Yehudi Menuhin and the Berliner Philharmoniker

The violinist’s 100th birthday

Yehudi Menuhin 1973
(Photo: Reinhard Friedrich)

In 2016, Yehudi Menuhin would have turned 100 – a good reason for the Philharmonic Orchestra Academy to dedicate a concert to the violinist of the century. The 60-year-long artistic partnership began on 12 April 1929 when the then only twelve year old violinist made his debut with the E major Violin Concerto by Bach and the concertos of Beethoven and Brahms, conducted by Bruno Walter. The evening was a sensation and marked the beginning of a great career. “The concert in Berlin [...] was a kind of apotheosis and a milestone in my life,” the musician wrote later in his memoirs. Afterwards, he returned to the orchestra only once in this period, on 14 December 1931, with Bruno Walter again as the conductor. After 1933, Jewish musicians like Menuhin and Walter were not allowed to give public concerts in Germany.

Spectacular return

Yehudi Menuhin was one of the first Jewish musicians to travel to Germany soon after the end of World War II – and incurred the displeasure of many Americans and Holocaust survivors. He first appeared in two concerts led by Wilhelm Furtwängler in the Titania-Palast on 28 and 30 September 1947. They were followed by concerts in 1948, 1949 and 1952 under the batons of Furtwängler, Sergiu Celibidache and Leopold Ludwig. Two tour concerts with Herbert von Karajan in 1956 plus a concert in Berlin in February 1964 – when Menuhin appeared for the first time as a conductor of the Philharmoniker – marked a temporary return. Only from 1973 did the artist become a regular soloist and guest conductor of the orchestra over a total of 45 concert evenings.

Soloist and conductor

In his concerts with the Philharmoniker, Yehudi Menuhin played with ten conductors: Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Leopold Ludwig, Sergiu Celibidache, Herbert von Karajan, Edmond de Stoutz, Anthony Ridley, Seiji Ozawa, Zubin Mehta and James Judd. The soloists in concerts conducted by Menuhin were: the pianists Alexis Weissenberg, Jeremy Menuhin, Joaquin Achúcarro and Paul Coker; the violinists Nigel Kennedy, Elizabeth Glass and Rosa Fain; members of the Berliner Philharmoniker (Andreas Blau, Konradin Groth, Leon Spierer, Hanns-Joachim Westphal, Neithard Resa, Eberhard Finke, Martin Kretzer) and a number of singers. The choir of the Cathedral of St. Hedwig and the Philharmonischer Chor Berlin also appeared in concerts under his direction. Menuhin’s repertoire ranged from Bach, Handel, Corelli, Vivaldi, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Brahms to the composers of the 20th century. In 1974, the Berliner Philharmoniker appointed Yehudi Menuhin an honorary member of the orchestra, and in 1979, he was awarded the Hans von Bülow Medal.

1947: Yehudi Menuhin and Wilhelm Furtwängler receive a warning from an American military policeman at the end of a rehearsal in the Titania-Palast in Berlin
(Photo: Archiv Berliner Philharmoniker)
1974: as conductor
(Photo: Reinhard Friedrich)