Showing posts with label Yehudi Menuhin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yehudi Menuhin. Show all posts

Friday, July 15, 2016

Debussy for Nice

It's impossible to offer adequate musical responses for the atrocities we're seeing around the world - from Syria to Dallas to, today, Nice.

So this doesn't pretend to be adequate, but I hope it offers a moment of meditation and solidarity: Debussy's Violin Sonata in G minor - the composer's final work, written during World War I and signed simply 'Claude Debussy, musicien français'. Here it is played by Yehudi Menuhin - an artist who devoted a lion's share of his time and energy to bringing music to those in suffering and training young musicians to do so too; and Benjamin Britten - whose superb pianism remained much underrated beside his compositions - a pacifist and conscientious objector, with whom Yehudi played to survivors of Bergen-Belsen after its liberation.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ghost Variations: The Other Violinist

My newest post at the Unbound Shed for Ghost Variations is about another violinist deeply involved in the story of the Schumann Violin Concerto. It's none other than this month's anniversary giant, Yehudi Menuhin. If you have made a pledge to the book, Unbound automatically emails you every post in my Shed, but you can also dip in of your own accord at this link.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Menuhin: a protégé speaks

This year marks the centenary of one of the 20th century's most extraordinary musicians: Yehudi Menuhin. A plethora of events and recordings surround this anniversary and in yesterday's Independent I had a piece exploring his legacy - essentially, how his pioneering creativity changed the musical world. It's here:

The violinist Daniel Hope, who was a protégé of Menuhin from the word go - his mother was the great man's PA - has made a new CD paying tribute to his mentor, and I have an e-interview with him to discuss it. Daniel talks about the perfectionism and iron will that underpinned Menuhin's heavenly musicianship - and tells us about the time his father left Menuhin's violin on a plane.

JD: Daniel, Yehudi Menuhin strikes me as not merely a musician, but a great humanitarian and, in many ways, a visionary whose preoccupations with bringing music to the people, training young musicians and collaborating with other genres seemed ahead of his time. Please can you tell us something about the various different ways in which he inspired you?

DH: Menuhin taught me that being an artist is more than just playing your instrument as well as you can. He believed that music had a strong social aspect and that musicians should use it to help others. Of the many wonderful organizations that he created or inspired, I think Live Music Now is the most impressive. Yehudi created LMN in 1977, and the organization works with a very diverse range of people that rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to experience live music - some of whom are very disadvantaged. They often face difficulties in communicating, cut off from the joy and pleasures of participating and sharing with others. LMN's approach to overcoming these barriers is very simple: talented young musicians are given the chance to gather early and essential performance experience, by sharing it in a social context, for example playing in hospitals, retirement homes or for children who are mentally or physically handicapped. LMN now has branches all over Europe: in Germany, where I often give fundraising concerts for them and am on their Honorary Committee, there are 20 branches alone giving over 5000 concerts a year. Worldwide LMN has reached more than 2 million people, with over 50,000 participatory performances for people with special needs.  

JD: What sort of a person was he? Do you have any favourite memories of him or anecdotes about him in daily life (rather than playing/teaching)?

DH: There was a magic about Menuhin and his aura as a musician was inspiring. Though physically of small stature he had a majestic charisma on stage. For a gentle man he was never ever satisfied he got things as good as he wished. He had a habit of turning and staring at the soloist’s fingers during cadenzas. So it was that in the summer of 1998, I was playing Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with Philip Dukes on the viola. Menuhin was conducting when, without warning, he turned and fixed his eyes on Philip’s left hand - even his baton stopped.  He leaned over and got so close to Philip that the poor fellow blanched. He was watching Philip so raptly we wondered if he’d forget to turn back to the orchestra at the end of the cadenza, and only at the very last moment did he do so. 

