Masterclass: a session of tuition by an expert, esp a musician, for exceptional students, usually given in public or on television.
This year’s distinguished Menuhin Competition, (12 – 22 April) now in its 35th year (but held every two years), was founded by its iconic, eponymous violin virtuoso, Yehudi Menuhin, with the goal of nurturing promising young violinists.
Violinist Maxim Vengerov has certainly continued that tradition over three inspiring master classes in Geneva, the host venue for the 2018 competition.
Diana Adamyan from Armenia was the overall winner of the senior category. The 2018 prize winners. Her performance of the Bruch violin concerto was so nuanced, sublime and effused with emotion that it’s hard to get your head round the fact that she is only eighteen years old! A star in the making.
Anyhow, back to the tuition. A Menuhin Competition masterclass is a valuable opportunity for a young musician to learn from one of the most revered living violinists in the world. And if you want to do something you’ve never done before, it makes sense to be guided by someone who has already done it, and even better if they’ve excelled at it.
Maxim Vengerov duly stepped up to the teacher’s plate and knocked it out of the park.
I attended a masterclass he gave in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford a few years ago, recorded for posterity in my first blog!
These 2018 recorded masterclass sessions are manna from heaven for music students and violin lovers. Maestro Vengerov gives priceless advice to participants to help them develop their technical, artistic and performance skills.
As well as being a world renowned violin virtuoso and conductor, Maxim Vengerov is currently the Ambassador and visiting Professor of the Menuhin Music Academy in Switzerland (IMMA) and as of September 2016, the Polonsky Visiting Professor of Violin at the Royal College of Music in London.
Maxim Vengerov is not only an outstanding performer, but also a natural and gifted teacher. His love of the instrument, the music and his students is like a rich, warm sonata that envelops you in a hermetic bubble of energetic nurturing, lighthearted humour and scholarly encouragement.
Is it obvious I worship him?!
These recent masterclass videos are entertaining and inspiring for music lovers and non musicians alike, because they instill an appreciation of the talent, work and dedication that goes into perfecting just one piece; highlighting the depth of knowledge and mastery required to truly convey a composer’s mind through the sound of his notes, to draw the listener in.
It takes a virtuoso to express advanced technique infused with emotion and not get lost in either. It’s called interpretation and it’s a fine line to walk.
What I love is that Maxim immediately knows where the improvement points are, and uses a range of methods to help the students expand their abilities. He is assertive and appreciative in equal measure, a winning combination. I love how he invigorates and encourages them without being overpowering or striking fear into their hearts, and motivates without crushing their confidence.
Vengerov shows the pupils where they can improve, be it in phrasing, the intricacies of bowing, depending on the type of colour and sound required, their technique, voice and musicality, all demonstrated with such wisdom and wit.
He humbly shares his own experience of learning with the legendary cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and jokes about how hard it is to just play two notes evenly!
Even more funny, he quips about the quality of a student’s bow, casually telling the audience that he has multiple bows, and how he uses different ones for Mozart, Shostakovich and Brahms, adding as an afterthought, “It’s an expensive profession!” Then he winks, and clarifies further, “We are starting to work from the age of five.”
You can really hear what a difference his 1747 ‘Kreutzer’ Stradivarius violin paired with Jascha Heifetz’s bow makes.
I have included these wonderful masterclasses as a tribute to musical artistic endeavour!
Nineteen year old violinist I-hao Cheng from Taiwan works through the ‘Andante’ and ‘Allegro’ from Bach’s Solo Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003:
Eighteen year old violinist Zachary Brandon from the United States (with pianist Nicola Eimer) tackles Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy:
OMG! Thirteen year old violinist Nurie Chung from South Korea (with pianist Nicola Eimer) plays Eugene Ysaye’s Caprice d’apres l’Etude en forme de Valse de Camille Saint-Saëns:
It’s also worth seeing the excellent masterclass observations and teachings from some of the other 2018 Menuhin Competition jury members.
