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Violinist Yehudi Menuhin played a public performance for the first time in his hometown of New York at the age of 9 on this date in 1926, at the Manhattan Opera House. This came two years after his debut concert in San Francisco, where he played Bériot’s ”Scene de Ballet” with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and it preceded celebrated appearances in Paris and Brussels in early 1927. Menuhin (1916-1999) grew from a child prodigy into a world-renowned musician who “stunned listeners with his pure tone, his virtuosic technique and his interpretive insight,” writes Allan Kozinn in the New York Times. In addition to his mastery of classical music, he recorded jazz albums with Stéphane Grappelli and made a series of ”East Meets West” recordings with Indian musicians, including sitarist Ravi Shankar. His favorite musical partner, however, was his sister, Hephzibah, a pianist, with whom he said he “played almost automatically, as if we were one person.” During World War II, Menuhin gave more than five hundred concerts for Allied troops, often in combat zones, and after the war he played in displaced persons camps. He was denounced in the Jewish community, however, for performing with Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic and for urging post-war reconciliation between Israel and Germany.
“The violinist must possess the poet’s gift of piercing the protective hide which grows on propagandists, stockbrokers and slave traders, to penetrate the deeper truth which lies within.” --Yehudi Menuhin
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.