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Violin great’s legacy lives on

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Inspired learning: violinist Sari Smith plays during the workshop (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Liz Tremblay was terrified things would go terribly wrong when her musicians met Yehudi Menuhin in 1986.

She put her students through weeks of practice in advance, and schooled them on the proper etiquette for addressing one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century.

And then Lord Menuhin arrived — and asked to take them to the beach.

“He believed that to realise the music fully, you had to be completely relaxed,” Ms Tremblay said.

The trip to the beach never actually happened; Lord Menuhin saw the students at their best.

Added Ms Tremblay: “I don’t think at the time my students realised what a giant was working with them but [his visit] was a wonderful experience.”

She recalled the story while rehearsing for this weekend’s Menuhin Centenary Celebration. Alumni, and past and current teachers, will perform at the concert marking the 100th anniversary of Lord Menuhin’s birth and the 40th anniversary of the Menuhin Foundation. Six current students will also perform.

Ms Tremblay was a Menuhin teacher in the ’80s and ’90s. It was her idea that the concert be held under the auspices of the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts.

“I’m enjoying meeting up with some of my former students,” she said.

She was particularly proud of physician Joanna Sherratt-Wyer.

“It is wonderful to be playing with the Menuhin Reunion Orchestra,” Dr Sherratt-Wyer said. “Both of my cello teachers, Liz Tremblay and Alison Johnstone, are playing and it is a thrill to play with both of them as an adult.”

Her parents had to get a bigger car to accommodate her cello when she started playing it at the age of eight.

“In primary four at the Bermuda High School I wanted to play the violin,” said Dr Wyer. “Music teacher Kate Stubbs took one look at my hands and told me they were big enough for the cello. I went home with one that day, [a loan from the Menuhin Foundation]. I will never forget the look on my mother’s face. I think it was because the instrument was so big, and I’m not sure she knew what it was.”

Her children Elizabeth, 7, and Eddie, 5, are now Menuhin students. Elizabeth was one of 110 students who took part in outreach workshops this week.

“It is wonderful to see so many children of Menuhin students going on to learn instruments and developing their own love of music,” Dr Wyer said.

Ross Cohen was one of the original members of the Heller Quartet, brought to Bermuda by the Menuhin Foundation in 1976.

The 61-year-old viola player was then fresh out of university.

“Bermuda seemed like a lush paradise when we first arrived,” Mr Cohen recalled. “There was a major heatwave and drought in London when we came. The parks were all brown. Earlier, we had made our debut at Wigmore Hall in London in sweat-drenched tie and tails.”

Conductor Philip Burrin was also part of the Heller Quartet. He was last in Bermuda for Lord Menuhin’s final visit here, in 1995. The renowned musician died four years later.

“When Menuhin was first set up in Bermuda there had been a bit of classical music strings teaching, but not a lot,” he said. “Our students all took to it and liked it. We were very warmly welcomed. We went around to several of the schools and also taught privately. Menuhin was absolutely for everyone. Schools were selected but gradually more and more schools participated. It was wonderful coming here.”

The concerts take place at 8pm at the Earl Cameron Theatre. Tickets, $70 for adults and $25 for students, are available from www.bdatix.bm. For more information visit www.menuhin.bm. or bermudafestival.org

Soaring strings: violinists Camille Lesage, left, and Aisling Homan taking part in a Menuhin Foundation student outreach programme (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
All together now: Ariana Lowther, left, and Aria Turchiaro (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Expert advice: Charles Knights teaching a Menuhin Foundation student outreach programme (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Follow my lead: conductor Philip Burrin leading a Menuhin Foundation student outreach programme (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
<p>Child prodigy who helped start festival</p>

Yehudi Menuhin was a fascinating individual. He was a child prodigy and began playing the violin at 3.

After a 1929 concert in Berlin when he was 13, Albert Einstein went backstage, kissed him and said: “Today Yehudi, you have once again proved to me that there is a God in Heaven.”

He was good friends with former Bermuda Governor Sir Edwin Leather, a music lover.

Together, they hatched plans for the Bermuda Festival and Lord Menuhin performed at the first, in January 1976. He decided to establish the Menuhin Foundation after watching a string orchestra at Warwick Academy.

It was his thought that Bermuda’s isolated geography limited students’ access to string instruments.

The Foundation was created using some of the proceeds from the first Bermuda Festival.

Lord Menuhin had strong opinions on many other topics.

He made a point of performing before non-white audiences during segregation and was a proponent of yoga, and giving birth control information to young people before they left school.