No one knows better than Yehudi Menuhin’s daughter Zamira Menuhin-Benthall that his artistry touched music-lovers worldwide. ‘People are always coming up to me at events and saying what a difference he made to their lives.
‘My father saw music as an international language. I remember meeting a fellow patient at a London hospital whose English was very poor. With the help of a translator we talked about each other and I mentioned I was the governor of a music school founded by my father, Yehudi Menuhin. Her mouth fell open and her eyes filled with tears. It opened the door to her emotions.’
Menuhin’s international language is reflected in the range of centenary concerts and broadcasts taking place this year, but a good place to start is with the background provided by a special exhibition in London.
Royal Academy of Music: Journeys with a Violin
Journeys with a Violin draws on the academy’s extensive Foyle Menuhin Archive. RAM Museum Curator Joanna Tapp says: ‘This contains everything from Menuhin’s writings on many subjects, and things like photos, marked scores, his book collection and instruments collected on his travels. We had a “eureka moment” when coming across the childhood practice schedule laid down by his teacher – everything set out through the day in disciplined fashion. Wonderful.
‘Another special item is Menuhin’s violin case, just as it was when he arrived in Berlin for the concert which never happened because of his final illness. There are drawings by his grandchildren, letters from his wife, photos and general memorabilia.’ Journeys with a Violin also embraces a specially commissioned film containing historic footage and new interviews recalling Menuhin.
Classic FM: Yehudi Menuhin – The Master Musician
In 1996, Classic FM ran a series of 20 programmes presented by Menuhin’s biographer Humphrey Burton. For the centenary the series can be heard again, with the addition of much new interview material and music content. It began in January and runs on Saturday evenings at 9pm.
‘Even today, Yehudi Menuhin is one of the few classical musicians the average man or woman in the street may have heard of,’ says Classic FM managing editor, Sam Jackson. ‘When the station first broadcast Yehudi Menuhin – The Master Musician, it was one of the most ambitious profiles of a classical musician ever to have been broadcast on UK radio. We’re now delighted to give Classic FM’s current audience the chance to enjoy this landmark series afresh. Aside from Menuhin’s own family, Humphrey Burton arguably knows more about him than anyone else. The life is so fascinating and so multi-faceted that it really needed a series of this length.’
Live Music Now
As for live music marking the Menuhin centenary in the UK, little displays a
greater reach than the events being staged by the organisation the violinist founded in 1977 with his friend Ian Stoutzker – Live Music Now.
‘One of Menuhin’s greatest gifts was his vision that music could reach people, that musicians could play a significant role in society,’ says Live Music Now’s executive director Evan Dawson.
Menuhin saw first-hand the transformative effect music can have when he played violin for allied troops during the second world war; he also understood how direct communication with the audience developed him as a performer. He created Live Music Now to bring music to those with least access and at the same time provide paid performance opportunities for young musicians at the start of their professional careers.
Every year, LMN trains over 350 young professional musicians across the UK to deliver music to people in a wide range of challenging situations, including care homes, special schools, isolated rural communities, hospitals and more.
On Menuhin’s birthday (22 April), LMN musicians will lead events and performances in LMN venues and public spaces across the UK.
At St David’s Hall in Cardiff, folk ensemble Calan will premiere an interactive musical re-telling of The King, the Cat and the Fiddle, a children’s story co-written by Yehudi Menuhin in 1983. Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, LMN Scotland will launch a series of concerts at the Scottish Arts Club featuring recent commissions.
Carol Main, LMN Scotland and International director says: ‘We’re also drawing together representatives of established and new LMN organisations around the world, from Austria to Chile, the Netherlands to Hong Kong. The international conference will focus on collaboration around evidence gathering to support music and wellbeing advocacy and is built around a public concert on the 17 April featuring LMN alumni including guitarist Craig Ogden, members of the Sacconi Quartet and Royal Harpist Anne Denholm.
Other Live Music Now centenary occasions include a series of workshops involving war veterans in Scotland, residencies in special schools and care homes across England and Northern Ireland and a one-day musicians’ development event bringing LMN musicians together from across the UK.
Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge: Menuhin 2016
This may not seem the most obvious of venues for a centenary event, but in fact Menuhin was made an honorary fellow of Fitzwilliam in the 1990s. Humphrey Burton is a Fitzwilliam alumnus and will talk about Menuhin on 23 February as part of proceedings.
‘The college prides itself on its association with outstanding string players,’ says director of music Katharine Parton, ‘so I’m including our annual concerts by the Fitzwilliam String Quartet in Menuhin 2016 [5 March, 7 May].The final event in the series [21 May] is a gala concert presented by students and alumni in tribute to Menuhin. One of the soloists is Hannah Roper, an outstanding violinist and briefly a student at the Menuhin School, who is currently reading music at Fitzwilliam.’
The Yehudi Menuhin School
The Menuhin School itself is hardly short of ideas to mark the memory of its founder. The Cobham-based establishment still represents Menuhin’s ethos, says director of music Malcolm Singer. ‘Our approach remains holistic – we want to educate the whole person. And we remain strongly international. We kicked off the centenary year with a trip to the so-called “Jungle” in Calais, where some of our older pupils performed for refugees and gave out food parcels. Our many other centenary events include trips to Berlin, Warsaw and Brussels to give concerts.’
Centenary concerts between February and June at the school include Steven Isserlis, Stephen Hough, John Williams, Richard Harvey and the Chiaroscuro Quartet. A Menuhin 100 festival across ten days in July starts with a gala featuring Nicola Benedetti, before a string of concerts given by pupils.
