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Three Choirs Festival with Julian Lloyd Webber

PUBLISHED: 13:51 20 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:31 20 February 2013

Three Choirs Festival with Julian Lloyd Webber

Three Choirs Festival with Julian Lloyd Webber

Internationally renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber is returning to a city <br/><br/>that is close to his heart to perform at the world's oldest choral music festival, which rotates annually between Hereford, Gloucester and Worcester

It is the turn of Hereford to host this years Three Choirs Festival and Julian Lloyd Webber will be playing Deliuss Cello Concerto at the citys cathedral on July 22 at 7.45pm in an orchestral concert which coincides with the 150th anniversary of the composers birth. The programme also features Stravinskys Firebird Suite, Ravels Bolro, and in keeping with this years travel-inspired festival theme, Debussys La Mer.

Its a welcome return visit for the virtuoso cellist, who first performed at the Three Choirs Festival when it was held in Hereford in 1976, playing Elgars Cello Concerto. It was one of his first concerts after leaving the Royal College of Music and instrumental in launching his career.

This years concert, accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra, will be conducted by the 26-year-old Venezuelan rising star Diego Matheuz, who is a product of the El Sistema programme.

This music-making initiative was founded in Venezuala by Jose Antonio Abreu and stemmed from his belief in the power of music to transform the lives of poverty-stricken children. It has formed the blueprint for Julians own programme, In Harmony Sistema England. Julian explains how impressed he was by El Sistemas flagship group the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra when they performed a Prom at the Albert Hall in 2007. I had heard they were supposed to be good, but no-one was prepared for how good they were they were world-class by any standard. It was incredible to see kids from very poor backgrounds playing so movingly.

He adds: Its something I feel very passionate about music should be available to everyone, not just those whose parents can afford to pay for lessons. Every child should have the chance to play music if they want to.

Julian had already been involved in successfully lobbying the Government for extra money for music education in schools and inspired by El Sistema pressed forward his idea of setting up projects in deprived areas of Liverpool, Lambeth and Norwich. The results have been spectacular beyond what we had hoped. A massive by-product of children learning an instrument is their improvement in other areas.

He explains that children learn as part of an orchestra, not individually, and this has had an influence on the way individuals interact across their entire social life. Children are all equal when they are learning in an orchestra there is no element of competition. They are working at something that is bigger than them as an individual towards a common goal. Julian says that among the children taking part in the project, there has also been a marked improvement in their literacy and numeracy and in schools where for many English is not a first language, the international language of music has broken down barriers. Following the success of the scheme in the first three areas, he is delighted that the Government is continuing to back the initiative and will be funding new projects.

For his performance at the Three Choirs Festival, Julian is looking forward to working with Diego Matheuz. I worked with him last year, in Caracas, says Julian. This concert had just been confirmed and he had never heard of Delius, so he comes to it fresh, which is not a bad thing and I am fascinated to work with him. It wont drastically alter the way I play but it is always interesting to have an outside view on music. I think sometimes we should open the door to foreign conductors much more.

Delius is a hugely under-rated composer, very difficult to perform, adds Julian, who has been marking the composers anniversary year with concerts across the UK. He is also vice president of the Delius Society, which will be celebrating the composers life by hosting a special Delius Society Lunch at the festival on July 26.

In another timely tribute to the composer, earlier this year Julian released Evening Songs, a compilation of songs by Delius and by another of Julians favourite composers, John Ireland, coincidentally marking the 50th anniversary of his death. Inspired by both composers remarkable gifts for melody, he has arranged the songs for cello and piano and performs them with his wife, cellist Jiaxin Cheng and pianist John Lenehan. The recording was made last year at Wyastone Leys, on the Monmouthshire/Herefordshire border, which this year provides one of the venues for the Three Choirs Festival, for a performance of the Brandenburg Concertos by Rachel Podger and Brecon Baroque. (July 22, 2.30pm). Its a lovely place to record you can literally shut yourself away there and get on with the job, says Julian. Theres no sound there, not even bird noise and you can work there as long as you like until you feel you have got it right.

