Given that Yehudi Menuhin, and his two sisters, never went to school at all, it’s rather wonderful that the Menuhin ethos is most perfectly commemorated by a small (70 pupil) specialist music school in the Surrey countryside founded by the great violinist himself in 1963. I can remember from my own school years that musicians would often chuckle at Menuhin’s latest enthusiasms – ‘fads’ they’d probably have called them – but now look, the strange things he pioneered include yoga, health food (opening his own outlet in Baker Street) and crossover music (working with Ravi Shankar, actually way ahead of the Beatles and other groovy 60s people). It was mentioned during my recent visit that Menuhin was the first person in London to own an electric car – something I’m only now exploring myself.
Internationally important musicians have studied here – the current cohort of star graduates include Alina Ibragimova and Nicola Benedetti – so the School must be doing its job of making it possible for the small super-stratum of string players and pianists to spend their formative teenage years with daily access to the right training. But these are anxious times for specialist music establishments, both secondary and tertiary, given their international clientele; and it wasn’t the happiest of days, in the week after the Brexit vote, when a group of us connected with these hitherto successful British institutions gathered to discuss the present and future of the Music and Dance Scheme. This is an unusually generous provision for musical training at secondary school level by the Government; but it’s easily imaginable that extra barriers at our borders could weaken the specialist music schools by limiting their EU intake. It’s an even more pressing concern at conservatoire level. A GSMD professor told us that since the referendum result, the phones had been ringing permanently with calls from intending European students, confused and worried about their prospects.
Given the situation, it probably wasn’t a good day either to have a visit from the [then] Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, who told us that Brexit was ‘a great opportunity’, but there would ‘of course be a couple of years of uncertainty first’. Gloom, and incredulity, was banished at least temporarily by the arrival onstage of the Menuhin students themselves, performing first as an orchestra (Enescu’s Intermezzi op 12) and then as a choir (my own Orpheus with his lute). We will have to put our trust in this next, supremely gifted generation of musicians.