REVIEW: An Afternoon with Julian Lloyd Webber at Worthing Assembly Hall, Saturday, April 25, 2015

One of the precious few British celebrity cellists paid probably his last playing visit to Worthing when Julian Lloyd Webber called with his touring ‘retirement show’. And he told around 300 fans and admirers that he remembered both his previous appearances here with Worthing Symphony Orchestra.

The second was of a rare live performance of Delius’ Concerto. This was not long before his sudden withdrawal from full-scale concert giving in 2013, owing to a herniated neck disc creating a neurological problem curtailing his bowing arm stamina.

He took questions from the audience in a presentation in which, seated at a table with a laptop, he projected onto a large stage screen video footage of some of his filmed and televised performances with some of the most famous singers, instrumentalists and composers. From the chair he also introduced live performances of specially chosen short pieces of music given by his wife Jiaxin (cello) with Pam Chowhan (piano).

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After opening with 1902 piece Scherzetto by Frank Bridge, which more than 70 years later Lloyd Webber discovered himself, neglected in a Royal College of Music storeroom, they played a particular of his favourites, Faure’s Elegy. Then followed In The Half Light by his father William, The Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera by his elder brother Andrew, Philip Glass’ minimalist Tissues No 2, and the final of Rachmaninov’s Sonata for Piano and Cello.

The range of Julian Lloyd Webber’s career broadened on mainstream TV in the 1970s. We see him playing with singer Cleo Laine, Hot Club of France fiddler Stephane Grapelli and jazz saxophonist Barbara Thompson, among others in the kind of light music broadcasts he remarks in his tour programme interview that TV companies no longer seem to make.

Contrast this area of music with his commissioning famous blind Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo and having Concerto como un divertimento written for him. And also his making of a celebrated recording of Elgar’s Concerto with Yehudi Menuhin.

After an illuminating, relaxing and friendly two hours during which it felt we were sharing the anecdotes of a national brother, he suddenly rose, walked across to Jiaxin, gently took the cello from her and sat down on her stool. From a standing start, accompanied by Chowhan, he played The Swan from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals.

Such a literal live swansong was moment to savour. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

But Lloyd Webber is already into a career in musical education, having founded the government’s In Harmony programme and chairing Sistema England. A champion and mover of music development in deprived areas, and already honoured as a fellow of the Royal College of Music and the elected president of The Elgar Society, he now takes up a pinnacle post as Principal of the Birmingham Conservatoire in its new purpose-built home.

In the interval, he joined the audience in the foyer to sell and autograph cassettes, vinyl discs, CDs and music. These included his new CD of English music for strings played by the English Chamber Orchestra with Lloyd Webber himself conducting and also as soloist ― declared to be for the last time on a recording, and playing And The Bridge Is Love, composed for him by Howard Goodall.

Lloyd Webber, 64 only 11 days earlier, is married to a fine cellist in Jiaxin, 40. The younger will probably lengthen the public vitality of the elder, whose solid heritage reaches back seemingly to a former age. Lamenting his favourite football club’s sorry plight on the very day they were relegated, Julian revealed that his team (and also that of his brother Andrew) is one far distant from the modern glamour of the leading Premiership enterprises. It’s the London East End shambles, Leyton Orient.

Question time, as well as highlighting the additional length of his left-hand playing fingers, included an enquiry into what he thought his career might have been, had he not been brought up in his South Kensington musical family. Lloyd Webber felt it would still have been musical but said that early on he had also wanted to be a writer, a tube train driver, a policeman and a Leyton Orient footballer.

His mission – a desire surely endorsed by at least several million British ― is to make available through state education to all children a rich enough encounter with music to lead them into a full love of the art and maybe participation as a musician.

Visualising his family musical upbringing, not only with a piano-teaching mother but a father whose tuneful professional composing career was self-terminated in the face of anti-tuneful trends in post-war demand, I was left briefly pondering something.

If in direct result Julian and Andrew Lloyd Webber had huge popularity and success playing and composing melodious music, what has, or will, become of the musician sons and daughters of those composers unable to write tunes? I suspect I need not worry. We, just as the birds, are born to sing. And who bothers to sing non-melodies?

Richard Amey