Japanese violinist, conductor and jury member Joji Hattori works with seventeen year old violinist Julian Walder from Austria (with pianist Nicola Eimer) on Ravel’s Tzigane for Violin and Piano:
Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra Artistic Director and jury member Henning Kraggerud coaches sixteen year old violinist Elli Choi from the United States on Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major:
Judging and competition insights from the 2018 Menuhin Competition jury members:
I think the students themselves deserve a round of applause, it must be nerve-racking enough to be taught by a legend, let alone in front of an audience, and I applaud them for their dedication and ambition.
While I’m on the subject of masterclasses…
A violin masterclass happens to be the setting of the opening chapter of my fiction novel, The Virtuoso.
I am in the process of creating a new book cover with a new strapline. I think the current strapline: her life is her cadenza, (although it embodies the story) may be too narrow for non musical readers.
So far I am undecided between:
Performance is everything to a virtuoso. Could you give up the one thing you felt you were born to do?
Performance is everything to a virtuoso. Is redemption possible without the music?
Let me know what you think if you have read it, or have a constructive opinion. Feedback is always helpful when implementing changes. Thanks!
“My name is Jelly d’Arányi. I am the only woman who has ever had my name. I am the only woman who shall ever live my life. And live it I have, and I do, and I shall.” ~ Jessica Duchen, Ghost Variations
This bookis not a traditional ghost story replete with creepy sounds that go bump in the night; Ghost Variations is derived from an actual occult experience in 1933, during which an important message from a genius musical spirit ‘speaks’ at a private séance conducted with a Ouija board.
An original Ouija board
As I was researching the violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim, I came across Jessica Duchen’s fabulous novel, which is narrated predominantly from the point of view of the violinist Jelly d’Arányi, a siren Hungarian virtuoso, who as grand niece of Joseph Joachim, made a name for herself as a soloist based in London.
I was totally absorbed in the book from the outset. It is beautifully written, impeccably researched, as well as being musically and historically authentic. The colourful characters (both real and fictional), come off the pages in high definition life.
It’s hard enough to write fictional characters, but to base a work of fiction on mostly real people and events must be even more so…
I read Ghost Variations in a handful of sittings; it totally drew me in to the fictional tale of this real life violinist – slightly past her prime – living an extraordinary life in the Art Deco zeitgeist.
Based on her character in the novel I would love to have met Jelly d’Arányi. I feel Jessica captured her ‘essence’ perfectly: vivacious, glamorous, gracious, kind, musically brilliant but not a diva, vulnerable, courageous, and paradoxically both naïve and worldly.
She has known love, but is dedicated to her Bergonzi violin and her art: music.
The novel is set in the late thirties; Jelly is unmarried and approaching forty with arthritic joints that hamper her playing. She finds her own fame fading simultaneously with the rise of the young violin superstar, Yehudi Menuhin based in America.
Jelly lives with her sister Adila Fachiri, her lawyer husband Alex, daughter Adrienne and pet dog Caesar in Netherton Grove. Their home is affectionately dubbed Hurricane House, a warm and bohemian base for Jelly as she travels across the UK for her paid concerts as well as a series of cathedral charity concerts during the depression.
Portrait of Jelly d’Aranyi by Charles Geoffroy Dechaume
The story begins after a concert when Jelly, her secretary Anna and their hosts, play a glass game. Jelly, although skeptical, still takes part, but when the spirit of composer Robert Schumann mentions her sister, she gets cold feet and leaves the room. At first she cannot accept the spirit messages are real, and tries to put the episode out of her thoughts.
However, events conspire and in a glass game with her sister Adila (known for her psychic abilities), and their close family friend and spiritualist, the Swedish Ambassador, Baron Erik Palmstierna, the voice of Robert Schumann comes through to Jelly, telling her to find and play his forgotten violin concerto. Although still troubled, this time, Jelly cannot ignore it.
The paranormal nature of its emergence adds all the more mystery and conflict to the story, an imagining of what it must have been like for the talented Hungarian sisters in a time when psychic phenomena was frowned upon.
