John Rittmeyer Recalls the West-East Connection

Virtuoso Sharkar doing what he does best(Photo: Alexandra Ignatenko)
Virtuoso Sharkar doing what he does best(Photo: Alexandra Ignatenko)

I saw the Cleveland Orchestra on a public-school field trip when I was around 12, and the Beatles in 1966 (who actually got me actively interested in music).  But there was a West-East connection that I only became aware of years later that may have influenced my eventual love of classical music.

After I came to Columbus to attend Ohio State, I began listening to WOSU-FM while studying because classical music seemed like good background stuff to have on.  Well, I had one of those big A-ha! experiences one evening.  I turned on the radio right in the middle of a long orchestral piece with violin, not knowing what it was. The beauty, the nobility and spirit of the music just stopped me in my tracks.

I couldn’t study or do anything else until it was over.  It turned out to be the Beethoven Violin Concerto in a recording made in 1966 with Yehudi Menuhin and the New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Otto Klemperer.  I’ve loved Beethoven ever since.  I also loved the violinist.

Back in the late 60s, I became fascinated with Indian music and Ravi Shankar via George Harrison of the Beatles, who studied the sitar with him. In a record store one day I picked up an LP that had a photo of Ravi Shankar on the cover,  playing the sitar along with a western-looking violinist.

The album was called West Meets East and the violinist was Yehudi Menuhin.  The piece on the album that they played together, written by Shankar and based on a classical Indian raga, just astonished me.  Not only the virtuosic playing of Ravi Shankar on  the sitar, but the  sound and the joyful spirit of the violinist enthralled me.  It became one of my favorite pieces of music at the time,  and I was trying to get everyone I  knew to listen to it.

So, I got my first  “Classical” album for the Indian music, only to discover years later that the violinist I loved to listen to so much would introduce me to Beethoven in a way that led to a much deeper love and appreciation of western classical music,  a love that blossomed into what it is today.

Thank you, Yehudi–and Ravi.

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