No round-up of 2016 Menuhin-related events in the UK would be complete without reference to the violin competition which bears the great man’s name. This returns to London 7-17 April as part of a Menuhin festival of diverse events. Of the 44 finalists from around the world, in two age-group categories, 36 are female. It is not something that would have fazed Menuhin, says former prizewinner Tasmin Little. ‘He would be delighted. For Menuhin, the most important thing was always the music and the musician, never their gender, colour, creed or nationality.’
Gstaad Menuhin Festival
Outside the UK, there is no more obvious place to start than this mammoth Swiss event [14 July to 3 September]. Gstaad was the Menuhin family home from 1957, the festival coming into being immediately, with initial concerts featuring Benjamin Britten at the piano. This year’s festival is thus the 60th. ‘Menuhin was impressed not only by the Saanenland’s magnificent alpine arena,’ says the festival’s Intendant and CEO, Christoph Müller, ‘but also by the ideal environment for an international education available for his children, including the “Le Rosey” Institute and the International Kennedy School. Walking in the mountains, Menuhin discovered the natural world of the native population, who inspired him with their folklore and music.’
This year’s double anniversary festival is duly star-studded: everything from two performances of the Mozart Requiem directed by Paul McCreesh (15, 16 July) and concerts given by violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja (13, 18, 20 August) to a Lang Lang workshop and recital (26, 27 August) and an opera gala (28 August) featuring Bryn Terfel and the LSO. A final ‘Happy Happy Birthday Yehudi’ concert (3 September) features a line-up of six violinists, including Roby Lakatos and Didier Lockwood.
Running across 2016 will be a range of other events engaging young people in this area of Switzerland, including a Beethoven4all children-and-families project culminating in a performance of the ninth symphony on 2 September – the Menuhin inspiration again in evidence.
International Menhin Music Academy
The Gstaad-based International Menuhin Music Academy (IMMA) plans five days of centenary celebration 18-22 April. ‘Menuhin founded the academy in 1977,’ says director-general Michael Sombart, ‘and used to describe it as his most accomplished project. He saw the world of music as a universal family and wanted IMMA to reflect that. He always emphasised that being a great violinist was only part of the equation and that without helping others and giving something back, an artist will never be truly accomplished. Our celebration culminates on Menuhin’s birthday with a concert from our artistic director, Maxim Vengerov. There will also be masterclasses open to the public, projects with a local music school, and conference sessions about Menuhin’s life and influence.’
Easter Festival: Homage to Menuhin – Ville d’Avray
The Menuhin centenary also throws up this entirely new event, a boutique festival at the enchanting Château de Ville d’Avray, between Paris and Versailles. Here is where the teenaged Menuhin lived with his family between 1930 and 1935.
‘This “Homage to Menuhin” is the first festival in France in honour of Yehudi Menuhin,’ says the pianist and event organiser, Isabelle Cottet. ‘It will be a place of interaction between performers and listeners, masters and learners, tributes and dreams.’
The festival [26-28 March] showcases particularly the talents of artists under the age of 30, among them violinist Alexandra Conunova, viola player Adrien Boisseau and pianist Gaspard Dehaene. The programme also features an exhibition and the showing of film material on the life of Menuhin created by violinist and documentary maker Bruno Monsaingeon, who also performs during the festival.
Berlin Konzerthaus: Homage to Yehudi Menuhin
Last, but far from least, is this Menuhin season running between 22 April and 1 May. The staging of such an event in the German capital is a reminder that Menuhin courted controversy in some quarters after the second world war by insisting on playing for captors as well as captives at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and then later by performing music by German composers in Jerusalem.
The Konzerthaus programme features a rare German outing for a work closely identified with Menuhin – the Elgar violin concerto. Menuhin’s former student Daniel Hope is the soloist, with the Konzerthaus Orchestra under Iván Fischer (22 April). An evocative reminder of Menuhin’s collaborations with Ravi Shankar comes with an evening (23 April) featuring Anoushka Shankar and ensemble. A ‘Long Night of Fiddle Music’ (27 April) features a string of violinists with varying specialities, among them Maggie O’Connor and Gilles Apap. There are also films, an exhibition and a publication.
Menuhin: Man and Legacy
Violinist Tasmin Little, a Menuhin Competition prizewinner, and Humphrey Burton, author of Menuhin: A Life, remember a man and a legend
What were the most distinctive qualities you found in Menuhin through the meetings you had?
TL You always felt you were in real personal contact with him. There was never the feeling that his mind was on anything else, or the next important person he was meeting. He valued personal communication.
HB Yehudi was gentle in manner but passionate in his humanist beliefs. He almost always got his way. Mostly it was by charm but also because he was a visionary: he knew what he wanted.
Menuhin the performer?
TL You think of Heifetz as someone with technical brilliance, immaculate. Apart from the early period in his life Menuhin wasn’t that kind of player. But his performances were always imbued with incredible emotion that touched you deeply, even if it was at the expense of technical security.
HB Whether he was playing the Beethoven concerto, Jealousy with Stephane Grappelli or an Indian raga, Menuhin was inhabited by the spirit of music. Playing his fiddle – and conducting – was as natural to him as flying is to a bird.
A truly international figure?
TL No question. He saw music as a force for change in the world. He would go to countries where classical music performance was in its infancy and use his reputation as a means of bringing people together. He was an ambassador for music.
HB His international importance can be seen in the Menuhin School, where more than half the students come from abroad; the Menuhin competition, which is of worldwide stature; the Menuhin educational foundations in Switzerland and Belgium; his Live Music Now organisation which flourishes in many countries. Menuhin was one of the 20th century’s master musicians and arguably the most influential.
Menuhin: A Life Faber – new edition Jan 2016