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Monday 27 February 2017

Renegade Julian . . . the Jamie Oliver of music

Cleo and the cello: a young Julian Lloyd Webber with singer Cleo Laine
Cleo and the cello: a young Julian Lloyd Webber with singer Cleo Laine

When we think of the name Lloyd Webber, it brings to mind Andrew, writer of some of the most beautiful musical theatre from The Phantom Of The Opera to Cats. But he's not the only famous musician in the family.

Andrew's younger brother, cellist Julian, has been playing since he was four years old and to celebrate turning 60 this year, he is bringing a very unusual tour to Ireland.

Julian has always been a bit of a renegade when it comes to obeying the rules of classical music. He is the Jamie Oliver of classical music, persuading the British government to give young school children opportunities in classical music that were previously unavailable to them. His belief is that music can change lives and it is "for everybody".

Age does not seem to have withered him. He has recently remarried (for the fourth time), this time round to a fellow cellist, 35-year-old Jiaxian Cheng, and they are now expecting their first child together (Andrew already has a son David, 19, from his marriage to second wife Zohra Mahmoud Ghazi).

An Evening with Julian Lloyd Webber will see him perform favourite classics by Bach, Faure, Saint Saens and Debussy, as well as pieces by his father William and brother Andrew. The performance will also include other elements, such as a reading from his memoir Travels With My Cello and a question-and-answer session with the audience. Not your average night at the concert hall then.

"It's quite exciting as usually a classical music tour doesn't work out like this," he said over the phone from his home in Kensington. "I haven't really travelled in Ireland much before. I've gone to Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Limerick and gone straight back again and I'm really looking forward to seeing Ireland as a tourist, driving and seeing the country."

He's all for shaking up the 'formal' setting of classical concerts, although he draws the line at allowing people to mill in and out with drinks; classical music is written to be listened to, he says.

Having played music since such a young age, Lloyd Webber says the most important thing to him now is to convey an emotion with the music. "One of the hardest things to do is to really project the music to touch people's hearts and very few people have actually naturally got that and certainly I had to learn that. The music (I'll be playing) is based on wanting to put that across. I play some very serious pieces as well as popular ones because without those people would go away very disappointed."

In his wife he has found someone who understands his love of music and the central role it plays in his life. "She's a lovely girl, she's a musician as well and she understands what I'm doing. We met through my work and our work, so she wants me to go on with what I'm doing.

"She doesn't want me to cut back. That's very good news for me because that can create problems in your life. I'll be there for her and I will be supportive, but I think she's not going to restrict my music and that's hugely important for me."

Is music the most important thing in his life?

"If I can't do that, then I become a very frustrated person and that doesn't do anybody any good. But having said that, I think I won't be one of those people who just goes on and on playing. Because I'm so interested in music education, I think there's something else for me to do besides playing. It would be a massive change in my life because I've always played since I was four."

As for the age difference between him and Jiaxian Cheng (she is 35, he is 59), he says it works out quite well: "I'm still a child at heart."

An Evening with Julian Lloyd Webber continues tonight at the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin; University Concert Hall, Limerick, Dublin, Sunday, February 20; Siamsa Tire Theatre, Tralee, Co, Kerry, Tuesday, February 22; Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork, Wednesday, February 23; Wexford Opera House, Thursday, February 24.

www.julianlloydwebber.com

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