It’s fair to say that the organ, an instrument played from the times of Ancient Greece, is responsible for one of the most influential musical dynasties of modern times.
Julian Lloyd Webber’s father, William, the son of a self-employed plumber was an organ ‘buff’. “My father was an organist,” says Julian. “He was in love with an organ at Westminster Central Hall, which is a magnificent instrument, and he was responsible for it being rebuilt when he was there. He was well versed in Methodism.”
It’s fitting then that one of his two musical sons, the virtuoso cellist Julian, is hosting the first concert to be held at Malton’s newly rebranded, Wesley Centre.
A building of national significance, and a remarkable part of Britain’s Methodist heritage, a £1m Appeal is underway to transform this Grade II* listed chapel into the next, and final, phase of its redevelopment. The Wesley Centre aims to be a building the whole community can use, featuring a fine concert hall.
A central part of its planned refurbishment is the restoration of a historic pipe organ as its centrepiece. The organ in question is a large Forster & Andrews instrument built in 1877.
Paul Emberley, Wesley Centre Development Lead, says pipe organs are disappearing from Britain at a rate of knots. “What’s special about our instrument is that it was built in the English romantic style and contains a lot of interesting orchestral stops. There’s nothing in this southern part of Ryedale that will approach it for its breadth of tone.”
The Appeal to lovingly renovate the organ and open up the building into a multi-use venue is supported by broadcaster, Selina Scott. The chapel has dodged closure several times, particularly after its roof collapsed in 2015.
Lloyd-Webber agrees that it’s important to save this instrument. “The organ is a magnificent concert instrument. It’s very short sighted to strip them from buildings – in 50 years’ time they’ll say, why did we take these organs out? What a stupid thing to do, and they’ll spend lots of money bringing them back.”
Professor Julian Lloyd Webber is the Principal of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Widely regarded as one of the finest musicians of his generation and described by Strad magazine as ‘the doyen of British cellists’, he has enjoyed one of the most creative and successful careers in classical music today.
As part of the ‘evening with’ Lloyd Webber on June 15 at the Wesley Centre, he’ll host a mini-masterclass for two upcoming local cellists.
He is a strong advocate of music as a transformative power for young minds. “Young people need stimulation. This is behind the whole debate of music slipping out of the school curriculum. I’ve really been campaigning to bring it back. There’s a long way to go, but I think it’s really important.
“Music is something that can give people something completely different in their lives, something that is bigger than they are as individuals.”
He rails at the idea music should be peripheral in school curriculums. “That’s the problem. The schools who have put it at their centre, have in proven cases, gone from Special Measures to Outstanding. It’s something that can raise the whole spirit and tone of a school.
“The narrowing of the school curriculum is also having a knock-on effect on society. There’s been many, many studies that if you get involved with music it has a really positive effect on the rest of your school work. This country has produced and enormous number of really successful musicians and we need to keep making sure we keep on doing that.”
He and his brother, Andrew, grew up in a house filled with music. “We had a musical background and we were lucky to have that. My father had a very wide taste in music and I remember hearing all kinds of different things, everything from Shostakovich to the early rock ’n’ roll of people like Buddy Holly.”
From an early age Lloyd Webber was certain he would be a musician, it was just a question of which instrument he would plump for. “I asked to play the cello and I just happened to get on with it from the beginning.
“The first time I saw a cello in an orchestra I was immediately drawn to it. I liked the way it looked and sounded. For me, it’s the closest instrument to the human voice, “ he says.
If seeing the cello made the young Lloyd Webber want to master the instrument, it was hearing the great Rostropovich play that inspired him to make a career out of it.
Today, he believes that music of all kinds brings communities together, which is the ambition of the Wesley Centre. “Everyone has a soundtrack to their lives – music they’ve been brought up to, music they love – it’s one of the key things that brings people together. It’s a wonderful international language that doesn’t actually need words.”
And live performances are key to igniting the spark. “There’s nothing to beat a live performance. You never know what’s going to happen next, there’s an element of danger in a live performance that you don’t get in a recording. It’s a very exciting, theatrical experience.”
His wife, the acclaimed cellist Jiaxin Lloyd Webber and her pianist Pam Chowhan will perform on the night, while Lloyd Webber, who no longer plays due to injury, will talk audiences through a magical musical journey, featuring clips from his extraordinary life with luminaries such as Cleo Lane and Yehudi Menhuin, as well as music by his brother.
“We try to make a programme that will be attractive and entertaining,” he says. As to the musical partnership with his wife, he says their approach to music is ‘like two voices’.
“Jiaxin was the first musician I ever even went out with. I always avoided musicians because I felt it was too claustrophobic and too intense talking about music all the time. But actually we found that we didn’t do that. And I think in the end it very much helped that I married someone who really understood what I was doing, and really understood the kind of pressures, and the kind of dedication you have to give to being a solo cellist,” he said.
He hopes audiences will leave his Malton concert inspired. “It will be a fun evening. There will be a Q&A session where people are free to ask me anything they want – well yes, pretty much! And I hope it will be entertaining, fun, and above all it would be nice to see some young faces there.”
“I hope they’ll come out loving the music played, I used to like coming out of a concert wanting to play more myself, and wanting to know more about the music, rather than just admiring the performer– so I hope it helps develop the audiences’ love of music.”
To book tickets for An Evening With Julian Lloyd Webber on June 15, 7pm at the Wesley Centre, log on to www.maltonwesleycentre.org
To find out more and to donate to the Wesley Centre Appeal go towww.maltonmethodists.org