Remembering Violinist Camilla Wicks (1928-2020)

November 30, 2020, 12:17 PM · Violinist Camilla Wicks has died at age 92, and violinists around the world are remembering her artistry as well as her soloist career, which reached its peak in the decade following World War II and stood out as an early example of a female violinist reaching international status.

Camilla Wicks
Violinist Camilla Wicks.

Born in Long Beach, Calif. to a Norwegian father and American mother, Wicks started playing the violin at age 3, first taking lessons from her father, who was a violinist and teacher. She made her orchestral debut at age 7 in Long Beach, playing Mozart's Concerto No. 4.

When she was 10 she started studying with Juilliard's Louis Persinger and later with Henri Temianka. She made her recital debut in New York at age 13, and a year later performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She made her Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1946 at age 17, playing the Sibelius concerto. She would go on to record that concerto six years later, a recording that brought her broad recognition but would be one of her very few commercial recordings. BELOW: Camilla Wicks performs the Sibelius Violin Concerto in 1952 with the Symphony Orchestra Of Radio Stockholm, Sixten Ehrling conducting.

A number of Wicks' recorded live performances can be found in the six-disc, 2015 compilation, Camilla Wicks: Five Decades of Treasured Performances (affiliate link).

Wicks was married in 1951, and while she continued to perform for some time, she retired in her early 30s to care for her five children. "My attitude was that there's a time for everything in life: I had enjoyed this fulfilling period of concertizing and now the time had come to devote myself to my family." She sold her 1725 "Duke of Cambridge" Stradivari violin and went about raising her family in Texas.

She later moved to Washington state, where she taught at Wenatchee Valley College. After that, she took a position at San Francisco Conservatory, where she held the Isaac Stern Distinguished Chair until her retirement in 2005.

I invite you to share your memories of Camilla Wicks in the comments below.

Replies

November 30, 2020 at 09:10 PM · Hi Laurie,

She also taught for a short time at the Eastman School of Music while I was an undergrad at the University of Rochester. I’m pretty sure I attended one of her masterclasses. This would’ve been in the mid 90’s and I think just before her move to SF.

I remember my principal teacher speaking highly of her Sibelius recording too.

Cheers,

Ken

November 30, 2020 at 11:18 PM · Back in 1987 there was held the First (and sadly, only) American Violin Congress at the University of Maryland. It was a wonderful event. It was a huge campus and there were arrangements of small busses to take participants from their dorms to the various events.

I met her for the first and only time on one such bus ride and introduced myself. She thought she recognized me from somewhere. I said that I couldn't imagine from where. She said "Maybe it was from a past life" I said "Maybe". I didn't feel that she was kidding. Who knows? Excellent Sibelius, btw!

December 1, 2020 at 04:27 AM · This sucks, as a 17-year old violinist who adores the old style of playing and abhors the new, it pains me to the core that legends I've never previously heard of depart the Earth right at the moment I get to know their music. Does anybody know any "vintage-tone" violinists who are still currently alive? Except for Perlman, Zukerman, Gitlis, etc. I'd like to know and appreciate their art before it's too late...

December 1, 2020 at 12:40 PM · Jeff, check out Daniel Rohn, a younger player with a great vintage style.

December 1, 2020 at 06:29 PM · Glenn Dicterow

December 3, 2020 at 03:05 PM · I tried to wear out a vinyl recording of her Sibelius concerto back about 40 years ago. I finally got to see her play in person with the Chamber Soloists of San Francisco back around 1987.

December 3, 2020 at 06:37 PM · Re ~ One of Few Greatest Violinists, Camilla Wicks ~ #7

As from ~ Elisabeth Matesky {original 1 of 7 pupil's of Jascha Heifetz; later in London, private artist pupil of Nathan Milstein of 3 & 1/2 years, under same Concert Artist Management in London, the U.K. & Continental Europe plus more}

A Special Note to Jeff Cheung ~

Dear Jeff,

I grew up 8 miles from Long Beach, CA, meeting my father- Conductor, Ralph Matesky's, good friend, often engaged by himself as Violin Soloist, over a number of years, Camilla Wicks, with whom I later became a musical friend upon rare studying with Jascha Heifetz in his original Violin Master Class at USC's Institute for Special Music Studies, also invited by Mr. Heifetz to make a half hour film with him in the series which is known as the Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Classes on YT, but were originally sold after their North American WNET TV Nat'l Debut from NYC, on VHS, then DVD.

Ms. Wicks invited me to come to her home, then having been married and at our first time of meeting together, she had Five Children to look after equalling Maestro & Mrs. Jean Sibelius!!

Her artistry was acclaimed throughout Europe, All Scandinavia & Finland, which attracted the Giant Finnish Composer, Jean Sibelius, to write to her, inviting her to visit him in Hameenlinna (near his Farm outside Helsinki) upon hearing Camilla Wicks' exquisite musical interpretation of his Epic Violin Concerto!!

