The Kennedy Center

Yehudi Menuhin


Yehudi Menuhin
(violinist, born April 22, 1916, New York, New York; died March 12, 1999)

Yehudi Menuhin's first solo red-letter day was November 25, 1927, when, at the age of 11, he electrified Carnegie Hall with his interpretation of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. That historic appearance with the New York Symphony, under Fritz Busch, launched an already promising career that continued to make history for six decades.

Reviewing Menuhin's Carnegie Hall debut, the New York Times stated: "It seems ridiculous to say that he showed a mature conception of Beethoven's Concerto, but that is the fact. When the bow touched the strings, it was evident that an exceptional musical intelligence and sensibility were behind the performance."

When young Menuhin followed that dazzling success with a solo recital at Carnegie Hall a few weeks later, a police detail was called out to keep the overflowing crowd under control.

The distinguished violinist and conductor had given his first public performance as a soloist playing the violin at age seven with the San Francisco Orchestra, under the baton of Alfred Hertz, two years after starting to take violin lessons with Sigmund Anker, who specialized in teaching child prodigies.

Menuhin was the eldest child and only son of a Russian-born couple. His father, who had been reared in Palestine, was a teacher of Hebrew. Before Yehudi was a year old, the family moved to San Francisco, where his father eventually became superintendent of the Jewish Education Society and young Menuhin's became a fledgling star of the musical world.

Following his San Francisco debut, his extraordinary talent came to the attention of Sidney Ehrman, a San Francisco lawyer and philanthropist who underwrote the youngster's expenses for a number of years. Thus enabled to travel, the youngster, who was tutored by his family, studied his art under Georges Enesco, the Rumanian violinist, composer, and conductor, in Paris. Also in Paris, he received instruction from the German violinist Adolf Busch before making his Paris debut in 1927 prior to his New York triumph. During repeated visits to Europe during the next few years, young Menuhin, while studying intermittently with Enesco, captivated audiences in numerous cities while performing with some of the world's greatest conductors.

In 1935, after his first around-the-world concert tour, in which he made 110 appearances in 63 cities of 13 countries, including New Zealand and Australia, Menuhin took a hiatus from the concert stage to learn as much as he could about the fundamentals of the instrument he had been playing instinctively.

He later explained his decision: "Even at the risk of losing all the golden eggs of the future, I had to find out what made the goose lay those eggs. I wanted to know exactly in what way the smallest articulations of the fingers had to move, what sensation they had to evoke in the mind and in the subconscious, what feeling of ease, of balance. of facility, of strength was involved in each section and each subdivision of the intricate and complicated technique of the violin."

Upon his return in 1937, it was noted that his musicianship was that of a craftsman who had lost none of the sensitivity of an intuitive violinist. One of his first recitals was at his launching pad--Carnegie Hall.

During World War II, Menuhin gave more than 500 concerts for the Armed Forces, which earned him the French Legion of Honour and Croix de Lorraine, the Belgium Ordre de la Couronne and Ordre Leopold, the Order of Merit from West Germany, and the Order of the Phoenix from Greece. Among the more than 50 additional honors he received over the years were the Royal Philharmonic Society's Gold Medal, the Cobbett Medal, the Sonning Prize (from Copenhagen), an Honorary Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth (England's highest honor for a non -British subject), the Handel Medallion from his native New York City, and the Jawaharlal Nehru Peace Award for his "outstanding contribution and promotion of international understanding, goodwill and friendship among the people of the world through the medium of music." In 1969, Menuhin was unanimously elected as President of the International music Council of U.N.E.S.C.O. and was reelected several times.

Menuhin's dedication to the support of the next generation of musicians prompted him to establish several schools, one in Surrey, England, another in Gstaad, Switzerland. He also founded "Live Music Now," a charity which provides a unique service to young artists and to the public. Through it, talented young musicians perform in hospitals, churches, schools, prisons, clubs, and private homes, bringing music to those who are too old, to ill, to poor, or too far away to attend performances in regular concert halls.

Menuhin was noted for his remarkable knowledge of all musical disciplines, having recorded jazz favorites with Stephane Grappelli and Indian ragas with Ravi Shankar, to name a few.

He introduced to the public a number of new works commissioned by or dedicated to him by Bartók, Bloch, Enesco, Vaughan Williams, William Walton, Lennox Berkeley, Malcolm Williamson, Oedoen Partos, and others.

In his later life, he devoted much of his performing career to conducting. Among the many orchestras with which he was associated are the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C.

When not performing, Menuhin had several books published. Included were his autobiography Unfinished Journey and The Music of Man, which he co-authored with Curtis W. Davis and which was based on his television series of that name.

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