Harrogate International Festivals ‘great training ground’ for young musicians, says Yehudi Menuhin School’s director of music

Former Festival young musician Ashley Wass is now the Director of the Yehudi Menhuin school

The Director of Music at the world renowned Yehudi Menuhin School has praised Harrogate International Festivals for helping develop young talent via its annual series of classical concerts.

Yehudi Menuhin was once the Patron of the near 60 year old Harrogate institution and now his successor Ashley Wass,  who graced the Festival stage back in 2007, is opening this year’s Harrogate International Sunday Series, when he will perform works by Bach, Franck, Schumann, Alexey Shor and Shostakovich.

The internationally-renowned pianist, who was a prize winner at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2000 and is the only British person so far to win the London International Piano Competition, said:

“Developing performing experience is an essential aspect of any young musician’s growth; by playing for a public, we learn so much about ourselves and the music we play.

“But building a life in music is about much more than simply being onstage – it’s about learning how to interact with promoters, agents, audiences, fellow musicians and countless other stakeholders.”

He went on to describe festival opportunities, such as those provided by Harrogate International Festivals, as ‘a great training ground for all of these things.’

For his Harrogate appearance, one of the works chosen by Ashley, who puts his success down to ‘curiosity, open-mindedness, variety, and a willingness to change when change is needed’, is Alexey Shor’s Piano Sonata in A Minor, the only living composer amongst four late greats in his programme.

He said: “There’s always something wonderful about the process of learning a new piece without the burden of preconception; I find it’s the point at which I’m arguably most creative.

“Beyond the Shor, the rest of my programme is a snapshot of my musical interests and how they’ve evolved over the years. Composers whose music I have played and loved for decades paired with those for whom my affections have only recently been ignited.

“I love to reflect on how my personal interests have developed through the passing of time and experience.”

Taking up his role at the Yehudi Menuhin School on April 1, 2020, two weeks into the first national Covid lockdown, was certainly a challenge for him, the school and its pupils.

“I spent the first three months working remotely from the south of France, staying with my wife’s family!

“Delivering instrumental lessons online was a great challenge for my staff, but the most profound loss was the communal music making activities; orchestra, chamber music and choir.

“We filled the spaces that those projects would normally occupy with a wide range of workshops, interviews and discussions, and I’m proud to say that we made the most of a tricky situation. In fact, many of those subjects proved to be so meaningful that we retained them even after things returned to normal,” he said.

In addition to his Harrogate appearance, Ashley is helping with preparations to celebrate the Menuhin School’s 60th birthday, which includes a busy programme of events.

He will also be heading to China in his role as Director of Music at the Menuhin School’s sister school in Quingdao. “There are recitals, competition juries, classes and mixed-genre projects to keep my life varied and invigorating.”

And of returning to Harrogate, Ashley added: “I’ve always been incredibly fond of Harrogate and the surrounding region, and I’ve returned there many times over the years, most recently for a short break with my wife last year.

“Sadly, on that occasion we both fell ill and did very little; I hope that’s not the case this time!”

Ashley Wass, who is taking to the Harrogate International Sunday Series stage on Sunday, 29 January, appears thanks to the kind support of the European Foundation for Support of Culture EUFSC.

Find out more about the Harrogate International Sunday Series 2023 here, and to book tickets, please visit our What’s On page here or call the Box Office on 01423 562303.