The noted English guitarist and lutenist, Julian (Alexander) Bream, was brought up in a musical environment. His father, a commercial artist and book illustrator, also ran a small dance band in which he played jazz guitar. The young Bream was very attracted to the jazz guitar style of Django Reinhardt, the legendary Gypsy guitarist. Bream's father encouraged his son to play the piano, but also taught him to play the plectrum guitar. On his 11th birthday, Julian was given a classical guitar by his father. He became something of a child prodigy, at 12 (1945) winning a junior exhibition award for his piano playing, enabling him to study piano and cello at the Royal College of Music in London. In the same year his father took him to play at a meeting held by the London Philharmonic Society of Guitarists, where his obvious musical talent prompted Dr. Boris Perott, the Society's president, to offer to teach him the classical guitar. This he did for one year. Dr Perott, and also Wilfrid Appleby, introduced Julian Bream to Andrés Segovia, who was so impressed by what he heard that he offered to give the 13-year old some lessons.
Julian Bream made his professional debut with the Cheltham Guitar Circle at Cheltenham on February 17, 1947, at the age of 13. Encouraged by his father, he decided to make his career in music and the guitar, abandoning an almost equally strong ambition to become a professional cricketer. At the age of 15, already a seasoned recitalist, he was awarded a full scholarship at the Royal College of Music in London, and for three years studied piano, harmony and composition there - for il was a time when no guitar tuition could be offered by the College. By his 16th birthday, he had taken part in dozens of BBC broadcasts, recitals, and film music, and, furthermore, fascinated by the lute and its culture, had begun researching the Elizabethan repertoire.
After his studies at the Royal College of Music, Julian Bream's career pursued its meteoric path. He made his London debut in 1950, but it was his triumphant appearance in November of 1951 at Wigmore Hall and, some months later, his first appearance at the Aldeburgh Festival, that propelled his career to international success. Despite three years of National Service with the Army (1952-1955), he continued to appear frequently on radio and television programmes as well as at public concerts. This led him first to Switzerland in 1954, followed by his first European tours in 1954 and 1955, and by extensive touring in North America (beginning in 1958), the Far East, India, Australia, the Pacific Islands. Before long he fulfilled regular engagements on all five continents, including annual tours of the USA and Europe, as well as a busy winter schedule throughout the British Isles. In addition to master-classes given in Canada and the USA, Bream has also conducted an international summer school in Wiltshire, England.
Julian Bream's Solo recitals are wide-ranging, including transcriptions from the 17th century, many pieces by J.S. Bach arranged for guitar, popular Spanish pieces, and contemporary music, much for which he was the inspiration. He has stated that he has been influenced by the styles of Andrés Segovia and Francisco Tárrega. His work with contemporary composers led to a revival of interest in guitar music. Eminent composers who dedicated pieces to him include Malcolm Arnold, Lennox Berkeley, Richard Rodney Bennett, Lennox Berkeley, Benjamin Britten, Leo Brouwer, Peter Racine Fricker, Hans Werner Henze, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alan Rawsthorne, Humphrey Searle, Toru Takemitsu, Michael Tippett, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and William Walton. Il is safe to say to that no guitarist has ever done more to enrich the repertoire in this way. B. Britten's Nocturnal, for example, is one of the most famous pieces in the classical guitar repertoire and was written with Bream specifically in mind. It is an unusual set of variations on John Dowland's Come Heavy Sleep (which is played in its original form at the close of the piece).
In 1950, Julian Bream took up the Renaissance lute, and began a life-long fascination with Elizabethan music. He is renowned for his fervent advocacy of the Elizabethan lute. In the world's concert halls his solo lute recitals, song accompaniments for Peter Pears and Robert Tear, lute / harpsichord concerts with George Malcolm, programmes of poetry and music with Peggy Ashcroft, and his founding in 1960 of the Julian Bream Consort, offered unprecedented opportunities for audiences to experience early music. He also directed the Semley Festival of Music and Poetry from 1971.
With this uniquely diverse range of activities, and a multitude of broadcasts and television appearances, Julian Bream was acknowledged from the mid-1950's onwards as one of the great and prolific recording artists of the 20th century. From 1958 he recorded for RCA, winning many international awards, including six form the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in the USA, four Grammy awards (1964, 1967, 1972, 1973), two Edison awards (1968) and various prizes from Gramophone magazine. In 1979 RCA presented him with a platinum disc to mark record sales of half a million in the UK alone. Bream's association with his fellow guitarist John Williams, which resulted in three recordings and a number of concerts, has been an enormous success. They received gold and silver discs for their duo recordings. In 1993, to celebrate his 60th birthday, RCA issued "The Ultimate Guitar Collection", a unique box set of 28 compact discs, revealing the vast gamut of his recording work. From the beginning of the 1990's Julian Bream continued his recording career with EMI Classics, featuring music by J.S. Bach, a Concerto album (with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle), and discs devoted to contemporary works and guitar sonatas.
Radio and television appearances have made Julian Bream known to a very wide public, including a highly successful biographical film, "A Life in the Country", was first shown on BBC TV in 1976. Other important programmes included a series of four master-classes presented by Bream for guitarists also for BBC TV. In 1984 he made eight films on location in Spain for Channel 4 exploring historical perspectives of Spanish guitar music. BBC Television have presented a special programme about Julian Bream's life as a concert guitarist.
Julian Bream was awarded an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1964 for services to music, and in the Queen's Birthday Honours List of 1985 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). He has received Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Surrey (1968), and Leeds (1984). In 1976 he was personally presented with the Villa-Lobos Gold Medal by the composer's widow. He was elected an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music (1966), and has been honoured with Fellowships of the Royal College of Music (1981) and the Royal Northern College of Music (1983). In 1988 he became an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society, and was also presented with the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist's Award in 1996.
Highlights of Julian Bream's career in more recent years have been the 1991 BBC Prom performance of Malcolm Arnold's Guitar Concerto, broadcast on BBC Radio and TV, a recital and concerto performances of works by Takemitsu at the Japan Festival in London (autumn 1991) with the London Symphony Orchestra. Dthe 1992-1993 season he performed on two separate occasions at the Wigmore Hall - at their Gala Re-opening Festival, and at a special concert celebrating his 60th birthday. That year he toured the Far East, visiting Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan, and performed the premiere of Leo Brouwer's arrangement for guitar and orchestra of Albéniz's Iberia at the Proms. In 1994 he made debuts in both Turkey and Israel to great acclaim, and the following year played for the soundtrack to the Hollywood film Don Juan de Marcos.
In 1997, in celebration if the 50th anniversary of his debut, he performed a recital at Cheltenham Town Hall. A few weeks later the BBC dedicated a special television tribute "This Is Your Life" programme to Julian Bream, filmed after a commemorative concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. His engagements in recent years have included a Gala solo performance at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, a Kosovo Aid concert at St. John's Smith Square, London, with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields recitals at the Snape Proms, Aldeburgh, and at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and a tour of UK National Trust properties in summer and autumn 2000. In November 2001 he gave an anniversary recital at Wigmore Hall, celebrating 50 years since his debut there in 1951. In October 2003 was released a new DVD called 'Julian Bream - My Life in Music' in which he can be heard and seen expressing in their details the episodes of his life completely dedicated to the Music.
Julian Bream was the first musician of the post-war era to popularize classical guitar. His wide ranging interests in repertory, his impeccable technique and style, his instrumental role in the revival of Renaissance music, and his extensive recorded legacy place him as one of the giants of 20th century guitar music.