Edna Michell, violin.
2. Ran: Yearning 8:08
3. Chen Yi: Romance Of Hsiao And Ch’in 3:59
4. Henze: Adagio adagio 3:28
5. Leef: T’Filah 5:44
6. Ruders: Credo 5:38
7. Satoh: Innocence 7:19
8. Rihm: Cantilena 3:49
9. Xenakis: Huuem-Iduhey 3:01
10. Foss: Romance 5:56
11. Husa: Stele 6:13
12. Olivero: Achot Ketana 6:21
13. Kurtag: Ligatura 2:55
14. Glass: Echorus 7:28
15. Riech: Duet 4:38
These words are vintage Menuhin, written as he neared his 60th birthday and reflecting the breadth of view and depth of spirit with which he approached everything he did. Few musicians have extended themselves so generously or demanded more of the music they played. Music, to Yehudi Menuhin, was not merely an elevated sensuous experience, it was the search for enlightenment. He instinctively reached for its profoundest meanings at a very early age, and touched its spiritual essence so completely that Albert Einstein, hearing him play a youthful concert in Berlin, was moved to say: “Now I know that God exists.”
The 15 works on this first disc are a tribute to that spirit, expressed in a variety of styles completely compatible with Menuhin’s own adventurous temperament. The origin of these new compositions is a story in itself.
Yehudi Menuhin first encountered Edna Michell as a prodigious 12-year-old violinist in Israel. She became his protege and pupil, studying with him when his travels permitted. Their friendship grew, and when they performed together, Michell says, “I was transformed into another sphere.” She remained close to him until his death in 1999, and their individual concert tours or joint appearances often brought them together in various parts of the world.
One night in Prague about five years ago, after musical collaborations in the Czech Republic, they left a post-concert dinner party quite late — “Yehudi kept looking at his watch” — to be driven to Vienna, where each was to catch an early morning flight to a different destination
“It was 4 a.m.,” she recalls, “and Yehudi started an animated conversation in the car about the conditions in the world — the upheavals in Yugoslavia, the human suffering, the atrocities we all knew of. His talk simply flowed. He had so much to say, and he really wanted to talk about it. Sometime during that conversation I had an idea, and said to him: “Why don’t we approach composers around the world to write pieces inspired by the theme of universal compassion — an antidote to the chaotic times we live in?” He gave me a mischievous look, as he often did, with a sort of twinkle in his eye, and said, ‘Knowing you as I do, you not only have this idea, you will bring it to fruition!’
“From that moment we were both excited about this plan. Yehudi was 75, and still had so much enthusiasm and curiosity about everything — he was so open to new ideas. Each time we met, we talked about different ideas and evolved this project”
True to Menuhin’s prediction, Michell pursued the idea born on that dark road to Vienna, and in reflecting on the project today, she muses about her realization that the composers were inspired to write because they all related to Menuhin’s multi-rich personality and to what they believed he stood for — universal compassion being one prime and perfect example. “His life’s theme was music for humanity and humanity for music,” she says. “One stimulated the other, and all the composers sensed that. Each was inspired to write because of Menuhin’s humanistic qualities, his humanitarian impulses.”
Edna Michell points out that she wanted as much variety as possible in the scoring of these works, with the violin as the central instrument. Many of the composers call for the solo instrument with string orchestra; several include a soprano voice; one includes a clarinet, one pairs solo violin and cello, one brings three solo violins into play. In their individual program notes, the composers mention such ideals as international understanding, or the power of music to bring spiritual strength, or elements of simplicity and innocence. All reflect different responses to the life and work of a single great man — “fifteen styles with a noble theme behind them,” as Michell puts it.
Menuhin took great pleasure in this collaborative project, and had plans to record it and to continue performing it with Edna Michell in many parts of the world. She recalls that during a concert when they played these pieces in London, only a month before he died, he turned to her as they walked off stage and said, “Edna, we must record these pieces now!” He believed the works should be performed together in one program because, as Michell says, “they create a very special ambiance.”
Over the course of their long and close association, Menuhin and Michell Collaborated on many projects. When the present collection was assembled they fully expected to expand it and also to continue to develop new and shared aspirations.
“It has been a journey of the spirit,” says Edna Michell today, after performing and recording these pieces. “When I play them I feel as if I were standing at the edge of a lake, looking into clear and calm waters; I see my reflection almost as in a mirror, and I become fully in touch with myself, with a sense of purity — a sort of spiritual experience.”
“I think that the 15 styles of these works have a common denominator: they communicate directly with the listener through a spacious, meditative, transparent quality, with a sense of timelessness. I’m reminded of the famous quote from William Congreve, ‘Music has charms to soothe the savage beast…’ And I hope, through music, the listener will be inspired and moved to experience a humanistic connection which is lacking in today’s world.” A sentiment, indeed, worthy of Menuhin himself.” American audiences heard a number of these pieces in New York for the first time at the 80th Birthday Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin given in August 1996 as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, which Menuhin conducted. It was his last concert appearance in the United States.
— Shirley Fleming
Dedicated to Edna Michell and Yehudi Menuhin
Echorus (derived from the word echo), for two solo violins and string orchestra was composed in the winter of 1994- ’95 for Edna Michell and Yehudi Menuhin. The piece is in A-B-A form and appears as a chaconne. The soloists either play the chaconne or melodic parts suggested by the harmonic structure. The music is inspired by thoughts of compassion and is meant to evoke feelings of serenity and peace.
Recorded: Rudolfinum. Dvorak Hall, Prague — August 29 & September 2. 1999 and August 28 & 30. 2000. American Academy of Arts and Letters. New York City — November 7, 2000. Hochschule für Musik, Karlsruhe. Germany — February 10, 2001.
U.S. Coordinator for the Czech republic: Johana Krejci.
Project manager: Robert E. LaPorta. Cover: Michael Masur “Untitled,” (1997) (detail), oil on canvas, courtesy of Mary Ryan Gallery. NYC Layout: Gordon H Jee
With special thanks for the kind and generous contributions from: Czech Airlines, Artis 3000 / Teris 2002, Perform America Inc., Thea lervolino Petschek, Anita Warburg, Marriott Hotel Prague, Knud Ketting, University of Music — Karlsruhe. Professor Fany Solter, Director, William Krasilovsky. Esq.