Julian Lloyd Webber announces shock retirement over slipped disc

Arts Correspondent

Acclaimed cellist Julian Lloyd Webber has revealed his “devastation” after a slipped disc has forced him to retire from playing the instrument for good.

Mr Lloyd Webber, the 63-year-old brother of composer Andrew, is to give his final performance on Friday after announcing that the medical condition means “my cello will fall silent”.

“I am devastated. There were so many exciting plans that cannot now come to fruition,” he said in a statement.

“I have had an immensely fulfilling career and feel privileged to have worked with so many great musicians and orchestras but now I have to move on.”

A statement released by Sistema England, the music charity which he chairs, said it was “saddened by the retirement from performance of the world-renowned cellist”.

Mr Lloyd Webber is to play at the Forum Theatre in Malvern with the English Chamber Orchestra this week, after which he will give up the instrument. “Today is a sad, sad day for me, which I hoped I would never see,” he said.

The cellist won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music at the age of 16, and would go on to collaborate with orchestras around the world and musicians from Yehudi Menuhin to Sir Georg Solti and Elton John. Strad magazine described him as the “doyen of British cellists”.

Verity Simmons, cellist with Estilo String Quartet, said: “It’s terribly sad for him. To be forced to retire is an awful thing. He’s worked a long time, very successfully in the business.”

The herniated disk means he has reduced power in his right arm. Cello players do face a range of injuries and medical conditions “to varying levels,” Ms Simmons said. “The power and the sound quality is obviously lessened in that case, and it’s vital to maintain power especially as a soloist.”

Mr Lloyd Webber’s cello, a Barjansky Stradivari Violoncello from 1690, is so valuable it has its own seat on a plane when he travels. Ms Simmons said: “Your cello becomes an extension of yourself; it is much more than a block of wood. Putting that down will be like a bereavement for him in many ways.”

“I have no intention of enduring a forced retirement,” he said. “I would like to use the knowledge I have gained through my life as a musician and an educator to give back as much as I can to the music profession which has given me so much over the years.”

He has been involved in music education for over a decade, and campaigned for the Government to expand funding for music in schools. This month he called for musicians to “unite as never before” to fight the cuts “to ensure that our children have music as a birthright”.

Ms Simmons, who also teaches cello, said: “His work in music education is extensive and fantastic. Turning his attention to that even more would be a blessing; his work won’t be wasted there.”

The musician founded the In Harmony programme in 2007, a programme of social action through music. He is also patron of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s BSO Vibes scheme, which makes classical music more accessible to young people in the region.

Lloyd Webber continued: “I now need time to reflect and to consider this sudden and distressing life-changing situation.”

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