Leipzig honours its master singer Ralph

By Jessica Elgot, June 10, 2011
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Sir Ralph Kohn

Sir Ralph Kohn

Sir Ralph Kohn, who fled from his birthplace of Leipzig from the Nazis, is to be honoured by the city for his commitment to its most famous resident – Johann Sebastian Bach.

Sir Ralph, 83, a pharmaceutical businessman, has been awarded Leipzig's Medal of Honour. His Kohn Foundation supports innovation in science, medicine and the arts.

A baritone singer, who has made 18 recordings, Sir Ralph is a particular devotee of Bach's music, and his foundation supports the Royal Academy of Music's Bach Prize.

He said: "Leipzig was practically unknown to me; I have no memories of it. But it is a remarkable city, and such a musical one. Bach wasn't born there, but he wrote almost all his masterpieces in the city. I have visited many times in the last 20 years and I feel a close affinity to it now."

Sir Ralph is now a long-standing member of the trustees of the Bach archive and a major contributor to Bach-related research and events in the city.

He said: "It was the city that ejected and rejected me, and I think this is their way of expressing their gratitude of the commitment that I, as a Jewish man who was forced to leave, have still been able to give to the city. They have obviously found that moving. Getting the award was a great surprise."

The family fled from Germany in 1933 and moved to Amsterdam, and then to Salford in 1940, where Sir Ralph attended Salford Grammar School. He said: "My family was extremely Orthodox. But I have never thought of Bach's music as Christian liturgy."

    Last updated: 2:19pm, June 10 2011