Opinions

A virtuoso's priceless gift --- Today is Yehudi Menuhin's birthday

"The violin, through the serene clarity of its song, helps to keep our bearings in the storm, as a light in the night, a compass in the tempest, it shows us a way to a haven of sincerity and respect." Yehudi Menuhin

Listening to Yehudi Menuhin's ethereal violin renditions is an experience one cherishes throughout his life. I was fortunate enough to listen to him thrice in my life and receiving a birch-wood violin from the maestro was an icing on the cake. I first attended his performance in New York when I was 12-year-old and knew nothing of western classical music, esp. occidental instrumental renditions, particularly on a piano or a violin. So mesmerised I was by the virtuoso's performance that I decided to learn how to play a violin. In Europe, I got an opportunity to learn playing violin from his Italian student and currently the greatest living violinist in the world: Massimo Quarta.

I joined Dilettante Violinists' Association (DVA), London and started performing on the stage and classical music sessions. I'd a side-metallic violin (a mistake at that time) instead of a classic birch-wood or willow-wood (cricket bats are made of harder willows and classic violins are made of either English willow or wild birch for perfect synchronizations). 

At the age of nineteen, I got a rare opportunity to play the greatest ever violinist Niccolo Paganini's 'Sonata Concertata' (1803/ Op. 61, Key-A, Violin/Guitar) in a musical session in Taunton, Somerset (UK). The audience comprised my master Massimo Quarta and his master, the great Yehudi Menuhin. I was full of trepidation and played the grand composition mixing Minor S and Major S in the same breath. It was a ridiculous, nay unforgivable, blunder. I excused myself and left the stage halfway through and began to cry. 

After a few minutes, I was awestruck to see Massimo Quarta and Yehudi Menuhin in the greenroom. Both consoled me and said that I should have finished the Concertata (it's a western belief in classical music circles that a composition by a late maestro must be finished however badly one may have rendered it; leaving a piece/composition unfinished is an affront to the old master/s). I was not aware of this and said sorry. Menuhin told me that it wasn't a blunder on my part because I chose a wrong type of violin with a side-metallic built. I ought to have played such serious masterpieces on a classic wooden violin with no touch of metal. 

I thanked him for his invaluable advice. He wished me well and left. After a few days, I got a gift from none other than Yehudi himself! It was a wonderful birch-wood violin. There was a note from the legend: With love, Yehudi Menuhin. I cried with joy. He got my postal address from the London conductor of the music club.

When I came to India, I carried Menuhin's gift. But soon realized that European birch-wood violins soon develop hairline cracks in tropical climates and the strains become strained. I kept it back at my home in Ireland and play it whenever I go to London/Ireland. I played it for my dying professors Dr Edward W Said in New York and for my mentor Dr Zaifa Ashraf in London. Both died of cancer. 

Years have elapsed but I've not forgotten Yehudi's wonderful gesture of gifting an original wooden violin to me. Where're those great souls, I often ask myself. Mr Menuhin, I remember you with a sense of profound fondness and gratitude.

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