Ida Haendel

 Ida Haendel. Violinist, born Chelm, Poland, 15 Dec 1928, naturalized British 1940; hon FRCM 2000, hon D MUS (McGill) 2006.

Early Musical Life

A child prodigy who began playing intuitively at the age of three and a half, Haendel was taken at four to study with Mieczyslaw Michalowicz at the Chopin School in Warsaw; she attracted attention as winner of the Polish prize in the first Wieniawski Competition (1935), a contest in which Ginette Neveu won first prize and David Oistrakh second in the international category. As a child Haendel studied in Paris and London with Carl Flesch and Georges Enesco. Moving with her parents to London prior to the outbreak of World War II, she soon became active in the British musical scene and during the war gave many recitals for the troops. Specializing in the concerto repertoire, she performed with Beecham, Boult, Goossens, Harty, Sargent, and Wood and such continental conductors as Munch, Klemperer, Dobrowen, Solti, Markevitch, and Kletzki. Her London debut in the Beethoven concerto under Sir Henry Wood took place in 1937 (when she was not yet ten). Her recording career began in 1940 with Decca, and on this label she recorded the Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, and Dvořák concertos, among others. She has since recorded for Supraphon EMI/Angel, with re-releases on Testament, Classica d'Oro, and VAI Audio.

Years in Canada

Haendel moved to Canada in 1952, settling in Montreal. However, the orientation of her career remained European. She continued touring there annually, and made frequent tours also in South America and Asia. It was not until she had lived for five years in Montreal that she made her debut there at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in a recital sponsored by the Canadian Jewish Congress. The recital was followed by a CBC broadcast. Her first appearance with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, 7 Apr 1959, was in the Beethoven Concerto under Igor Markevitch. Eric McLean in the following day's Montreal Star wrote: 'Her playing... was the high point of last night's concert. Although the first thing about her performance which attracted the listeners' attention was her full and beautifully controlled tone (surprising from such a tiny person) and her fluent technique, it was not long before they realized that this technical equipment was being put to a particularly musical use... It takes a real musician - as distinct from a technician - to tie the work together as Miss Haendel did last night.' Haendel's second performance with the Montreal Symphony - nine years later - was in Lalo's Symphonie espagnole under Franz-Paul Decker. She repeated the Lalo in 1969, played Saint-Saëns' Concerto No. 3 in 1971 and 1980, repeated the Beethoven in 1973, and performed the Brahms Concerto in 1973 and Bruch's Concerto in G Minor in 1977. In 1977, with a CBC orchestra under Decker, she gave the Canadian premiere of the Britten Concerto, repeating it with the Montreal Symphony in the 1978-9 season. She also repeated the Beethoven in 1975 under Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos and played the Tchaikovsky concerto under Charles Dutoit in 1987; additionally, she appeared with the McGill Chamber Orchestra.

In April 1991 she gave a recital in Montreal with pianist Michael Isador. Haendel returned to Montreal infrequently thereafter, performing there in 1997 and, with the Montreal Symphony, in January 2004.

Early Appearances in Toronto

It was not until 21 Jul 1969 that Haendel made her Toronto debut, with pianist Leo Barkin, in 'one of the most dazzling recitals of the year' (Kenneth Winters, Toronto Telegram, 22 Jul 1969). The same review noted her 'passionately structural account of the Bach Chaconne,' adding that 'Szymanowski's Nocturne and Tarantella benefited just as much from her sense of when to open the floodgates and drown us with sheer playing.' Some years before, when Haendel was in Prague to record Lalo's Symphonie espagnole with the Czech Philharmonic under Karel Ančerl, she had become friendly with him. In 1969, when he moved to Canada as conductor of the Toronto Symphony he invited her to appear with that orchestra in 1970. She chose the Brahms for that occasion, returned in 1973 to play the Sibelius (which she also played on tour in Europe with the Toronto Symphony in 1974), and returned again in 1975 to play the Shostakovitch (No. 1) and in 1978 for an integral performance (including the seldom-played 'Intermezzo') of Lalo's Symphonie espagnole.

Recitals, Tours, and Festivals

In 1972 Haendel undertook a highly successful series of sonata recitals with the pianist Ronald Turini, playing in Canada, Czechoslovakia, and Great Britain. With the London Philharmonic Orchestra under John Pritchard she played in China in the spring of 1973, the first western soloist to be invited to perform there after the revolution. She performed with the Montreal Symphony in Ottawa in June 1969, for the opening week of the National Arts Centre. Elsewhere in Canada she has appeared with the Kingston, Quebec, Vancouver and Victoria symphony orchestras, the National Arts Centre Orchestra (1994, 1997), and at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival in 2003.

Among other conductors Haendel has collaborated with Zubin Mehta, Bernard Haitink, Sergiu Celibidache, Sir Simon Rattle, Vaclav Smetacek, and Paavo Berglund.

Well into her seventh decade as a performer, and known as the "Grand Dame of the Violin" she has continued to give selected concerts in Canada, the US, Europe, and Japan, but most often in England, including her debut at Wigmore Hall in 2000. Haendel has since released several new recordings including (with Vladimir Ashkenazy) a Decca release in 2000 that won a Diapason d'Or award.

Awards and Continued Recognition

Haendel has been admired widely for her interpretations of the major concertos, and the solo suites and partitas of Bach, in which flawless intonation and high virtuosity remain at the service of a selfless musical approach. Her renditions of the concertos by Walton and Sibelius both received endorsement from the composers, and other signature repertoire includes Elgar, Britten and Swedish composer Allan Pettersson (concerto # 2). She won the Sibelius Medal in 1982. In 1991 she was named Commander of the British Empire.

In 2012 Haendel participated in the first Sergiu Celibidache Festival in Romania honouring the maestro (1912-1996). She performed with Serbian pianist Misha Dacic, and gave master classes. That same year Haendel was a guest artist at Cambridge (England) International String Academy. In 2013 she remained associated with the Miami International Piano Festival, and continued to perform.

Suggested Readings

Haendel, Ida. Woman with Violin (1970); Potter, Tully. "Thrills and frills," in The Strad, (Feb 2001); Kenneson Claude. Musical Prodigies: Perilous Journeys Remarkable Lives (2003); Brook, Donald. Violinists of Today (2007); Miller, Frederic P., Agnes F. Vandome, and John McBrewster. Ida Haendel (2011)

Additional Activities

She adjudicated at several competitions, including the Carl Flesch (London), the Sibelius (Helsinki), the International Violin Competition (Cologne), the 1991 Glory of Mozart Chamber Music Competition (St John's, Nfld), and the 2004 Benjamin Britten International Violin Competition. She has been on the jury for the OSM Competition.

She was featured in the documentary 'Ida Haendel: A Voyage of Music,' on CBC TV's 'Adrienne Clarkson's Summer Festival' in 1988, as well as in The Art of Ida Haendel (Video Artists International 2001). Another documentary on her life and artistry I am the Violin (dir. Paul Cohen IDTV, Netherlands) was produced in 2004. In 2006, Haendel played in Poland before Pope Benedict XVI on the site of the former Nazi camp Auschwitz-Birkenau performing Handel's prayer Dettingen Te Deum with harp. In 2006, Haendel gave a concert in her hometown of Chelm in a programme of Bach, Wieniawski, Tartini, Sarasate, Bruch, and Tchaikovsky conducted by Stanislaw Galonski.

Although not drawn to teaching, Haendel has given numerous master classes including in Keshet Eilon Kibbutz Israel (2008), and Verona Italy (2010).

A member of the international board of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, Haendel maintained a home in Montreal until 1989, after which she lived in Miami Beach and London.