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Ida Haendel (b1923)

Legend has it that Ida Haendel, whose birth date is variously given, picked up her older sister’s violin aged three and played a melody. Her father took her to the Chopin Conservatory in Warsaw where she was taught by Mieczysław Michałowicz (as was Josef Hassid) and then to Carl Flesch, who taught her free of charge. She also studied with Enescu, who apparently inspired her artistic maturity, but credited Flesch with bringing her ‘like a surgeon’ to technical perfection.

Being nominated ‘Best Polish Participant’ in the Wieniawski Competition (won by Ginette Neveu with David Oistrakh as runner-up) led to a small European tour and her first radio recording at Hilversum. Haendel’s London début, with the Beethoven Concerto under Sir Henry Wood, elicited praise for her ‘glow’ and ‘dignity’ from critics who compared her to the young Menuhin. More extensive touring (Europe, Israel and the Americas) began in earnest after World War II, although her rival Ginette Neveu was preferred by New York audiences. Haendel’s trademark pieces in this period were the Elgar, Walton, Sibelius and Britten concertos.

After moving to Canada in 1952 an encounter with conductor Sergiu Celibidache sparked a radical reappraisal of her approach to interpretation: ‘I now realised that all my playing was guided by instinct, not conscious analysis […] I recognised the necessity of exploring the substance of a composition.’




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