By Joe Lucas

Jack Liebeck is ‘Emile Sauret’ Professor of Violin at the Royal Academy of Music and, in the year of his 40th birthday, already has an exciting and diverse playing career.

‘Music is far more relevant than often we get given credit for,’ says Jack Liebeck, ‘Music develops the brain… [music] should be considered complementary to Maths… It should be a human right to play at school.’

Music has been central to Jack’s life from a young age. As a boy, he sang in various local choirs before becoming fixated on the violin- which he eventually started learning at the age of 8. Upon picking up the instrument up for the first time, he says, ‘it was the first time I truly felt I understood anything.’ Six months after his first lesson, he auditioned for The Purcell School of Music and gained a place. Five years later at age 13, he was a finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, and at age 15, he made his solo debut with The Halle. ‘We were on a mission back then,’ he jokes.

One of his earliest memories in learning the violin was going to watch Zachar Bron’s class at RAM, with a young Maxim Vengerov and Vadim Repin, just 2 weeks after his first lesson. This experience sparked a long-held admiration for Vengerov, who, Jack says, ‘I saw play every couple of weeks or so.’ In particular Jack admires the powerful expressiveness of Vengerov’s playing, something which has clearly influenced Jack’s own ethos as relates to preparation and performance. Jack says he is often ‘frustrated with the lack of individual expression in many modern performers’ playing.’ He adds, ‘if you put your own personality into something there’s a chance someone might not like it. Music must tell a story. Everyone needs to be brave enough to say what they feel.’

Because of this, in his teaching capacity at RAM, Jack sometimes asks his students not to listen to recordings of pieces they’re learning until right at the end of the process, or even after the performance, saying ‘you’d pollute your ears with some other people’s playing.’ ‘The greats,’ he says, ‘weren’t going around listening to recordings on YouTube. They were just playing it how they felt it.’ The job of a musician in learning repertoire, for Jack, is to reverse engineer the language of the composer, something which you feel naturally- not by picking it out from somebody else’s recording. Jack’s main aim for his students is for them to finish studying with him ‘knowing what their job is when they’re practising.’

In his professional life, Jack combines music with a fascination for all things scientific, which has led to collaborative work with many top scientists including Professor Brian Cox on projects such as A Brief History of Time. A particularly exciting collaboration was a performance of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time preceded by an hour-long lecture by Brian Cox on ‘Time.’ Jack says the audience, who largely came for Professor Cox’s lecture were ‘blown away by the music and sat there silently for an hour.’ Jack believes collaborations such as these are key to the flourishing of classical music, as we open ourselves to new audiences and help them find a new language through which really to understand their particular fields. He says, ‘you can talk about the beginning of time or the size of the universe or the futility of human existence all you want, but it doesn’t make you

feel it. The great composers, they can really make you feel the size of the universe.’ Musicians ‘need to be open to the world and not just play our instruments endlessly.’

Jack’s three main pieces of advice for students currently at the Academy are: stay on people’s good side- you will be working with these people for the rest of your career, dive into chamber music, do what your teacher says and do it quickly!

‘One of the really nice things about the Academy,’ he jokes ‘is that I’m allowed to bring in the dog sometimes, and that makes it a totally unique music college… when I’m being a bit harsh in my lessons, she comes up and kind of says “stop it!”’

Posted by:RAMpage Website

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