Friday, April 11, 2014

Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber "A Tale of Two Cellos" @ Rhinegold LIVE, Conway Hall

Last week, I was really spoiled: on Tuesday, I saw Joshua Bell and Murray Perahia perform at The Royal Festival Hall with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields as part of Sir Neville Marriner's 90th birthday celebrations and on Thursday, I had the great privilege of seeing two of my favorite cellists, Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber, give an intimate recital at Conway Hall as part of Rhinegold LIVE's free (yes, I said free!) concert series.

Though I was super excited to go to both concerts, one of the downsides of living in London is that these kinds of occurrences no longer faze me. Oh, another concert with a world-famous pianist? Wait, how far is it from work? A ten-minute walk? Okay, I guess I'll buy a ticket. In contrast, these sorts of opportunities in Seattle are really once-in-a-lifetime chances. I've mentioned it before on this blog, but tickets for the arts tend to be super expensive in the US and you don't get very many big names passing through often. It's great because it means you'll be supporting local artists (and there are some fantastic ones, sure), but it can also be quite limiting.

But as a further encouragement for me to attend more concerts in London, Rhinegold Publishing has recently launched Rhinegold LIVE: a new series of free, "rush-hour" concerts taking place at Conway Hall (just a stone's throw away from my office) with an informal Q&A session at the end with the artists and a complimentary drinks reception before. Oh so civilized and oh so amazing in every way possible. They intend to organize six concerts throughout the year featuring a range of musicians: from those who are world-famous to those who are just starting out in their careers. Each artist will be hand-picked by an editor of a Rhinegold Publishing magazine. All events are ticketed, but they're easy to book (though you'll need to be quick!) via an online form on Rhinegold's website.

I first saw Julian Lloyd Webber in concert when he performed a fantastic solo recital at Cadogan Hall four years ago. My mom was over for her first visit to London and I bought tickets purely based on the fact that she had just accompanied one of the pieces on the program, Fauré's beautiful but haunting Elegie. I remember being completely captivated by his performance and simultaneously grateful for his informative commentary on each piece, which he gave from the stage.

His performance at Conway Hall, with his wife (and equally accomplished cellist) Jiaxin and the brilliant accompanist Pam Chowhan, was equally good. More than good - it was wonderful. The program consisted of pieces from the Lloyd Webbers' latest album: a collection of cello duets arranged by Julian Lloyd Webber himself. It features pieces arranged for two cellos such as Shostakovich's Prelude from 'The Gadfly' as well as compositions by Quilter, Purcell, Rachmaninov, Rubenstein, and Piazzolla.

I'm very rarely moved to tears by music, but the Prelude from 'The Gadfly' was absolutely sublime, as was Piazzolla's 'The Little Beggar Boy (Chiquilin de Bachin)'. The performance, which lasted for approximately an hour with a Q&A at the end with the musicians, seemed to fly by. I glanced at the faces of a few other audience members during the concert and their expressions seemed to reflect my thoughts: that we were all very privileged that evening to witness such a rare and special performance. A good dose of humor was injected into the concert as well, with the Lloyd Webbers trading instruments at one point, and then feigning sleep during a particularly lulling adaptation of Pärt's Estonian Lullaby.

Afterward, I ordered the Tale of Two Cellos CD on Amazon and had it shipped to my mom, purchasing the MP3 version on my phone for myself. Again, I rarely do this after a performance, but I loved the pieces too much not to! I'd highly encourage you to buy it as well.

There's nothing like hearing classical music performed live (though John may beg to differ, as I once caught him quietly extracting a copy of The Economist from his bag and slowly turning the pages when I took him to see Emanuel Ax perform) and I hope that this concert series will encourage those who might not necessarily attend classical music concerts for various reasons (e.g. being put off by ticket prices, being intimidated by a large concert hall environment, etc.) to give it a try. Having said that, I hope that throughout the year, Rhinegold LIVE will advertise this series more widely and to as large an audience as possible. I only heard about it through a co-worker who happened to know one of the editors at Rhinegold Publishing.

During the Q&A session, Julian Lloyd Webber made a brief reference to the music education reform that is desperately needed in this country, which I (along with many others) enthusiastically applauded. I know how important my musical upbringing has played in my life today. I'm so lucky to enjoy classical music concerts and to continue to play with a fantastic London orchestra (albeit on a non-professional basis) because of this. I strongly believe that all children should have access to free music lessons at an early age as part of their school curriculum and that this should continue throughout their entire educational career. Although the music education program that we have in the US could always be improved, I will be forever grateful to have had that opportunity to pick up a violin, a viola, and a cello for the first time when I was in the fifth grade, which led me to later becoming the concertmistress of my high school, then university, symphony orchestras.

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