Blog of Alumni Team

Jack Liebeck - alumnus profile

Alumni Team - Posted on 16.12.2019

Jack Liebeck (violin, 2003) is Academy through and through. He studied here from the age of 14 and now, after joining the teaching staff eight years ago, has been named the first Émile Sauret Professor of Violin. He juggles his Academy responsibilities with a busy career as an international soloist, chamber musician and festival director. Jack tells us more about his new professorship and his love of science, and gives some advice for aspiring musicians. 

What is your earliest musical memory?

I have some recollection of being taken to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall by my Saturday music school or choir – I think it was the LPO. That was before I started playing and I remember seeing the violins. 

Can you tell us what the Academy means to you and what impact it has had on your life?

The Academy has been a continual friend throughout my life. The first time I came here was when I was 14 and Lynn Harrell, who was the Principal at the time, heard me play and invited me to do a concert with him. He used to do these concerts with students and no one realised that I wasn’t actually a student here! I was then given a place at what was called Intermediate Academy. It always felt like there would be a long future ahead for me here. The building is fantastic and the atmosphere has always appealed. I love that some of the staff have worked here forever – you come to the front desk or the canteen and they’ve been here for 25 years. There’s a history and continuity about it. It’s very welcoming and I always feel very warm about the Academy. 

Congratulations on your new Professorship. Can you tell us a bit more about what this means?

It’s a great honour. It will give me the chance to help recruit some of the best international students. Playing takes me around the world, and I will use these opportunities to connect with great young musicians and attract them to the Academy. London is a great city and the Academy is a great place to train – we need make more people aware of that. As an Academy boy myself, I’m in a great position to be able to tell people about the place and the experience.

In terms of your performing career, could you give us a few of your highlights? 

I always thought to myself that I wouldn’t have made it as a player until I’d done a BBC Prom – a highlight for any British musician – and in 2015 I finally managed to do one! That was something that I hold dear to my heart as it’s one of the biggest festivals in the world and a huge stage to play on. Another highlight was playing my London debut in the Royal Festival Hall when I was 17. But just being able to do what I love and am talented at is a highlight. 

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Making a career is in itself a very challenging thing – I think you need to have a lot of belief in your own ability. The next difficulty we all have is longevity; when you get to your 30s, are you still able to keep going? Are you still happy with what you’re doing? Have you got through your midlife crisis (which is about to hit me!)? During the course of your career you will inevitably take hits. For me, the greatest challenge has always been just playing the best I can. When someone says they don’t like what I’m doing, that can be quite a challenge, but you just have to keep on going. As musicians, we do get criticised but we also get some nice praise along the way. 

Could you tell us more about your interest in science and the collaborations this has led to?

I don’t think there’s much of a barrier between science and art. We are scientists in how we approach music, looking at it in incredible detail and trying to decipher code in something beautiful. Meanwhile, scientists look at code and the universe, and often it turns out to be something incredibly beautiful. These two aspects of humanity actually intersect because, for instance, a scientist might talk about billions of light years and the only way we can really understand what that feels like is listening to a work like Mahler 10. Music has the ability to make you feel something. I met Professor Brian Cox through my music science art festival, Oxford May Music, and we’ve regularly worked together since. Our latest collaboration was a celebration of humanity and our place in the universe. We played Mahler 10, Sibelius 5 and a new violin concerto, which was commissioned to celebrate the life of Stephen Hawking.  

What are you looking forward to in 2020?

Well, next year I’m turning 40 so I will be sticking my head in the sand! I have to start planning for the next 20 years because now I’m a little further along in my career, I need to take a step back and think about what I really want in life. I also want to keep growing and developing new opportunities playing-wise. I’ve got a recording of Schoenberg and Brahms coming out in March, which is exciting. I’ve also got a couple of Wigmore recitals and I’ll be going to Australia a few times. 

What is the best piece of advice you give your students when they are just starting out? 

The first thing I would say is think – think about what you’re doing and take responsibility for your playing. Also, be open to learning from all sorts of different places. You may think that when you finish studying you’ve got all the information you need, but when you actually get into the world and start working, you learn for yourself and really start to understand everything you’ve been taught before. So, believe in yourself and think before you play. 

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