Thursday, 19 November 2009




In my life I have twice functioned as catalyst in matters of musical significance involving Yehudi Menuhin, and which had important public consequences. In 1976, when I was City Arts Administrator of Portsmouth, and Director of its Arts Festival, the Leader of the City Council, Richard Sotnick, wanted to promote a music competition ending in a prestigious gala symphony concert in the Guildhall to be held when he became Lord Mayor. Now my predecessor as Festival Director, Gavin Henderson, had invited Menuhin to conduct a symphony concert in Portsmouth, with his sister Hephzibah as solo pianist. So I suggested to the Leader that we should wait till Menuhin’s visit, and take that opportunity of inviting him to a reception after the concert, at which the city fathers could ask him to give them his advice on how to prepare and handle such a competition. I had warned Menuhin of this plan, to which he had agreed, and in the interval of the concert I also reminded him in the dressing room to come to the reception after the concert. This introduction led to Menuhin becoming the Artistic Adviser of the competition, and also the Chairman of the Jury. Menuhin suggested the form that the competition should take, and so it became the City of Portsmouth International String Quartet Competition, a competition of world class. It is now the City of London International String Quartet Competition.

In the case of Gstaad my catalytic function worked in the opposite direction. Around 1989 Menuhin had had the idea, originally actually not of a concert hall, but of an opera house for his festival, built in a cave inside a mountain, and had involved the great architect I.M.Pei in the project. The scheme had collapsed for lack of funds. But the idea was picked up by the Swiss architect Professor Alfred Grazioli, who gave it as a student project to Wieka Muthesius in Berlin. And here on a Christmas visit in Berlin I met Wieka, actually the step granddaughter of my marvellous, but Nazi, schoolmaster in Berlin 1928-1932, and she showed me the project, a concert hall inside a mountain, which made an indelible impression on me. Sadly the project remained a student project until, many years later, I had the idea of suggesting to my businessman friend in Gstaad ,Markus Kappeler, to take action. While Markus was at first dubious about the validity of such an ambitious scheme, over the years, with his leadership, the idea became the Gstaad project Les Arts Gstaad, and that project now promises to become reality.

So by a series of extraordinary coincidences I was twice able to act as a catalyst for significant musical projects that involved Menuhin. In Portsmouth I took an idea from Richard Sotnick to Menuhin, and in Gstaad I took an idea from Menuhin to Markus Kappeler. A catalyst in two opposite directions...

Perhaps these two actions were the most significant of my professional life in the performing arts.

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