Along with gentleness that nonetheless masked an iron will, Selbst bei größeren Zwischenfällen war Menuhins Humor unerschöpflich.Menuhin's humour was inexhaustible. On one occasion my father was entrusted with taking his priceless Guarneri del Gesù, a violin made in 1742 and known as the ‘Lord Wilton’, on an Alitalia flight to Rome. Menuhin was at the front of the plane and went straight to the VIP room.  When we got to passport control at Fiumicino airport, I asked my father where the violin was. My father looked at me with shock and came out with an expletive. He had left the violin in the baggage compartment on the plane. He ran like an Olympic sprinter back onto the runway and up the stairs of the aircraft - (you could do that in those days). When Yehudi heard about the incident, he giggled like a little boy. Thanks to some kind carabinieri he got his violin back after a tense half hour – tense for my father, anyway. 

JD: I understand he experienced a difficult patch, after his prodigy days were over, during which he virtually had to retrain his technique - can you shed any light on what happened to him and why, and how his playing after this compared to the recordings he made before?

DH: I think like many child prodigies, Menuhin reached a stage in his life where he began to question his astonishing talent. What had seemed entirely natural to him until that point suddenly became a struggle. From what he told me, this seems to have been compounded by emotional problems in his private life and the exhaustion of playing literally hundreds of concerts for the allied troops during the war. He did indeed teach himself to play the violin again, but this ‘crisis’ also led to a new journey of discovery on so many levels: yoga, Indian music with his collaboration with Ravi Shankar and a peace of mind which grounded him as a human being for the rest of his life.

JD: How would you describe his legacy?

DH: One of the greatest violinists of all time, and by far the most vocal classical musician of the 20th century.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Farewells to too many people

In the past week we have heard of the deaths of SIX musical legends. The beloved composer Jonathan Harvey (73). The marvellous jazzer Dave Brubeck (91). Charles Rosen (85), pianist and author, whose books are required reading. Then the great sopranos Lisa della Casa (93) and Galina Vishnevskaya (86). Now Ravi Shankar (92). Here is a tribute to each of them.

Jonathan Harvey's Tranquil Abiding:

 Dave Brubeck and his quartet in 'Take the A Train' (1966):

Charles Rosen talks about Schoenberg and emotion:

Lisa della Casa sings Strauss's 'Frühling'

Galina Vishnevskaya sings Rachmaninov's 'O ne grusti'

Ravi Shankar - with Yehudi Menuhin. 'Tenderness'.

Friday, June 08, 2012

It's Schumann's birthday

It's Schumann's birthday, so for a Friday Historical I'd like to play one of the most exquisite and heartbreaking recordings I know. This is Menuhin in the slow movement of the Violin Concerto. A much-maligned work that might have lain forgotten in a Berlin library forever, had Clara and Joachim had their way, it's a piece that can baffle on first hearing; but the better you know it, the more there is to discover, especially in the cyclic nature of its themes - for instance, a pattern that sounds like a curving, linking melody in this movement is derived from the second subject of the first movement and forms the main theme of the third. That's just a taster idea; listen and go deeper. Much deeper.

Recorded in 1937 with Barbirolli conducting  the New York Philharmonic. (It cuts off rather abruptly at the end - this movement, of course, leads straight into the finale.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Yehudi plays Handel in 1929

You know that feeling when the captain says "Cabin crew, ten minutes to landing," and they dim the lights...but 25 minutes later you're still reeling about over Stansted in high winds and for once the Ryanair staff have stopped trying to sell you burgers or scratchcards and are eerily quiet? Oh - you don't? Lucky you. Me, I thought we were all gonna die.

Glad to be alive the next day, so it seems a good idea to celebrate. I was looking for a nice historical clip of Handel's Messiah so that we can be suitably seasonal - also, I, er, gatecrashed a rehearsal of it in in Aarhus yesterday and, um, it's a really, really good piece, even without the singers. The adorable Maestro Giancarlo Andretta was filling in the vocal lines quite spectacularly from the podium.

But while I was looking for Messiah, I found this. It was recorded by the young Yehudi Menuhin in 1929. Let's have it instead, because it's to die for (only not in a plane...).