World-famous cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, who took over as principal of the Birmingham Conservatoire on 1 July, has ambitions to make the institution “the go-to place in this country…right across the instrumental range”.
He has arrived, he told Times Higher Education, at a time when “standards are at an all-time high”. Work is about to start on a new £46 million building, due for completion in 2017, which will significantly enhance practice and performance facilities. And that would provide a launch pad for their continuing search for “excellence”.
“We have just appointed Catrin Finch as visiting chair in harp. She’s going to be pretty hands on, come several times a term, and I can’t think of a better or better-known harpist in the world. That will attract a lot of harp students and I can see that happening right across the instrumental range,” he said.
Professor Lloyd Webber wants to develop existing links with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which regularly brings in “a great roster of conductors and soloists”. Students could learn a great deal by attending rehearsals and “it makes a huge amount of sense for a musician, after an concert, to come into the conservatoire – I always enjoyed doing that and it’s great for the students to be taught by the same person on the same day.”
There was also scope for recording such classes and broadcasting them across the world through the conservatoire’s “embryonic YouTube channel”, he added.
The Birmingham Conservatoire forms part of Birmingham City University and Professor Lloyd Webber stressed the many advantages which flow from this. There were, for example, first-rate recording facilities and budding website designers in the School of Media and Design, so he hoped to be able to “build real links into the curriculum” which will enable his students to graduate with the technical knowledge and marketing skills he had had to acquire for himself.
Being part of a university also put an emphasis on research. During his own career as a soloist, Professor Lloyd Webber had taken particular pleasure in “premiering completely forgotten works” such as Gustav Holst’s Invocation, which he had discovered through research in the British Library.
Though most of the teaching staff are also practising musicians who don’t (and shouldn’t be expected to) do much research, he believed it was “very healthy to encourage students to think outside the box and develop any special enthusiasms, whether about a particular composer or even something like posture. I want to produce an inquiring mindset in the students: what am I interested which is different from the next person and might even make me stand out from the crowd?”