Shura Cherkassky And Yehudi Menuhin – in conversation with Marin Amis – Talking About Music – BBC Transcription Service – 1964
Two historic interviews this week. Both part of the same program; Talking About Music with Martin Amis and broadcast over the BBC in 1964.
Starting with Ukranian-American pianist Shura Cherkassky – Alexander Isaakovich Cherkassky was born in Odessa, Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire) in 1909. Cherkassky’s family fled to the United States to escape the Russian Revolution. His family was Jewish.
Cherkassky’s first music lessons were from his mother, Lydia Cherkassky, who once played for Tchaikovsky in St. Petersburg. She also taught the pianist Raymond Lewenthal. In the United States, Cherkassky continued his piano studies at the Curtis Institute of Music under Josef Hofmann. Before studying with Hofmann, however, Cherkassky auditioned for Sergei Rachmaninoff, who advised him to give up performing for at least two years and to change the position of his hands at the keyboard. Conversely, Hofmann suggested Cherkassky should continue giving concerts, and this long association with public performance meant that Cherkassky felt comfortable before an audience. Hofmann also recommended that he practice for four hours every day and Cherkassky did this religiously throughout his life, maintaining an extensive repertoire (baroque to Berio) to an exacting standard. His studies and advisory sessions with Hofmann continued until 1935. In the interim he began his lifelong obsession with world travel with trips to Australia, New Zealand, the Far East, Russia and Europe.
Shura Cherkassky performed actively until the end of his life, and many of his best recordings were made under live concert recital conditions.
And the second interview is with Yehudi Meuhin – Yehudi Menuhin was born in New York City to a family of Lithuanian Jews. Through his father Moshe, a former rabbinical student and anti-Zionist, he was descended from a distinguished rabbinical dynasty. In late 1919, Moshe and his wife Marutha (née Sher) became American citizens, and changed the family name from Mnuchin to Menuhin. Menuhin’s sisters were concert pianist and human rights activist Hephzibah, and pianist, painter and poet Yaltah.
Menuhin’s first violin instruction was at age four by Sigmund Anker (1891–1958); his parents had wanted Louis Persinger to teach him, but Persinger refused. Menuhin displayed exceptional musical talent at an early age. His first public appearance, when he was seven years old, was as solo violinist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1923. Persinger then agreed to teach him and accompanied him on the piano for his first few solo recordings in 1928–29.
On 12 April 1929 the Semperoper cancelled its advertised program to make way for a performance by the twelve-year-old Yehudi Menuhin. That night he played the Bach, Beethoven and Brahms violin concertos to an ecstatic audience… The week before, Yehudi had played in Berlin with the Philharmonic under Bruno Walter to an equally rapturous response.
When the Menuhins moved to Paris, Persinger suggested Menuhin go to Persinger’s old teacher, Belgian virtuoso and pedagogue Eugène Ysaÿe. Menuhin did have one lesson with Ysaÿe, but he disliked Ysaÿe’s teaching method and his advanced age. Instead, he went to Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu, under whose tutelage he made recordings with several piano accompanists, including his sister Hephzibah. He was also a student of Adolf Busch in Basel. He stayed in the Swiss city for a bit more than a year, where he started to take lessons in German and Italian as well.
In 1957, he founded the Menuhin Festival Gstaad in Gstaad, Switzerland. In 1962, he established the Yehudi Menuhin School in Stoke d’Abernon, Surrey. He also established the music program at The Nueva School in Hillsborough, California, sometime around then. In 1965 he received an honorary knighthood from the British monarchy. In the same year, Australian composer Malcolm Williamson wrote a violin concerto for Menuhin. He performed the concerto many times and recorded it at its premiere at the Bath Festival in 1965. Originally known as the Bath Assembly, the festival was first directed by the impresario Ian Hunter in 1948. After the first year the city tried to run the festival itself, but in 1955 asked Hunter back. In 1959 Hunter invited Menuhin to become artistic director of the festival. Menuhin accepted, and retained the post until 1968.
Menuhin also had a long association with Ravi Shankar, beginning in 1966 with their joint performance at the Bath Festival and the recording of their Grammy Award-winning album West Meets East (1967). During this time, he commissioned composer Alan Hovhaness to write a concerto for violin, sitar, and orchestra to be performed by himself and Shankar. The resulting work, entitled Shambala (c. 1970), with a fully composed violin part and space for improvisation from the sitarist, is the earliest known work for sitar with western symphony orchestra, predating Shankar’s own sitar concertos, but Menuhin and Shankar never recorded it. Menuhin also worked with famous jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli in the 1970s on Jalousie, an album of 1930s classics led by duetting violins backed by the Alan Claire Trio.
Enjoy the interviews.