Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999)

Yehudi Menuhin, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador

Yehudi Menuhin was born in New York to Russian-Jewish parents, and later obtained British nationality and honorary Swiss nationality. He was a virtuoso violinist and committed to peace. 

He made his violin debut at the age of seven in 1923, with the San Francisco Symphony. He then performed in New York the followed year, and then  played Lalo’s Symphony Espagnol in Paris and performed at the Carnegie Hall in New York at eleven years old. Yehudi Menuhin also played Beethoven with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

He studied with the Romanian violinist, composer and conductor George Enesco in Paris. His early career took him all over the world playing with the greatest conductors.

His immense legacy does not only lie in his reputation as a musician, but also for his social and humanitarian commitment. During the Second World War, he performed concerts for the Red Cross; and from 1956, he devoted himself to music education by founding the Gstaad Festival in Switzerland, and the Yehudi Menuhin School in Cobbam, Surrey, England in 1963.

He participated in UNESCO's activities, in leading the International Music Council (IMC), a non-governmental organization funded by UNESCO, from 1969 to 1975. He also contributed to the institution of International Music Day – celebrated every year with cultural events on 1 October, in many countries – and launched the IMC/UNESCO Prize. 

Yehudi Menuhin was designated UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 1992, and remained so until his death in 1999. In this capacity, he traveled the world for two years at the head of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations and UNESCO (1995) in order to spread the message of tolerance and peace.

One of his books Art, Hope for Humanity of 1987 is a manifesto of his commitment to peace and reconciliation.

In addition to the title of UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, he was awarded several other honorary titles: he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, received the Order of Merit of Germany and gold medals from the cities of Paris, New York and Jerusalem, and was awarded the Legion of Honour and the Lorraine Cross.

On 1 October 2019, a street in Paris in front of the UNESCO Headquarters was inaugurated in his honour as the Promenade Yehudi Menuhin. The Mayor of Paris stated on this occasion: "Yehudi Menuhin remains to this day one of the greatest virtuosos in the world, known for his commitment to peace, pedagogy and openness to others".

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