We had much in common a bit later as I actually was invited by All Five Daughters of Sibelius, in Helsinki, as winner of the Sibelius International Violin Competition 'Special Award for Best Unaccompanied Bach' to perform The Master's Violin Concerto for the official Finnish Government Inaugural Concert & Ceremony with Finnish Minister of Culture proclaiming the Hameenlinna, FI, birth-house of Jean Sibelius, the "Sibelius National Memorial Museum" after offering his 'Adagio di molto' 2nd Movement before All Five Sibelius Daughters, a Brother + other Sibelius Family Members & gifts of homegrown flowers from then ailing Madame Sibelius' garden as her present to me for performing her husband's Slow Mov't of the Violin Concerto on the Centenery of Sibelius's Birthday, December 8, 1965, televised, Live, throughout Finland, Scandinavia, Continental Europe and the UK, in the living room of Sibelius' birth-house!

When Camilla Wicks heard this rare Honour bestowed on her young violinist friend {myself}, she contacted my father to congratulate him for his principle teaching leading to Jascha Heifetz, who gave me his 'Thumbs Up' when over hearing a rehearsal with my USC pianist, looking in & startling us as it was Heifetz saying, 'Carry on Liz! Good!!' All of these heaven sent 'coincidences' led to a getting to know each other much closer relationship with the Great Camilla Wicks giving me a rare German Steel Hotel Mute as a gift, winking when saying: 'Liz! You'll need this Hotel Mute when Concert Touring and practicing in Hotels so as not to disturb the guests with the sounds of your violin!' I still have the Camilla Wicks Hotel Mute which has travelled throughout All Europe, Poland, The UK, Scandinavia, the USA, Hong Kong & Finland, twice, for the Sibelius Int'l Concours & later for a guest Violin Recital w/Sibelius Academy of Music Pianist & giving a Master Teaching Lesson to a Finnish born violin pupil at the Sibelius Academy of Music with overwhelming gratitude at being able to again, walk on Finnish Soil; hear the Sibelius Academy of Music Concert Orchestra under Conductor, Leif Segerstam, in orchestral works of Dvorak & Jean Sibelius, which was Magic!

All above platinum opportunities have deepened one's inner appreciation & provided greater insight into the deeper musical messages of Sibelius, in his Violin Concerto 'Monument' (my word!), all other Sibelius Great Symphonic Masterpieces plus Tone Poems and Songs which were born out of the Caravahla of Finnish folklore as evidenced in the Camilla Wicks' true blue 'Finnish-like' Musical approach to his Violin Concerto with Finn tempo's more in sync with The Finnish Way of playing Sibelius vs {w/all due respect, sincerely} the 'American' Approach and even that of Jascha Heifetz, yet Heifetz's Beyond Mt Everest recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto w/Chicago Symphony

Orchestra, Walter Hendl, conducting, on RCA Red Seal on January 12, 1959, in a non stop 'take' (few know about) is Epic and Camilla Wicks greatly admired Mr. Heifetz's 2nd recording I've just touched upon of the Sibelius vs the JH 1st disc {w/Sir Thomas Beecham & LPO in the late '30's or in the 1940's} to be sure!! But, folks, Camilla Wicks' Sibelius and with Master of Sibelius' Music Conductor, Sixten Ehrling, Is Finland and The Finnish Soul of Her People!!!!!

In a Tribute to my treasured friend, Camilla Wicks, posted on my *FB Timeline, November 28th or 29th, I wrote of her unique & remarkable global performing/recording career yet said 'with Camilla Wicks' Concert Career, less equalled More!' This great woman - deeply kind, caring person Mother of 5 children made the deliberate decision to scale down her international/national career to raise all Five children without any regrets ~ Also, I penned ~ "I'm not going to say Camilla Wicks was the 'bla bla Greatest f Violinist', when hearing her "Allegro ma non tanto', Live Third Movement of the Sibelius, for one would never ever know it was not a Man!"

As a veteran concert artist, I would minus any reservation, put Camilla Wicks in same company with Jascha Heifetz, Kreisler, Nathan Milstein, David Oistrakh, Erica Morini & Ida Haendel ~

"In Memoriam" ~ Camilla Wicks, the most modest Greatest Violinist I ever was privileged to know ~ BD, 8.9.'28 -- morte 11.25.20 ~ With Prayers for her surviving 3 adult children & Grand children ~ RIP, dearest Violin Angel, Camilla ...

Do listen to Camilla Wicks in Sibelius' 'Allegro ma non tanto' 3rd Mov't, Live, in rehearsal in Summer 1965, w/The IYSO/ Ralph Matesky, Conductor, in Idyllwild, California, posted on

FB* https://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.anne.775?fref=nf

{Scroll down Posts to: In Idyllwild "Touches of Sweet Harmony, Part I"} ~ Most Rare & Special w/CW speaking ~

I hope this lengthy Reply will be uplifting for you, dear Jeff Cheung, and others here including NY colleague, Raphael Klayman, a refined violinist & teacher of discerning taste ...

