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Delius delights in store

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: November 15, 2012

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THE musical gene which runs through the Lloyd Webber family would be priceless if it were possible to clone it.

Composer William Lloyd Webber and his wife Jean, a gifted pianist, could never have predicated the greatness their two children would bestow musically on the world.

Andrew, their eldest son, is the most successful musical theatre composer of his age, and his younger brother Julian is Britain's most celebrated cellist.

Reaching such a high level of musical acclaim is not just down to good genes but sheer hard work and determination. Add to the mix single mindedness and it's little wonder he is still at the top after four decades of making his professional debut, performing Sir Arthur Bliss' Cello Concerto at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in 1972.

Despite becoming a dad at the age of 60 last year, there has been no let-up in Julian's prolific performing and recording schedule. This month he is making his debut appearance at Exeter Northcott Theatre as part of its Classical Concert Series.

On Sunday, November 25, Julian will perform at the venue accompanied by pianist Pam Chowhan. The programme will include Bach, Britten, Delius, and music composed by his own father.

"It's busy and it's great to be so," said Julian. "This year I've been doing a lot of performances of the work of composer Delius as it is the 150th anniversary of his death.

"He has always been a composer I have liked so it made sense. I think he is underrated and one you either really like or you don't. There is no halfway with his music."

The year started for Julian with a performance of Delius Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Another highlight was performing at the Olympic Games closing ceremony.

"It was incredible to be part of something like that," Julian said. "It was nerve-wracking because they put me on top of what was supposed to be the Royal Albert Hall. I had to climb up a ladder and sit on this kind of roof top with no safety net. I'm not very good with heights!

"I knew quite a long time before the ceremony I was taking part and they asked me to perform Elgar's Salut D'amour with the London Symphony Orchestra."

It acknowledges Julian's achievement of being one of the most successful musicians in classical music, but breaking through into the classical world was no easy feat.

After hundreds of hours practising in his bedroom at home, Julian won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London at the age of 16. Instead of enjoying being away from home, his life was dedicated to becoming the best cellist he could.

Julian completed his studies in Geneva with renowned cellist Pierre Fournier, and all his hardwork and dedication has paid off. Since then he has collaborated with a huge array of musicians from Yehudi Menuhin, Lorin Maazel, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Georg Solti, to Elton John and Stephane Grappelli.

"There have been many extraordinary moments," admits Julian. "Working with the late American violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin and recording Elga Cello Concerto with him was a very special moment."

It received a Brit award recording winning Best British Classical Recording in 1986, had a permanent position in the classical top 10, and was chosen as the finest ever version by BBC Music Magazine.

A few years later he took on another great war horse, the Dvorak Concerto in the Dvorak Hall in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Vaclav Neumann.

"That is the kind of dream you hope will happen but you don't expect to," said Julian. "When you're in that position it's very, very special and I'm privileged in a way to bring music to people like I always wanted to."

Despite being born into such a musical and talented family, Julian insists there was never any pressure to follow in his parents' footsteps.

"In fact, my father was almost set against it because he knew it was a very difficult profession but I wanted to do it," said Julian.

"I decided at 13 I wanted to be a solo cellist and have been the only string player in my family. I love the cello because it's the nearest instrument to the human voice. It can convey a range of emotions."

Those emotions are being explored at a greater level since marrying his fourth wife, cellist Jiaxin Cheng.

"That's a new thing for me because I've never been one to be with a musician," said Julian. "Even as a student I steered away from them.

"But now I'm married to a lovely cellist it has obviously started me thinking about playing music together and making some recordings. We've done a few things but nothing on a big scale, but we intend to make two CDs and then we can go out on the road."

With a 16-month-old daughter to take care of, those musical moments are few and far between, but Julian is embracing being a dad in his 60s.

"She is a lovely little girl which makes life easier," admits Julian. "We had long conversations when she was born about us both being solo musicians. My wife wants me to go on doing what I'm doing.

"There will come a time when I spend more time with my daughter, but not yet. She does get funny with me if I've been away but after a few days she's crawling all over me."

When it comes to spending time with his brother, those moments are also few and far between.

Julian said: "We see each other every so often but we don't talk about music. We talk about Leyton Orient Football Club!"

For Julian it is a welcomed escapism from his busy life, but you won't hear him complain because he wouldn't have it any other way.

"What's next is a question I get asked a lot," he said. "I'm happy doing what I am while I'm enjoying it, and while I feel I'm doing it as well as I used to, if not even better.

"I like Exeter. It's a city where I've played quite a few times and I particularly like the cathedral. I've never played at the Northcott before so I'm looking forward to it."

Tickets for the concert, starting at 7.30pm, cost £18. Call 01392 493493 or visit www.exeternorthcott.co.uk

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