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Violinist Yehudi Menuhin was born in New York on 22 April 1916 to Jewish Russian immigrants who encouraged their son musicially with the best teachers. His official (and brilliant) début at the age of seven was on 29 February 1924 with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. By the time he was thirteen, he had played in Berlin, London and Paris.
In 1927 he began studies with George Enescu and became a world celebrity overnight, when he performed the Beethoven concerto in New York's Carnegie Hall with Fritz Busch and the New York Symphony Orchestra. The following year he made his first gramophone recordings, and in 1932 he was soloist in the Elgar Concerto at Elgar's 75th birthday concert, conducted by the composer.
In 1938 he married Nola Nicholas, daughter of an Australian millionaire (and, in 1947, divorced her, on grounds of 'simple incompatibility', marrying the ballerina Diana Gould later that same year).
During World War II he gave more than five hundred concerts for American and allied troups. in 1944 he played Bartók's Sonata for solo violin, which had been written for him, in New York, and in 1945 he performed for the survivors of the newly-liberated Belsen concentration camp.
He was the first Jewish artist to play with Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra after the war, despite criticism from the Jewish community worldwide. He is remembered in Berlin for making that 'first contact with cultural Germany'.
In 1952 he visited India, forming a lasting friendship with Prime Minister Nehru. (Later, in 1960, he was awarded the Nehru Peace Prize for International Understanding.) He met Ravi Shankar, with whom he made several charity recordings.
He established the Gstaad Festival in Switzerland in 1956, was director of the Bath Festival for ten years from 1958, and in 1959 made his home in London. In 1962 he founded the Yehudi Menuhin School, stating that 'The most blessed and privileged of all callings is that of the musician, who acts as interpreter, inspirer, teacher, healer, consoler, and, above all, as a humble servant. These are the human roles I would endeavour to cultivate among my beloved group of young students, who enrich my School not only with their burgeoning talents but with the great diversity of their cultural backgrounds.' In 1977 he founded the International Music Academy for Young Graduate String Players in Gstaad.
In 1985 he took British citizenship, in 1987 he was knighted, and in 1993 made a life peer. To mark his 80th birthday in 1996 he conducted the Warsaw Sinfonia in a new complete cycle of the Beethoven symphonies and, the following year, was recognised for his humanitarian work by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, receiving the Distinguished Peace Leadership Award.
Yehudi Menuhin died in Berlin on 12 March 1999, aged 82, from heart failure. Isaac Stern called Menuhin 'a major figure in this century: an extraordinary musician, and a great humanitarian'.
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