First violin to the nation

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The Independent Online
I WENT TO the Yehudi Menuhin School when I was eight. Nigel Kennedy was the top boy in the school. He was 16 and used to tweak my hair and give me affectionate nicknames.

I auditioned in front of Yehudi and I remember thinking what a nice face he had. I also remember the first time he visited the school when I was there.

I thought he would be in an expensive suit with a bow tie and looking impressive and imposing. When he came he was wearing an old cardigan and a pair of very ordinary trousers and was very small.

Yehudi could put the pupils at their ease completely. Whenever he came to the school he would hear every violinist. When I was 16 I was studying Bach's Chaconne. He took my violin and he played this most wonderful music on it. And when I was 17 I needed to raise pounds 5,000 to buy a violin. I mentioned this to him and the next day he sent me a letter of recommendation I could use.

The school has come in for criticism as a hothouse that breeds the mentality of a soloist.

But nothing could be further from the truth or the ethos of the school. Playing chamber music together was absolutely central.

In the last couple of years I've seen more of Yehudi than ever before. He was a fantastic dinner companion. I remember a dinner in Warsaw.

He chose and drank excellent wines but ate very sparingly, vegetables and pulses, and regaled us with wonderful stories. Then he turned to my husband, Michael Hatch, a recording engineer, and started talking to him about computers and digital developments.

Yehudi seemed to be the master of everything.

"On the way home on the aeroplane he started writing on an airline sick bag, of all things. I asked him what he was writing and he said: `Oh, it's just my ideas for a solution to the Northern Ireland crisis. Women are the solution; they will sort it out,' he said. He wanted the wives of people who had been killed to band together.

I will remember him for his incredible expressiveness and depth of emotion. He expressed a lot of love in his playing. Audiences loved the human side of his playing and even, as he got older, the fallibility.

He was one of the best violinists that ever lived and one of the most profound musicians. But he was also an educator, an ambassador and a diplomat for music.

The violinist Tasmin Little, was talking to David Lister