British cellist encourages young musicians to “think outside the box” to succeed in a tough music industry.

Julian Lloyd Webber has warned musicians against entering competitions and eisteddfods, declaring them to be unfair and corrupt. The internationally renowned cellist made the allegations in the UK’s Daily Telegraph last week, ahead of a seminar that he will deliver on the issue at the University of Birmingham.

“Winning those competitions is nothing to do with ability,” he said. “Everyone knows it, but no one says it, because when you’re in the profession, you don’t. There are obvious exceptions, such as BBC Young Musician of the Year, which is not corrupt at all, but you have these competitions for violins, cello, piano and it’s all about who you studied with.”

While Lloyd Webber did not make any specific allegations, he said talent contests were far more unjust than industry awards. He also said that only “gullible” musicians enter such contests, and that they generally need to “know someone on the jury” to have any chance of success.

“These violin or piano competitions have specialist jurors, who are only violinists or pianists – they all know each other and know all their students and it just doesn’t work. I think everyone knows when they go in for it that it’s a fix. I don’t understand why students keep going in for them because if they don’t know someone on the jury they’ll get knocked out in the first round,” he said.

After a career spanning 40 years, Lloyd Webber announced his early retirement in April due to a herniated disc in his neck. His long career has been peppered with success, and he was only recently presented with the 2013 Distinguished Musician Award by the Incorporated Society of Musicians. An early experience at a German cello competition has spurred his assertions regarding the competition process.

“I entered one once when I was 21. It was the so-called Munich International Cello Competition and I was knocked out in the first round with the only other cellist who went on to do anything internationally. It’s not to do with ability, winning those competitions.”

Lloyd Webber is expected to broach the issue, and share his own advice and experiences, at a seminar to students at the University of Birmingham today. While he said that classical musicians have far more opportunities than when he began his own career, Lloyd Webber encourages young musicians to “think outside the box” if they wish to succeed in the tough industry. 

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