etc.) Always the first sentence is the hardest.
And sometimes you just have to force yourself to sit in front of that blank piece of paper or blank screen and start writing - even if it’s rubbish at first! Deadlines certainly helped me to sharpen my mind!
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Starting is the hardest part but once you get over that it usually begins to flow - especially if you’ve gone through the thought process before.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
In both playing and writing I like to keep a certain element of freedom - but that usually only comes from thorough planning ahead. I like to hear and look at the results in different states or places.
With music it‘s important to listen to recordings on different kinds of speakers - headphones, car speakers, etc. Not everyone is going to be listening on the best Hi-Fi!
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Both in playing and writing it’s good to follow the creative process naturally. If things start going in an unexpected direction it’s best to at least explore that road!
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Without going all supernatural about it there is definitely a spiritual element to creative work.
When playing I would often feel an idea come to me in the middle of a performance that felt as if it was coming from elsewhere.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
With classical recordings the end of the process is when the session time is up - like it or not!
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
The producer takes a big role in classical recordings - basically choosing the takes and being responsible for the overall sound, etc. Once the sessions are over it’s almost impossible to change much because the record company will never pay to bring back an entire orchestra or hire the venue again.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I liked to be involved when possible. The key thing is to choose a producer you really trust and who has wonderful ears!
Andrew Keener is one of the best in the business He is a fine musician and he was very helpful when I made my first recording as a conductor called And the Bridge is Love.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I find playing concerts very different to recordings. You often have concerts back-to-back so there is no time to fret over what you weren’t happy with the night before. With recordings the whole process is so intense and draining that you can feel quite wiped out afterwards.
I remember when I came back to an empty flat in London after recording the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic in Prague feeling completely empty for days.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Well, it takes a lot longer to write or learn music than it takes to make a great coffee!