The classical guitarist and lutenist
celebrates his 87th birthday today
15 July 2020
HARDLY a day goes by when we are not reminded of the great contribution Julian Bream has made to the classical guitar repertoire – both to contemporary repertoire and music from earlier centuries – performing on guitar, lute, early guitars and vihuela, and not only solo but also in his collaborations with Peter Pears, George Malcolm, John Williams … and his own Julian Bream Consort.
Apart from the repertoire which he commissioned and published and his super recordings, there is his strong personality which, of course, is the reason for his success in bringing the guitar and lute to the forefront of people’s attention in a completely different style to his predecessors.
I have been revisiting his biography Julian Bream: A Life on the Road by Tony Palmer lately, which is an absolute inspiration for any performers ‘on the road’, who might think they have suffered on concert tours – Julian Bream has seen it all and experienced it all – and kept going!
I remember once I was playing my lute in France, many years ago, and the audience was rather dull and unresponsive. And, would you believe it, I had three strings break. Within two minutes. During one piece. But I was determined to just keep playing. After the second break, the audience was in a frenzy of excitement, because it didn’t seem to have any effect on the music. But luckily they hadn’t realized that on a lute you have double strings tuned in unison, and that the strings which were broken were ones which had doubles as backups. After the second string broke, the audience had obviously thought, well, that must bring him to a halt. And when the third broke, and I just went on as if nothing had happened—a sort of Paganini act—they just went wild. It’s rather French that, don’t you think?
(Julian Bream in Palmer 1982: 19)
One of the best biographical works on his life is the film Julian Bream: My Life in Music, directed by Paul Balmer (Music on Earth Productions), which was awarded GRAMOPHONE DVD of the year in 2007. Not only is the film itself remarkable with contributions from John Williams, Peter Pears, Igor Stravinsky, William Walton, George Malcolm, Richard Rodney Bennett and the Julian Bream Consort, but there is also the bonus of having full video recordings of Bream playing repertoire such as Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal, Op. 70 and Manuel de Falla’s Homenaje, filmed at Snape Maltings in Aldeburgh.
For more on The Julian Bream Trust’s recent commissions, see
- Construction with Guitar Player: Beyond the White Hand by Harrison Birtwistle and Sonata No. 5: Ars Combinatoria by Leo Brouwer Brouwer and Birtwistle première at St John’s Smith Square, London
- Catalan Peasant with Guitar by Julian Anderson Julian Bream Trust Concert 2015 – Julian Anderson première
- Streams and Variations by Edward Cowie Julian Bream Trust Concert 2019 @Wigmore Hall
© Thérèse Wassily Saba 2020