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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On cellists, politicians, children's musicals and sewer rats,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

Is it just me, or is cellist Julian Lloyd Webber a prat??

My husband insists on getting the Daily Telegraph, where he has a weekly column in my favourite arts section. Every week I swear to myself I'm not going to read it and every week I fail. It's like a hypnosis. I can't resist. It's just sooooooooooooo bad.

Last week, for example, he pontificated against the appointment of Boris Johnson as shadow arts minister, claiming that he knows nothing about the arts. For a start, Mr Know-it-all, this is only the shadow arts minister -- not exactly an earthshakingly important appointment. Then he goes on (and on and on) about how 'at random' he would propose the following for the 'real' arts minister job: Simon Rattle, Elton John, Trevor Nunn or Richard Attenborough. As if Sir Simon Rattle (to add the title Lloyd Webber ignores) would want to -- or have the time! He might as well have stuck up a huge: 'Hire me as arts minister! I haven't got enough concerto concerts!' sign up.

Later in the same column he says how brave the recent young musician of the year to have borrowed a Stradivarius from the Royal Academy of Music just weeks before the competition final 'although it can take months, or even years, to unlock the secrets of a great stringed instrument.' (Nudge nudge subtext: 'I've got one, so I know!') Or do you disagree?

Fed-up in Gloucestershire

Dear Fed-up,

No, of course not, how can I disagree? I am after all a cellist, and we're meant to hate Julian Lloyd Webber, out of sheer unadulterated jealousy of his family and his instrument. (Having said that, I have heard worse cellists, loads of them, though precious few with Strads.)

I don't get the Telegraph so I don't know the column, but I do think that to say that the young musician of the year was 'brave' to borrow a Strad is absurd. Anyone who has ever even tried a really fine instrument (such as a Strad or an Amati) knows that the difference between it and your niceish orchestral instrument costing only 25,000-50,000 pounds is quite stunning, even to the least musically-trained ear-hole. Even without the option of the merest warm-up on a Strad, Ms Benedetti would have had to have been bonkers to turn the chance down. (She would in fact have been a good deal braver to have stuck with the instrument she sweated through the early rounds with, frankly.)

As for the Arts ministership, the chances of any of the people Mr Lloyd Webber mentions taking up the helm is a joke. So good a joke, in fact, that I feel I must look out for his columns from now on, because (let's face it) we all need a good laugh these days. (What day did you say his column appears? Clue me in!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)


Ask Alice

Dear Readers,

I am a classical music agony aunt with (to be honest) a frighteningly clever, attractive and talented daughter (yawn, yawn, I hear you moan, having been bored by doting idiot-parents aplenty in my time. Never mind: I power on.) Having already stunned all her teachers with reading and maths skills six years ahead of most six-year-olds, she is also revoltingly good at tennis, horribly talented at the tenor horn and has just been recommended by her acting teacher to audition for a (tiny) role in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, in the West End. This last is the new big problem.

Rachel McVeigh. Photo © Simon McVeigh

The pros are as follows. The kids in the show apparently have a great time together; she wants to do it; it's a gorgeous show, it's a big adventure and also looks good on the CV; they provide chaperones; it even pays (not much, but something to put by for when we here in the UK have to pay the same as the US for tertiary education.)

The cons are as follows. It's four shows a week for each kid; the show is not short; she'll miss seeing so much of her (already made) friends; it might affect even her schoolwork; and we don't (really) need the money, let the actor's kids get the dosh, everyone knows how little they make from their art.

And anyway, how good a launch part is a sewer rat???? Besides, I'd miss her, even just a couple of nights a week. (McVeigh, just get a life, right???)

Please advise!!!!!!!!!!!!


Dear Alice,

Personally, I reckon that the chance to become a professional sewer rat doesn't come too often in most people's lifetimes, so you should go for it (unless you think it's immoral to be promoting oil-guzzling cars in these last days of oil from the middle east)!

Anyway, if Rachel finds she can't make it after a week or two, because of her heavy off-stage social commitments or whatever, then she can always put in Lloyd Webber as a dep!

Keith, also in the UK

Copyright © 18 June 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK



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