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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Weaver of moonbeams…

Ahead of his two concerts – in Stratford-upon-Avon and Birmingham, conducting Orchestra of the Swan with this year’s Associate Artist, cellist Laura van der Heijden – I went to meet Julian Lloyd Webber: now Principal of Birmingham Conservatoire, and steering it through some exciting times as it prepares to move into its purpose-designed new home.

Entering his office in the old building – sadly nearing the end of its productive life, in the centre of the city – one cannot fail to be reminded, though, of his previous career as one of his (and my) generation’s greatest, and most successful, solo cellists: with posters of some of his most memorable achievements scattered throughout the room. Indeed, above his desk – in pride of place, perhaps – he points out a large framed copy of the cover of the CD I am nervously clutching between my fingers: a recording which confirmed his status of hero for me, and for many others. But more of that later: because, as he welcomes me in, and shakes my hand, there could not be a more genial and gracious interviewee. (As I am rapidly learning – as my first year of being OOTS’ Writer-in-Residence comes to a close – the majority of classical musicians are incredibly generous people: open, willing to chat, to treat you as an equal, to spend time with you… – they just happen to be incredibly talented, too – although no mention of this will ever pass their lips.)

Monday, 20 March 2017

The greatest and most satisfying manifestations of human expression…

On Thursday, 13 April 2017, “internationally acclaimed clarinettist, recitalist, chamber musician, recording artist and lecturer” Emma Johnson will be joining OOTS for an evening of sublime 18th century music in the Forum Theatre, Malvern. Although in the middle of a busy concert schedule, Emma was kind enough to carry out the following interview, via email.

There don’t appear to be many famous classical clarinettists in the world (indeed, at any one point in time). Is this because of the lack of mainstream repertoire – especially, say, compared to that for the piano or violin?
The solo repertoire for violin and for piano is far larger than that of any of the woodwind instruments, and that is why the clarinet is usually considered an orchestral instrument. When you are nine years old and picking an instrument to play, you don’t know these things. But once it became clear I wanted to be a musician, it was naturally assumed I would try to play in an orchestra.
     However, I gradually discovered that the solo clarinet repertoire is richer than people realize: spanning from Mozart, Weber, Brahms and Schumann, to Finzi, Poulenc, Copland and many modernists; as well as playing a pivotal role in jazz. There is, in fact, ample material for a clarinet soloist; and I have expanded the repertoire, too: by making arrangements and transcriptions, and commissioning new pieces.
     In addition, winning BBC Young Musician at the age of 17 allowed me to think differently, and to develop my clarinet playing so that it had the variety and range of a solo recitalist. Because of the opportunities the competition opened up to play solo, it enabled me to realize a vision I had of how a solo clarinettist could be.