Jelly and Adila start to research the concerto, the last significant composition by Schumann before he descended into apparent madness, written for their revered great uncle Joachim. After Schumann’s death alone in the sanatorium, Brahms, Joachim and Clara decide not to publish the work, and it is placed in the Prussian State Library in Berlin by Joachim’s heirs, with the instruction that it not be performed for at least 100 years.
1850 photograph of Robert Schumann
When Jelly tells her musical companions about the circumstances preceding its rediscovery, she is met with mixed reactions. Donald Francis Tovey decides that the music itself is the most important thing, not its method of discovery, and helps her locate the score with the help of established German publishers Schott.
Baron Palmstierna visits the Prussian State Library expecting access to the suppressed manuscript, only to be told of its strict embargo, which Schumann’s last remaining daughter, the elderly Eugenie Schumann is adamant should remain unplayed…
Meanwhile Jelly is losing another love, Tom Spring-Rice to a fatal illness (after having lost Australian Olympic athlete, pianist and composer, Sep Kelly during the First World War). She is emotionally fragile, and comes to believe that by performing the world premiere of a long lost violin concerto she can also regain her dignity and rediscover herself.
However, in the wake of the baron’s visit to Berlin, knowledge of the concerto has come to the attention of the Nazi’s, who wish to use it for their own sickening nationalistic purposes, and the world premiere of the piece is awarded by Goebbels to a state sanctioned musician, Georg Kulenkampff, after it has been extensively edited by him, and also secretly by Paul Hindemith.
“Sleeping beauty had been awoken by the wrong prince. Could the spirits not see into the future? Could they not have known, when they chose to speak through the glass game, that the first person on whose ear the concerto would fall might be Adolf Hitler?” ~ Jessica Duchen, Ghost Variations
There is a brilliant and chilling scene towards the end of the novel in which the Strecker brothers, Ludwig and Willy and their colleague Ulli Schultheiss from Schott meet with Goebbels and members of the Reich regarding its publication and performances.
They know that their competitor Breitkopf & Härtel are also angling for first publication of the concerto, and so propose that Yehudi Menuhin also play it in America. Ulli puts his neck on the line to push for Jelly d’Arányi’s moral right to play the London premiere, being the grand niece of its dedicatee.
Being the vile Nazi pig he is, Goebbels is unhappy with his suggestion and threatens Ulli with his demise; but he ultimately agrees, as the music will by then be in the public domain.
Other scenes that reduced me to jelly (if you excuse the pronunciation and pun), is when she receives a visit from Moshe Menuhin, Yehudi’s formidable father. He brusquely asks her to give up the London premiere so Yehudi can be the first to play the concerto in London instead. Jelly refuses.
“Would you save a beloved friend’s life only to see him taken prisoner? I know Yehudi will play it well, but that concerto is not home again until it is here with me.” ~ Jessica Duchen, Ghost Variations
After the publication of Horizons of Immortality by Erik Palmstierna in conjunction with Adila Fachiri in 1937, in which a whole chapter is devoted to the story behind Jelly finding the ‘lost’ Schumann concerto, there is a media frenzy and backlash against her, and Jelly’s nerves are shredded even before she is due to perform the London premiere with Sir Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
As Hitler ramps up his anti-Jewish activities and propaganda, Jelly is subject to increasing racial animosity in London as her foreign accent is being noticed and commented on more frequently. The pre-war situation becomes more tense, but it is nothing compared to the vitriolic reaction to her revelation of ‘voices from the other side’.
The man she loves is trapped in Germany, sitting in the Charlottenburg Opera House, dreading Kulenkampff’s world premiere on 26th November 1937, at which Goebbels and the Führer are also present; knowing deep down he must somehow escape the abhorrent pall of Nazi Germany.
Opernhaus, Berlin c. 1912
Ulli’s despair is poignant, when in London he had promised Jelly that she would be the first to play the concerto, but power and politics have deemed otherwise:
“If Kulenkampff and Böhm, those most rational musicians could not make sense of the concerto, how could anybody?
