NEW YORK, March 15 (JTA) — Sir Yehudi Menuhin, the renowned violinist and conductor who passed away last Friday at the age of 82 in Berlin, will be remembered for his classic renditions of such pieces as the Elgar Violin Concerto. He will also be remembered as a controversial figure in the Jewish community. Menuhin was born in New York on April 22, 1916, to Russian immigrants who had met in Palestine. Indeed, his parents reportedly named him Yehudi, Hebrew for “Jew,” after a landlord who was showing them an apartment told them that one benefit of the building was that no Jews lived there. Menuhin, whose violin career began as child prodigy, was criticized by Jewish groups after he played with the German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler and the Berlin Philharmonic soon after World War II, in part because Furtwangler had prospered in Germany during the war. After a Jewish relief organization called for a boycott of one his concerts, Menuhin responded by saying, “Love, and not hate, will heal the world.” Menuhin later supported Furtwangler’s candidacy to become conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at a time when other famous musicians said they would not play with the symphony if Furtwangler was hired. Furtwangler withdrew his candidacy, but many in the Jewish world harshly criticized Menuhin for supporting him — indeed, there was a bomb threat at one of his concerts in Tel Aviv. In the 1950s, Menuhin became fascinated with yoga while in a doctor’s room in New Zealand and became a daily practitioner of the art, which included 15 to 20 minutes of standing on his head. An early opponent of pollution and an advocate of vegetarianism, he warned people against what he called the dangers of white bread and refined sugar. Menuhin, whose father became an ardent anti-Zionist who refused to attend his son’s concerts in Israel, played concerts to benefit both Israelis and Arabs. But in 1975, he became embroiled in another Jewish controversy when he refused a request by the conductor Leonard Bernstein to boycott UNESCO’s International Music Council, in part because he agreed with the group’s criticism of Israeli archaeological digs in Jerusalem. But if Menuhin was involved in a variety of political and social issues, it was his musical talent that originally brought him under the international spotlight. He was known for his interest in a variety of musical styles — even recording an album with the jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. When Albert Einstein reportedly heard him play a few days before Menuhin reached his 13th birthday, Einstein reportedly followed him backstage after the concert and told him, “Now I know there is a God in heaven.” Menuhin, who was living part time in London and Switzerland at the time of his death, left four children and his second wife, Diana Gould, a British ballerina and actress, whom he married in 1947.
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