The German composer Felix Mendelssohn visited Scotland in 1829 when he was twenty years old. Gifted in all sorts of ways, as his sketch of Dunollie Castle by Oban shows, his musical precocity was unique, beyond even that of Mozart as a composer, and he was already an established composer and conductor before his British adventure. It was the natural beauty of Scotland and its rich history of fact and fable that delighted the young man and inspired the Scottish Symphony. His Overture, known as both “The Hebrides” and “Fingal’s Cave”, was originally entitled “The Lonely Island”, for it was inspired by a vision of Ben More from the quayside in Oban.
Some 150 years later the remarkable violinist Leonard Friedman, based in Edinburgh, conceived a musical pilgrimage in commemoration of Mendelssohn’s visit. With the first such event in 1988, Leonard inaugurated a week of music-making, concentrating on string chamber music, where the participants were a blend of established professionals and students, at which audiences were welcome at no cost. The model that Leonard left behind at his early death in 1994 has retained its shape, despite the changing nature of artistic direction, musical mentoring, and student participation.
Today, the Festival’s participants present concerts of a startling immediacy with a precision that belies their rapid preparation. Under the timetable established by Levon Chilingirian during his fourteen years in post, it is wonderful both to witness the first performances, a day or so after the musicians had met, and to chart each ensemble’s progress, for every work is performed in several contexts. And of course the venues are extraordinary, from the rugged splendour of Duart Castle to the tiny wayside church at Creich, which may explain why these concerts have built a national following.
The current policy of the Trust is that our young professionals, a body of about 15 in a normal year, will not be expected to pay fees for these indelible experiences, and their expenses are reimbursed. At the same time, the Mendelssohn on Mull Festival does not currently receive any public money, and all concerts during the Festival are admission free. We are dependent on the generosity of our supporters, and if you would like to know more about this find out how you can help.