When Julian branched out in 2006 to record Unexpected Songs, an eclectic melange of melodies from classical to show tunes, with the title track from the musical Song and Dance, by his brother, Andrew, it was also on Wyastone that he converged with a group of fellow artists who all contributed to the EMI recording. It was quite complicated. There were a lot of people in it and we were there for five days but it as made easier by the level of concentration that you can achieve there.

For the Three Choirs Festival he is looking forward to revisiting the area, and staying in the same hotel that he discovered on his last visit to record Evening Songs. Although he has a home in the third of the Three Choirs counties Gloucestershire he has a particular fondness for Herefordshire and Worcestershire, identifying the counties with the countryside which so inspired Elgar, one of his musical heroes (he is president of the Elgar Society). He is also a supporter of Hereford United, although his official biography would have his fans know that he supports Leyton Orient.

Because of my love for Hereford I am a closet supporter of the football club. You are not really allowed to support two teams but you can look for the results! They have done very well and I think they should get more local support than they do. They have a nice little ground. Ive been there to watch them and I have also been there and seen them beat Leyton Orient, which wasnt much fun, he says.

Festival Highlights

The centrepiece of this years Three Choirs Festival programme is a performance of Sir George Dysons The Canterbury Pilgrims on Wednesday, July 25 at 7.45pm in Hereford Cathedral. This highly colourful work is rarely performed and almost unknown in choral society repertoire, and yet it is an outstanding piece and worthy of revival.

The text is derived from the general prologue of Chaucers Canterbury Tales where the poets motley crew is assembled at the Tabard Inn before embarking on their voyage to the Cathedral city. The music is mainly late romantic in style and each movement is a jewel of superb craftsmanship.

The Canterbury Pilgrims will be performed with the Three Choirs Festival Chorus and Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Martyn Brabbins with soloists Susan Gritton (soprano), Alan Oke (tenor) and Simon Bailey (bass-baritone). The concert will be recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

The festival has been put together with this years Olympics in mind (in terms of programming as well as timing its earlier than usual, from July 21 to 28) and other highlights include an Olympic Fanfare at 6pm on July 27 at Hereford Cathedral, featuring Tchaikovskys 1812 Overture, Coleridge-Taylors Petite Suite de Concert and Te Deum by Berlioz. The festivals artistic director Geraint has further developed an Olympic angle by choosing the theme of travel and pilgrimage. His ideas were born of a concept of the games as a form of modern secular pilgrimage and are well in tune with a festival that itself draws visitors and participants from across the globe. He has therefore incorporated a selection of maritime-inspired music, reflecting the fact that many visitors both to the festival and to the Olympics will have to travel over the water to reach our island. A Sea Symphony, on the evening of July 23 at Hereford Cathedral, incorporates three of his choices, including the work by Vaughan Williams which gives the concert its name.

A programme packed with variety for music lovers of differing interests also includes The Kings Singers with their Diamond Jubilee-inspired concert Royal Rhymes and Rounds; the cabaret circuit favourite Kit and Kaboodle; music from Inner City Brass, winners of the brass quintet masterclass at last years festival in Worcester and a choice of recitals featuring such artists as soprano Dame Felicity Lott, pianist Mark Bebbington and clarinettist Emma Johnson. Alongside concerts and recitals the programme also presents talks, a composer symposium, a period string masterclass and showcase and an outdoor theatrical production of Richard III. In addition, Three Choirs Plus (TC+) shines a spotlight on regional creativity and the talents of young people. Theres a packed programme of free activities in a range of Hereford city centre venues and ticketed TC+ events include Jacques Brel is Alive and Well, featuring a quartet of singers led by Tim Brown of Hereford Cathedral Choir and Peter and the Wolf performed by the National Schools Symphony Orchestra, with guest narrator Jenny Agutter.

On Saturday, July 21, the busy opening day of the main festival concludes with a performance of Haydns The Creation in Hereford Cathedral, followed by a Festival Fireworks Reception hosted by the Hereford Cathedral Perpetual Trust. The festival finale is Saturday July 28, with The Gathering Wave, a concert organised by The Music Pool, bringing together choirs from the Herefordshire community. It will see the world premiere of All Across This Jumbld Earth, a new work by Bernard Hughes which was inspired by Herefords Mappa Mundi.

For full programme details and booking information visit: www.3choirs.org

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