Surrey U3A Network’s September study day was held, as usual, at the Yehudi Menuhin school; but this time the subject was the school itself and its founder. Words and pictures: Phyllis Hughes
A violinist aged just nine delighted U3A members at a study day about the life of Yehudi Menuhin and the music school he founded.
Tonwyn Li played Fritz Kreisler’s Marche Miniature Viennoise as part of a concert put on at the school’s Yehudi Menuhin hall.
He was one of four instrumentalists who demonstrated the incredible talent and high musical standards achieved by the 80 pupils at the school in Stoke d’Abernon, near Fetcham.
The day started with a history of the school and its founder from headmaster Dr Richard Hillier and director of music, composer Malcolm Singer.
They explained how the world-famous violinist, who was born in the USA, set up his school for musically gifted children from all over the world in London in 1963. He was the son of Jewish Russian emigrés, who moved first to Palestine and then to America.
‘Yehudi, which means Jewish, decided when he was three that he wanted to play the violin. His parents bought him a plastic toy one and when he was given it he lost his temper and stamped on it,’ Mr Singer said. ‘They then bought him a real one.’
His talent was obvious from the start, and by the age of 10 he was already performing concerts. He was on the world stage by the time he was 12.
‘Yehudi actually only went to school for one half-day. He didn’t like it, and his parents decided to home-tutor him along with his sisters. This led to a rather strange childhood because he never mixed with other children, and it did not equip him very well for early adult life.’
Mr Singer went on to say that Yehudi always believed in the power of music and played to survivors of Belsen concentration camp at the end of the Second World War. He also played to German soldiers and was bitterly criticised for doing so.
His dream was to set up his music school, but it was not all plain sailing. ‘There were constant financial worries, and once Yehudi had bought the house in Stoke d’Abernon they had to take out a mortgage for £20,000, which took years and years to pay off,’ said Mr Singer.
The school started with just 12 pupils, and the precarious finances meant it was difficult to expand. But in the 1970s the Government introduced more support for the arts and the school was able to offer bursaries.
Now there are places for 12 cellists, 12 pianists, six double bass players, six classical guitarists and 40 violinists. Pupils are selected on their ability and many of them qualify for help with the £42,000-a-year fees.