And yet… within this musical jungle lay a naked beauty so exposed that it seemed almost indecent. Schumann’s soul might be damaged and suffering, but he still gave its entirety. Could it ever have been right to leave this music unheard?
And yet, and yet… there was madness here, a precipice lying ahead in the fog and snow; a spirit filled with love, but lost, unable to master itself. For the first time Ulli began to wonder what happens when insanity is unleashed through art into the soul of others. What exactly did Joachim and Clara know about this piece that made them put it to sleep?”
The transition sounded and the Polonaise emerged into the daylight. The Führer was smiling.
Ulli forced himself to listen to the detail. Kulenkampff’s version was considerably altered, wheras Yehudi had eagerly declared that he wanted to play every note exactly as Schumann had written it, without even the hushed-up Hindemith adaptations. Kulenkampff, ignoring Schumann’s funereal metronome mark, played it as a true Polonaise; yet though his delivery was graceful and elegant, its triumph felt empty. Everything would be alright, it seemed to say, when Ulli knew full well that it would not: only a few months after creating the blazing conclusion, Schumann threw himself off the Dusselforf bridge into the black Rhine.
Final chord. Kulenkampff, domed forehead shining with sweat, his bow aloft, gaze locked for an instant with Böhm’s. The orchestra standing, tired, inscrutable. The Führer, on his feet. The whole audience rising to ape him. And applause. And… Ulli sensed sensed their puzzlement. This was no triumph. That slow movement, exquisite, yet out of kilter; was this concerto after all an insane work for an insane land? What had they done, letting it out?” ~ Jessica Duchen, Ghost Variations
The Kulenkampff recording:
Sadly there was no recording of Jelly’s London performance. Menuhin’s American recording from 1938:
It is 16th February 1938, the date of Jelly’s London premiere of the concerto, described in a crescendo of emotion which has been building throughout the book; fascinating for musicians and non-musicians alike.
Ghost Variations has a strong literary and musical theme, but it is written like a psychological thriller. This is something I also tried to achieve with my novel, The Virtuoso.
I’m in awe at Jessica Duchen’s deft vocabulary and skill in layering in her protagonist’s emotional and musical challenges against the backdrop of a violent time in history: the two are clearly inseparable for Jelly. The novel leaves you rooting for victory and redemption for our gutsy heroine.
We meet Jelly’s real cohorts in music, the larger than life pianist Dame Myra Hess and the indefatigable pianist and music professor, Sir Donald Francis Tovey.
Jelly and Myra in a BBC studio on World Violin Day in 1928
There are so many wonderful touches in the story, from how the sisters talk to each other in their everyday dialogue, the affectionate terms such as ‘Sai’ and ‘Onkel Jo’, to learning about how Bartók had written his violin sonatas for the sisters, and how Jelly had been muse to French composer, Maurice Ravel, who composed Tzigane, his gypsy themed, Czardas type melodies in his virtuosic showpiecefor her. Jelly was also a muse to Elgar and Holst.
Ulli’s greetings to the bust of Wagner at Schott’s headquarters in Mainz are entirely plausible, since the Strecker brothers’ father had actually been a close personal friend of the composer.
Jessica explains more about the title of the novel:
Also in 1939, another previously unknown work by Robert Schumann was finally released to the public. It was a set of solo piano variations on the theme that Brahms had adopted from his own Opus 23 Variations (as played to Jelly by Myra in chapter 5). It became known as Geistervariationen – Ghost Variations – because Schumann believed the melody had been dictated to him in his sleep by spirits. What Schumann, in his disturbed state of mind, seemed to have forgotten is that he had already written the germ of this melody himself, in the slow movement of his violin concerto. He was writing the variations when he made his suicide attempt in February 1854. The day after his rescue from the Rhine, he gave the manuscript to Clara. She preferred to leave it unpublished.
Score of Geistervariationen.
Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations), or Theme and Variations in E-flat major for piano, WoO 24:
The suppression of the concerto after Schumann’s death was probably on balance a good thing, after all it led to a grand unveiling of a piece that may have been more maligned in the direct aftermath of Schumann’s illness, not to mention making a wonderful premise for a modern work of fiction!
It’s as though Schumann’s spirit had re-emerged triumphant after eighty years to right the musical injustice of his unheard violin concerto in D minor.
To put it using Sir Donald Francis Tovey’s vernacular from the novel: there’s no nuff and stonsense in this musical, literary gem!
“She had to be no more tonight than the active component of her violin. No extraneous emotion – and no rustling dress – must upset the flow from Schumann’s mind to the audience’s. A musician is the truest medium there is. She, her technique and the Bergonzi were his channel now from world to world.
She let her sister massage her hands, one at a time. In the hall the orchestra was warming up; some overture was opening the programme, she couldn’t remember which. She tried to blot out all that was extraneous, all that was physical. The concerto existed in sound alone, nothing that could be seen, claimed and owned. Everyone wanted to pierce it with a pin and fix it to a velvet board, but it belonged to everybody and nobody. It was the sum total of all that had passed: imagined by Schumann, nurtured by Clara, fired up by Brahms, twisted by Onkel Jo, guarded by all those gatekeepers, meddled with by Goebbels and Hindemith and even perhaps Ulli. Yehudi, she knew would play it perfectly – so perhaps she and he were allies after all, desiring the best for the work – and whenever it was played, it would be born anew.”
Jessica very helpfully elucidates on which characters are real and which are fictional, as well as factual information about Jelly’s life and the fate of her family, friends and colleagues, at the end of the book, plus her extensive bibliography.
“Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin
When asked to think of a violinist, probably one of the first names that would come to mind is Yehudi Menuhin. I’m going to sound-off a bit (in a good way), as today marks the centenary of his birth, (22nd April 1916).
Perhaps being British I was exposed to his music more than say, the likes of his contemporaries, Jascha Heifetz or David Oistrakh, but he’s undoubtedly one of the giants of the 20th century and revered by many current soloists. Not just for his supreme talent on the violin, or indeed his teaching and music school, or his conducting, but for also for his humanitarian work and contributions to the world of classical music as a whole.
A child prodigy, he first studied under Louis Persinger and later Romanian violinist and composer, George Enescu.
You could say he was truly a citizen of the world, born in the USA to Russian Jewish parent’s he became a Swiss citizen in 1970 and a British citizen in 1985. He performed all over the world during his illustrious career.
His recording contract with EMI was the longest in the history of the music industry, lasting almost 70 years from his first recording aged thirteen in 1929, to his final recording aged eighty three in 1999. He recorded over 300 works both as a violinist and conductor.
His legacy lives on in the form of his music school in Surrey (where Adelia Myslov, the violinist who recorded the soundtrack for my novel, The Virtuoso, attended). Adelia spoke of performing with him and I could see they were very special memories for her.
So many of his You Tube clips are from those halcyon days of black and white; truly vintage performances that I love. For me, Menuhin was the embodiment of virtuosity, his style was romantic without being sentimental, his musicality and phrasing was exquisite. I’ll share some of my favourite performances of his throughout this post.
“In playing Beethoven the violinist should be a medium. There is little that is personal or that can be reduced to ingratiating sounds, pleasing slides and so on. Everything is dictated by the significance, the weight, structure and direction of the notes and passages themselves.” ~ Yehudi menuhin
Rather than populate this post with tons of text, I’d rather give you his voice and music…
A Violonist in Hollywood – Yehudi Menuhin in coversation with Humprey Burton:
The focus of the film is on previously unreleased footage from the legendary Hollywood music film, Concert Magic from the year 1947. In interviews and conversations with his biographer Humphrey Burton, Yehudi Menuhin recalls the origin of the film, the war and post-war era in America and Germany. Special attention is paid to his commitment to the victims of World War II. These include great artists forced into American exile such as fellow musician Béla Bartók.
