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Obituary, Ida Haendel (1928-2020)

Ida Haendel Ida Haendel, the Polish-born child prodigy who became known as the 'grande dame of the violin', has died aged 91.

Ida Hendel (the ‘a’ was added later, on the advice of her first manager) was born in Chełm, eastern Poland, in 1928, and began playing the violin as a toddler; her father Nathan, an artist and violinist manqué himself, had bought a violin for his elder daughter Alice, but three-year-old Ida took to the instrument immediately and was studying with Miecyzslaw Michalowicz at the Warsaw Conservatory within the year.

At five she won two major competitions with the Beethoven Violin Concerto and two years later she was placed seventh in the inaugural Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Warsaw, where the First and Second Prizes were awarded to Ginette Neveu and David Oistrakh. (In later years Haendel regularly sat on the jury for the competition herself, chairing in 2011).

Following further study in Germany, Paris and London with teachers including Carl Flesch and George Enescu (whose music she later recorded with Vladimir Ashkenazy), Haendel made her London concerto debut at the Queen’s Hall in 1937; the conductor on that occasion was Sir Henry Wood, and their friendship led to Haendel notching up nearly seventy Proms appearances over the course of her long career. (Haendel later asserted that her official birth-date was altered along with her surname around this time because of restrictions on under-fourteens performing professionally in England, and that early publicity-material claiming she was born in 1923/24 was falsified in order to evade child labour laws).

Haendel continued to perform widely during the Second World War, playing for factory-workers and Allied troops as well as taking part in Dame Myra Hess’s National Gallery Concerts, and in 1940 she took British citizenship; in the same year she made her first recording for Decca, a recital with the pianist Adela Kotowska featuring music by Brahms, Kreisler, and Sarasate. She began performing extensively in the United States shortly after the end of the War, and settled in Montreal in the early 1950s; the city remained her base for over thirty years, and she appeared regularly with the major Canadian orchestras and on Canadian national television.

Haendel had a particular affinity with German repertoire (her discography includes superb recordings of the Beethoven concerto with Rafael Kubelík and Karel Ančerl, the Brahms with Sir Eugene Goossens and her close friend Sergiu Celibidache, and Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas on Testament), though she also excelled in twentieth-century English music as well as being particularly celebrated for her interpretation of the Sibelius concerto – the composer himself sent her a letter of congratulation and gratitude after hearing her play the work in the late 1940s, and she went on to record it with Simon Rattle, Paavo Berglund, and Karel Ančerl. Haendel premiered several significant works, including Luigi Dallapiccola’s Tartiniana Seconda and Allan Pettersson’s Violin Concerto No. 2, and also championed Alfredo Casella’s Violin Concerto.

Though she recorded relatively little in the latter part of her life, Haendel continued to make recital-appearances into her eighties, and was also a regular on numerous competition juries, adjudicating at the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition and the International Violin Competition as well as the Wieniawski Competition which had kickstarted her long and extraordinary career. Her awards and honours include the Sibelius Medal in 1982, a CBE in 1991, and an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Music.

Haendel died in Miami, which had been her home since the late 1980s, on 30th June.

Ida Haendel - a selected discography

Ida Haendel (violin)

Available Format: 2 CDs

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult

Available Format: CD

Ida Haendel (violin), Philharmonia Orchestra, Rafael Kubelík

Available Format: CD

Ida Haendel (violin), Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Karel Ančerl

Available Format: CD

Ida Haendel (violin), London Symphony Orchestra, Sergiu Celibidache, Sir Eugene Goossens

Available Format: CD

Ida Haendel (violin), Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)

Available Formats: 2 Presto CDs, MP3, FLAC

Ida Haendel (violin), Yukari Arai (piano), Walter Delahunt (piano)

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Ida Haendel (violin) & Alfréd Holeček (piano)

Prague Symphony Orchestra & Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Václav Smetáček & Karel Ančerl

Available Format: 5 CDs

Ida Haendel (violin), Geoffrey Parsons (piano)

Available Format: CD

Ida Haendel (violin), Misha Dačić (piano)

Available Format: DVD Video