Violinist Ida Haendel, born in 1928 in Poland, has been performing continuously since winning a concert competition at the age of seven. Relocating with her family to England after the outbreak of World War II, she began her recording career there before embarking on her first world tour after the war ended. Having established herself as one of the world’s great classical violinists, she is recognized today as one of the last top-level violinists trained in the nineteenth-century tradition.
Haendel grew up in a poor household. Her father was a struggling painter and frustrated violinist, and he tried to give his children opportunities that he had never had. He gave Haendel’s older sister Alice a violin for her ninth birthday, but she showed no special aptitude for the instrument. Three-and-a-half year old Haendel, however, picked it up and began playing immediately. Hers was a gift not even she could fathom. As she told the Boston Globe’s Richard Dyer many years later, “I don’t know how I play the violin…. I just pick up the violin and I play it.” She continued to play intuitively throughout her childhood, performing in concerts by the time she was five. In 1935, at the age of seven, she took the Polish prize in the Wieniawski Competition. This was an especially astonishing achievement considering that the young violinist could not even yet read music.
After the outbreak of World War II, Haendel moved with her family to England. There, she made her London concert debut in 1937 playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto at the Royal Albert Hall under the direction of Sir Henry Wood. To get around child labor laws, she was billed as a 14 year old when she had only just turned ten. This created confusion about her age that persists to this day—many sources list her birth year as 1924. “Everybody thinks I’m older,” she told Arthur Kaptainis in the Montreal Gazette, “and I keep showing them my birth certificate.”
Haendel’s talent was recognized by Carl Flesch, with whom she began formal studies, and composer Georges Enesco, who taught her to consider the deeper meaning of a musical work. Describing Enesco’s teaching to Arthur Kaptainis in the Montreal’s Gazette, she said, “While he was very concerned with the technical aspects, the main thing was the concept of the work. The interpretation, what it all meant. The anatomy, I call it. This is what I found hypnotic.”
Haendel became a British citizen and began her career as a recording artist and concert performer, but the international exposure and acclaim that should have been hers was put on hold. Although she signed with Decca in 1940, recording an extensively and playing many concerts (including performances for British troops) during the war years, the wartime isolation imposed upon Britain kept Haendel from reaching wider audiences. She finally got a chance to perform internationally in 1946, when she embarked on her first
Born on December 15, 1928, in Chelm, Poland; became a naturalized British citizen, 1940.
Won first place at Wieniawski Competition, Poland, 1936; debuted at Royal Albert Hall, London, 1937; signed with Decca Records, 1940; made U.S. debut on tour, 1946; first soloist to play with the Israel Philharmonic, 1946; played with great orchestras of the world, has recorded extensively with Decca, Supraphon, EMI/Angel, Testament, and others.
Awards: First place, Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competition, 1935; Sibelius Medal, 1982; Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 1991.
Addresses: Record company—Universal Music and Video, 5713 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90042, website: http://www.deccaclassics.com.
concert tour, playing throughout the United States. She fell in love with North America, and not long afterwards, when her sister Alice and her husband moved to Canada, Haendel and her parents followed.
In Canada, Haendel established a quiet life for herself in Montreal. Many of her neighbors assumed that because she lived in Canada she had either failed to become established on an international level or that her career had foundered. Nothing could have been further from the truth: In 1946 she became the first soloist to perform with the newly organized Israel Philharmonic, and went on to play with the other great orchestras and conductors of the world, including Rafael Kubelik, Simon Rattle, and Andre Previn. She later told Dyer that choosing which conductors to play for was one of the most important artistic decisions she made. “You cannot play with inspiration when the conductor is an imbecile,” she remarked bluntly.
Haendel’s father died in 1987 and with him one of her main ties to Canada. She moved shortly thereafter to Miami Beach, Florida, to enjoy the warm, sunny surroundings she had always coveted; she also maintained a residence in London. Haendel continues to record albums and perform in concert, although she prefers the latter to the former. As the 1990s ended, having spent her career recording for Supraphon, EMI/Angel, Testament, and others, Haendel returned to the label that began her career, Decca (now a part of Universal Music), to record new performances of works by Karol Szymanowski, Bartok, and her old teacher, George Enescu. She was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1991.
Even as she advanced into her seventies, Haendel continued to tour around the world, including a performance with one of her favorite collaborators, pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, in Berlin, and the Birmingham Orchestra in Japan. At a Montreal Symphony Orchestra concert in 2002, it was clear that she had not lost her virtuoso touch. After her performance of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Montreal Gazette music critic Arthur Kaptainis wrote, “The shimmering tone in the Adagio spoke with unique authority, like a message from another world.”
As 2002 drew to a close, Haendel, then 74, sought to pass her legacy on to a protégé—English violinist Chloe Hanslip, who, at age 15, held every bit as much promise as Haendel did at that age, already playing some 50 concerts a year with major orchestras. Although Haendel insisted that teaching was not one of her talents, she took obvious delight in passing on the wisdom she had accumulated in more than 60 years as a violinist.
As for retirement from performing, Haendel offered this to Dyer in 2002, “I still haven’t accomplished what I need to accomplish in music, and every discovery leads to another one. I will stop only when destiny tells me to.”
Ida Haendel: Brahms/Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos, Testament, 1994.
Ida Haendel, Vol.1, Doremi, 1998.
Ida Haendel, Vol. 2, Doremi, 1999.
Ida Haendel, Vol. 3, Doremi, 2000.
Ida Haendel, Vladimir Ashkenazy: Works for Violin and Piano Decca, 2000.
Ida Haendel: Baroque Transcriptions, Testament, 2002.
Ida Haendel: Popular Encores, Testament, 2002.
Ida Haendel: Queen of the Violin, Classica D’Oro, 2002.
Ida Haendel, Vol. 4, Doremi, 2002.
Boston Globe, February 15, 1990; June 23, 2000; February 1, 2002.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), November 19, 2002.
Gazette (Montreal, Canada), November 29, 1997; March 18, 2000 June 26, 2002.
Scotsman, February 25, 2002.
“Ida Haendel,” Decca Music Group, http://www.deccaclassics.com/artists/haendel/ (February 5, 2003).
"Haendel, Ida." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/haendel-ida
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