During the Second World War Yehudi Menuhin helped to raise the spirits of war victims and refugee children with numerous concerts. He supported artists in American exile, performed for an audience of freed prisoners of the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, and in war ravaged Berlin he played demonstratively under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwängler.
Looking back at the mid-1940’s it is clear to see with what passion Menuhin linked his goals of musical excellence with a dedication to social causes. He used music to plead for justice and reconciliation often against strong resistance.
“Each human being has the eternal duty of transforming what is hard and brutal into a subtle and tender offering, what is crude into refinement, what is ugly into beauty, ignorance into knowledge, confrontation into collaboration, thereby rediscovering the child’s dream of a creative reality incessantly renewed by death, the servant of life, and by life the servant of love.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin
Yehudi Menuhin School
The Menuhin School was set up in 1963 for musically gifted children and is based in beautiful grounds at Stoke d’Abernon near Cobham in Surrey. I attended a classical concert there last year when Adelia was performing with Craig White; many of the school’s alumni are invited to return. It’s the spiritual home of violin tuition, with Lord Menuhin’s grave located in the grounds near the performance hall.
Violinist David Hope was lucky enough to be taught and mentored by Yehudi Menuhin, and talks about his journey with the late maestro and also his latest album, My Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin:
Current violinists fortunate to have been taught by Lord Menuhin include Nigel Kennedy, Nicola Benedetti, Paul Coletti and Peter Tanfield.
The Menuhin Competition
Set up in 1983, this is the world’s foremost violin completion for young musicians under 22. The Menuhin Competition is held every two years in different locations around the world. Past winners include Julia Fischer, Ray Chen, Lara St. John, Tasmin Little and Ilya Gringolts. The 2016 final was won earlier this month by Chinese violinist Ziyu He.
“I would hate to think I am not an amateur. An amateur is one who loves what he is doing. Very often, I’m afraid, the professional hates what he is doing. So, I’d rather be an amateur.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin
As you would expect from a musician of his calibre Yehudi Menuhin played on several famous violins, the most famous of which was the Lord Wilton Guarnerius of 1742. Among his other violins were the Giovanni Bussetto 1680, the Giovanni Grancino 1695, the Guarneri filius Andrea 1703, the Soil Stradivarius, the Prince Khevenhüller 1733 Stradivarius, and the Guarneri del Gesù 1739.
David Fulton – current owner of the 1742 Lord Wilton ex Yehudi Menuhin Guarnerius
I couldn’t find a clip where I could be sure Menuhin was performing on his Lord Wilton, but I have found one of James Ehnes playing Tchaikovsky’s Melody on it in 2012. He made a series of recordings on famous Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu violins. It seems to possess a very rich, deep and powerful tone.
The Menuhin Century: (Ave Maria, Flight of the Bumblebee):
I think I’m going to have to purchase this!
Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Colin Davis in 1962:
Yehudi Menuhin, aged 22 performing the Mendelssohn violin concerto in E minor, Op. 64 with his teacher, George Enescu conducting:
I absolutely adore his Bach Chaconne solo!
An iconic recording with David Oistrakh of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor:
The second movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.1in D Major:
A fabulous vintage video of Menuhin in rehearsal and performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, KV 216:
A vintage recording of Menuhin performing Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto with Elgar conducting the LSO:
Menuhin plays the dramatic third movement of the Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61 with the LSO:
Menuhin performs Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Trio in 1974 with Rostropovich and Kempff:
Indian Classical Music with Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha and Yehudi Menuhin:
Yehudi Menuhin & Ravi Shankar – Tenderness:
In his jazz mood with Stephane Grappelli! Autumn Leaves:
Jacob Gade’s tango – Jalousie:
I haven’t really touched on the technical difficulties he faced in the latter part of his career, because despite his virtuosic decline he was always an outstanding musician, conductor and human being.
Poster at the performance hall of Yehudi Menuhin School
“Actually, I was gazing in my usual state of being half absent in my own world and half in the present. I have usually been able to ‘retire’ in this way. I was also thinking that my life was tied up with the instrument and would I do it justice?” ~ Yehudi Menuhin