Julian Lloyd Webber to share Bach cello suites at the Halifax's Piece Hall and inspire young players in Bradford

It’s not uncommon for touring artists to say that Yorkshire feels like home, but in the case of Julian Lloyd Webber, he has been actually coming here for decades – the first time being the Harrogate Festival in the early 1970s. “Can you believe that? I can hardly believe that. But, basically I’ve had a massive relationship with Yorkshire ever since,” says the star cellist.

He’s performed all over the area, of course, but has a soft spot for Bradford, too, having played the music of composer Frederick Delius, who was born in the West Yorkshire city in 1862.

“It's always a place I look forward to going back to lovely warm audiences and it feels kind of almost like home, I've been there so many times,” he says of the region.

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And he is back here tomorrow with his show Bach Revealed at The Piece Hall in Halifax.

Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber.Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber.
Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber.

It follows a successful run of shows this summer centred on the baroque German composer and the new dates will allow Julian - who in 2014 was forced to retire from playing the cello due to a neck injury which reduced the power of his bowing arm - and his wife Jiaxin to present a double-sided programme of music, video clips and stories about their lives

The first half is all about Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suites, played by Shanghai-born Jiaxin.

These compositions, says Julian, were not performed for around 200 years and “now they're sort of iconic pieces in the classical repertoire, brilliant pieces. They're so popular now that you can get them on ringtones and that sort of thing.”

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In the second half, Julian will talk about his remarkable career, with the chance for the audience to question him about his life behind the scenes with musicians such as Nigel Kennedy, Elton John, Katherine Jenkins, Tim Rice, Yehudi Menuhin, Joaquin Rodrigo, Cleo Laine, Stephane Grappelli and, of course, his brother Andrew, the famous musicals composer.

Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber. Picture: Simon Fowler.Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber. Picture: Simon Fowler.
Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber. Picture: Simon Fowler.

Then on Sunday from 10am, the couple will host Cellos Unlimited!, a workshop for all young cellists in the sports hall of Bradford Grammar School, who organised it alongside Harrogate Music School.

Julian says: “It's really to try to inspire them to continue and to improve. Who knows where that's going to take them? I've always said that not every child is good at the same three or four subjects and the arts and music can really open doors to children that can change their lives. We’re trying to inspire them to go on to stick at it because it's one of those things in life – the more practice you do on something, the better it gets, therefore the more you want to do it.”

Bradford unfortunately happens to be the city where, in 2014 when he was scheduled to perform a Haydn concerto, Julian had to accept that he would no longer be able to perform for audiences.

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“I just discovered in the rehearsal that I could not play,” he says. “I lost power in my bowing arm, basically. I felt that very much in the rehearsal and usually I didn't feel it until playing flat out in the concerts and I thought, well, this is not fair on either myself or the audience, basically I'm not able to give my best. So I played two cello pieces by Vivaldi, which was 10 minutes long, with my wife, but I pulled out of the Haydn concerto, and I thought, well that's it.

“I've always valued turning up, cancelled very few concerts in my career. I've always wanted to give my best. I mean, that's what most people feel, but every concert I did, I wanted to give my best and I felt well, I can't do it.”

He called his manager to say he could not accept any more engagements and did his final performance a few weeks later.

“Bradford was where it actually came to a head but, you know, I also have a big soft spot for Bradford because (of) Delius and everything, and I’ve played there many, many times and the lovely old St George's Hall. So it was sad but if it wasn't Bradford it would have been somewhere else.”

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It did, though, present new opportunities and in July 2015 he was appointed principal of Birmingham Conservatoire, a position he kept for five years.

Later, he hosted Classic FM’s 30 Under 30 Rising Stars show on Sky Arts, originally on during the coronavirus pandemic, but which returned earlier this month.

As a solo cellist, Julian performed with many of the world’s greatest classical musicians including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra and every leading symphony and chamber orchestra in the UK, in partnership with such conductors as Sir Georg Solti, Lorin Maazel, Lord Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Neville Marriner, Yevgeny Svetlanov, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Sir Mark Elder and Sir Andrew Davis.

Getting to play with the late violin great Lord Menuhin – who conducted Lloyd Webber’s BRIT Award-winning Elgar Cello Concerto - was a career highlight. “I found he was a totally spontaneous musician,” says Lloyd Webber, who when performing alongside him “could just play freely without worrying”.

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In 2003, he released an instrumental version of Your Song, accompanied by Sir Elton John on piano.

"I think we possibly did two takes, and that was it. And then I said: ‘What should we do now, the Beethoven sonatas?’ Because he's a classically trained pianist.”

This month, Lloyd Webber received a lifetime achievement award from The Cello Society. “It means a huge amount because it's been given by my colleagues, and you can't ask for more than that, really.”

To register for the cello workshop, email your details to [email protected]

And for tickets to the Piece Hall concert, vist: www.julianlloydwebber.com