Ida Haendel - Violin Legend
Known as the Grande Dame of Violin, Ida Haendel has always performed with an intensity and passion unrivaled in modern times. The Boston Globe once said of her "She plays with such simplicity, directness and emotional force that it tears your heart out...". As an octogenarian, she seems to defy her age by continuing to practice her music artistry. Ida's talent is often kept from the public by orchestras who prefer the female soloist to be younger and wrinkle-free. Yet her ability to play has a seasoned quality and wisdom attained from a life well-lived. She is a flamboyant dresser who does not compromise. She has said "I am not an entertainer. I am there to serve the composer. I want people to listen." And they do. Ida Haendel remains an enduring idol and icon to other violinists.
Ida was born on December 15, 1924 in Chelm, Poland. When she was a little over three years old, she took her older sister's violin and started playing the song her moher was singing. Ida's family was poor. Her father was a frustrated violinist who eked out a living as a painter. Her innate talent was amazing to even her and she once said " I don't know how I play the violin. I just pick up the violin and play it". By the time she was five years old she was a regular performer in concerts in Poland. At the age of seven, she took first prize in the Wieniawski Competition in Poland. She couldn't yet read music.
Talent Unbound -
Ida's family recognized and encouraged her raw talent. Her father, Nathan, swiftly saw to it that his daughter began to study with some of the best teachers in the world. He took Ida to Germany, London and Paris. She studied first with Carl Flesch and later with Georges Enescu who she admired greatly. The family eventually moved to Britain. In 1937, Ida performed for the first time at the Queen's Hall in London under the baton of conductor Henry Wood. During this time, she became known for giving numerous concerts for the British troops. Ida continued to study under Flesch until he left Britain for Switzerland because he feared a Nazi invasion. But she was so inspired by Enescu that she later said of him, "I was spellbound by Enescu because I think he was one of the world's great geniuses."
After the war, Ida's career took off. When Sibelius heard Haendel perform his "Violin Concerto" on the radio, he was so impressed he sent her a note of praise and congratulations. It became her signature piece. Ida traveled and performed all over the world. She fell in love with North America. When her sister Alice and her husband moved to Canada, Ida and her parents soon followed. She lived a quiet life in Montreal and her neighbors assumed her career had halted. They were wrong. In 1946, Ida was the first soloist to perform in the Israel Philharmonic as well as other renowned orchestras around the globe. She was very particular about which conductors she would play for. They included Andre Previn, Simon Rattle and Rafael Kubelik. She once blatantly stated, "You cannot play with inspiration when the conductor is an imbecile."
When Ida's father died in 1987, she no longer saw any reason to stay in Canada. She had always enjoyed the warmer weather and moved to Miami, Florida soon after. She also kept a residence in London. To this day, Haendel actively performs in concert and records albums. She prefers the live performances. She was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1991. Throughout the 1990s, she recorded with several renowned companies but eventually resumed recording with Decca (now a part of Universal Studios), the label that began her career.
Well into her seventies, it was clear Haendel still hadn't lost her artistic touch. She toured around the world performing in Berlin with pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy and in the Birmingham Orchestra in Japan. She so impressed the music critic for the Montreal Gazette after performing there that he wrote of her "The shimmering tone in the Adagio spoke with unique authority, like a message from another world." During this time Haendel took on a protégé, a young English violinist by the name of Chloe Hanslip. Though Ida did not feel she had the knack for teaching she took obvious delight in tutoring the talented 15 year old.
Even today the eighty-four year old Haendel is still on the go. She still possesses the ability to both connect with and amaze her listeners. In July, 2012 she will be the honorary guest artist at the 100th anniversary celebration of the Sergio Celibidache Festival in Bucharest, Romania. In August she will be performing at the Cambridge International String Academy at Trinity College in Cambridge, England. When asked about retiring she once said, " I still haven't accomplished what I need to accomplish in music, and every discovery leads to another one. I will only stop when destiny tells me to."
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