Mendelssohn on Mull: Festival marks 25th anniversary

This year’s Mendelssohn on Mull (MOM) Festival marks the 25th anniversary of an event that has quietly but effectively nurtured young string playing talent and turned the rawest recruits into confident, accomplished professional players.

MOM artistic director Levon Chilingirian

That was the intention when the violinist and founder of the festival, the late Leonard Friedman, invited the first participants to Mull in 1988. The idea was simple – to bring young inexperienced musicians into contact with leading professional who would mentor them in a location far removed from the strains and stresses of the professional music circuit or hothouse music conservatoires.

Friedman, whose eccentricities were legendary, and whose chaotic organisation of the event was part of its charm, is no longer with us. For the last 11 years, the festival has been under the artistic direction of another violinist, Levon Chilingirian, leader of the string quartet that bears his name.

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If he changed anything, Chilingirian has made MOM more of a chamber music festival than the orchestra event it had previously been. “I was happy to have done that,” he says. “Most of my time is spent playing chamber music and teaching student and professional chamber groups”. In Mull he is joined by fellow mentors Gaby Lester, Susie Mészáros, Marcia Crayford and Stephen Orton, all of whom are highly respected players. Indeed, Orton has recently replaced the retiring cellist in Chilingirian’s own quartet.

Together they will coach participants in repertoire that ranges from quartets by Schubert, Mozart, Shostakovich and Haydn, to quintets by Mendelssohn, Brahms and Boccherini, and the wonderful String Sextet No 1 by Brahms.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this week-long event, is that participants are fully subsidised by the festival’s trust, and even the concerts – which take place across Mull, Iona and Oban – are free, apart from the entrance fee to Iona Abbey.

That’s one of the most important factors for Chilingirian, who has always made it his priority to seek out young Scots who might benefit from the rigorous training the event offers. I’m always keeping my ears and eyes open for young players up here, so I keep in close contact with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland,” he says. “So long as they have the talent, money is never an issue. They’re well looked after, thanks to the amazing things our board of trustees do. The youngsters are treated royally by the local B&B owners, who even make sure their clothes are cleaned and ironed. That way, their full attention is on what they’ve come for – the music.”

• Mendelssohn on Mull, 1 to 6 July,