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Between 20th – 23rd November this year, the brand new building at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire will be alive with the sound of chamber music, all involving the piano. An array of leading international artists will share the platform with talented young musicians in a brand new event, directed by Daniel Tong (pianist and Head of Piano Chamber Music at the Conservatoire). Musical friends will be joining Daniel from across Europe for concerts, masterclasses and also a competition for young ensembles, more about which below. Given the wealth of such events for piano or string quartet, for instance, a celebration of chamber music with piano is overdue, especially given the keyboard’s place at the heart of so many great composers’ musical personality. Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms and many more were all musicians with consummate mastery of the piano, speaking freely through their wonderful instrument.

The festival line-up is headlined by pianists Katya Apekisheva and John Thwaites, cellists Christoph Richter and Alice Neary, violinist Esther Hoppe and violist Robin Ireland, who are lined up to take part in concerts alongside the Gould Trio and London Bridge Trio. Together they will explore the chamber music of Brahms, Schumann, Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, and present new works by Colin Matthews and James MacMillan. Concerts take place in two magnificent new performance spaces at the Conservatoire, opened this year: the larger Concert Hall for evening events and the more intimate Recital Hall for daytime performances. The same artists will work with students from Birmingham and beyond, as well as providing the jury for the competition.

Daniel Tong says: “Chamber music is a multi-layered medium, in the wealth and depth of its repertoire as well as the skills and characteristics required to realise it. It is music for sharing, both with one’s performing colleagues and the audience, and is therefore somewhat confessional. It is open to wide-ranging interpretation, despite often being put together by composers with great intellectual rigour. A competition in this discipline may therefore seem like a paradox, which is why our festival is as collegiate and inclusive as possible. We will make music together. Each competing ensemble will give a recital and take part in masterclasses. All jury members will also perform as part of the festival programme. The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire has put chamber music at its heart with inspiring results.

The competition is set up to offer maximum benefit to the young competitors. After preliminary audition (all applicants will be heard, either live or by video if entering from outside the UK), eight ensembles will be invited to join the festival in November. Each will present their recital as part of the festival programme, take part in masterclasses, and three groups will progress to the final concert. The winning ensemble will be offered mentorship and a commercial recording with Resonus Classics, as well as engagements including London’s Wigmore Hall.

For more details about this unique and inspiring event, visit the festival website

Or email keyboard@bcu.ac.uk

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Recital Hall at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

Julian Lloyd Webber, acclaimed cellist and Principal of the newly rebuilt Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, on inspiration, passion and the importance of music education

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Who or what inspired you to take up the cello and pursue a career in music?

I always loved the sound of the cello and I found it a very natural instrument to play – unlike the piano which my mother attempted to teach me. Therein lies a lesson: never learn an instrument from your parents!

Who or what have been the most significant influences on your musical life and career?

I wanted to play the cello professionally after I heard the great Russian cellist Rostropovich in concert.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career?

Every performance is a challenge.

You are a passionate advocate of music education? Why do you feel we need proper provision for music education in our schools?

Children deserve a wider education than just a few narrow subjects. They should leave school knowing a lot about the world – and that includes its culture.

As Principal of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, how do you see this institution’s role in the context of music education in the UK and beyond, and the wider society of the city of Birmingham and the UK in general?

Birmingham is a fantastic city with a great future – soon Londoners will realise that they can have a far better lifestyle for much less cost in Birmingham. Unfortunately that will be the end of the city’s comparatively low property prices. The Royal Conservatoire will be at the heart of the city. We have five performance spaces and we will be running an extensive programme of concerts of every kind of music.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Keep thinking for yourself and never lose your passion for what you do.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Bringing music to as many people as possible.
Professor Julian Lloyd Webber is the Principal of Birmingham Conservatoire. Widely regarded as one of the finest musicians of his generation and described by Strad magazine as ‘the doyen of British cellists’, Julian Lloyd Webber has enjoyed one of the most creative and successful careers in classical music today. As founder of the British Government’s In Harmony programme and the Chair of Sistema England, he continues to promote personal and community development in some of England’s most deprived areas. He was elected Fellow of the Royal College of Music in 1994 and – in recognition of his lifelong devotion to the music of Elgar – he was elected President of the Elgar Society in 2009.

At the age of sixteen Julian Lloyd Webber won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music and he completed his studies in Geneva with the renowned cellist, Pierre Fournier. Since then he has collaborated with an extraordinary array of musicians from Lord Yehudi Menuhin, Lorin Maazel and Sir Georg Solti to Elton John and Stephane Grappelli.

Julian Lloyd Webber has premiered more than sixty works for cello and he has inspired new compositions from composers as diverse as Joaquin Rodrigo and Malcolm Arnold to Philip Glass, James MacMillan and – most recently – Eric Whitacre. His many recordings have received worldwide acclaim: his Brit-award winning Elgar Concerto conducted by Lord Menuhin was chosen as the finest ever version by BBC Music Magazine and his coupling of Britten’s Cello Symphony and Walton’s Concerto with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner was described by Gramophone magazine as being “beyond any rival”. He has also recorded several highly successful CDs of shorter pieces including Cello Song, Unexpected Songs and – together with Jiaxin Lloyd Webber – A Tale of Two Cellos: “It would be difficult to find better performances of this kind of repertoire anywhere on records of today or yesterday” – Gramophone.

Julian is married to fellow cellist Jiaxin Cheng. He was the London Underground’s first official busker and he was the only classical musician chosen to perform at the Closing Ceremony of Olympics 2012. In April 2014 Julian received the Incorporated Society of Musician’s annual Distinguished Musician Award.

www.julianlloydwebber.com