~ Sending musical greetings with falling tears upon losing a

treasured friend, Great American Violinist, Camilla Wicks ~

...... Elisabeth Matesky ......

Thank You, dear Laurie, in Remembering a Great for All Time

*for Kenneth Choo! Dear Kenneth, I know Camilla Wicks was living in a large house in San Francisco in 1980, when I visited her & stayed over as her house guest for 2 or 3 nites, hearing her late at night practising from far above & even her scales were deeply musical! She was then teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music which we chatted about, so your 1990 guess seems a bit off, but I'm glad you attended a CW Violin Master Class @Eastman! Did you know LA Violinist, Lynn Blakeslee, who was teaching at Eastman for a long time? I really miss Lynn, a longtime LA friend/colleague ~

December 3, 2020

Cc DG

December 3, 2020 at 06:38 PM · Thank you for recognizing this great artist, Laurie, and for posting her lovely rendition of the Sibelius.

December 4, 2020 at 12:36 AM · Laurie, thank you for this initiative and all you do in general. I’ll take the opportunity to say a few things, hopefully at not too much length!

I had the great privilege of getting to know Camilla Wicks well over the last 17 years - after I first discovered her through then very few, scarcely available recordings, a series of uncanny circumstances led me to her and, though she could have been my grandmother, we became close friends. Those few recordings I had first heard - concertos by Beethoven with Bruno Walter in Carnegie Hall, Walton, Sibelius, of course, and a tiny handful of short pieces - made it crystal clear to me here was an extraordinary violinist and musician. On my first visit to her in California, to prepare an article for The Strad, I discovered by chance a cache of private recordings in a cupboard at her home, which she initially, guardedly, only let me listen to a bit of. How could a potential treasure trove such as this be confined to a cupboard? By the end of my visit I had started to persuade her that they formed a precious legacy which should not be shut away. Over more than 10 years, in collaboration with a few record labels and with her active input, I was able to bring about the release of many of her live performances. This was especially rewarding as through this process the sense of leaving a living legacy became very important to her.

Recently a beautiful and detailed website was set up with this same goal: www.camillawicks.net

I was told even before meeting her that Camilla was a very special person and since then I was struck by how many people who knew her felt that their lives had been deeply touched by her - students, colleagues, neighbours…people who hadn’t seen her in decades. There was a blend in her of wisdom and wonder, vulnerability and strength, humour and seriousness, salt-of-the-earth and poet-philosopher. She was a person of great integrity, completely without falseness or glibness. I crossed the Atlantic pond a few times to visit her in California, Washington state, lastly last year in Florida. Not often enough…time spent with her was always special. Our beliefs in some respects were very different but we could talk about them openly and conversation was always stimulating and touched by her particular charm and warmth. The few times I played for her were memorable: I have worked/played with many wonderful musicians but this was something else…the depth of insight was staggering and I regret those moments were too fleeting for me to recall most of them! Listening to music with her was particularly special: she would listen with profound concentration and every now and again come up with marvellous insights (as much about the piano in a sonata or a woodwind part in a concerto) and ideas. “Grandfather, let me softly lay my head on your shoulder” in reaction to a phrase in Schumann’s D minor Sonata, as we drove through the wilds of Washington; or, in a particular passage of The Lark Ascending, as she listened back to her performance, “In the evening the fishermen’s wives go down to the quay to see if the husbands have sailed home”. On occasion it would be a recording of her playing and I would watch her with her eyes closed, clearly reliving the occasion - not as an event, I don’t think, but the musical experience. By the way, her take on The Lark Ascending is very unique. Not the typical English pastorale. The landscape, the light, the bird, are more Nordic and some of her feeling from it stems from a different kind of Nature and the background of her father from the Norwegian islands. At the same time she gives it a universal, timeless quality that is hard to define!

Last week I was able to say my goodbyes over the phone and play Bach’s Largo from the C Major Solo Sonata (which she loved). Her family and carer told me she was barely conscious but it was worth it anyway.

Suffice it to say I already miss her dearly and will continue to do so, but through her recordings, her voice speaks so vividly. Over many decades and completely independent from where her career was at, Camilla was without doubt one of the very greatest violinists, and even among those her artistic scope was exceptional. Heifetz-ian virtuosity in her younger years and not much decline in later years; the subtlety of her tuning, the snap and variety of her articulation; pulsating rhythmic life…all these served a formidable boldness and sense of conviction (that’s what came across although internally she suffered from nerves and self-doubt…amazing to consider when one listens to her playing), just fantastically vivid phrasing that explores the full gamut of human experience and an uncanny capacity to capture a wide range of idioms. This American of Norwegian Lutheran background could be a taunting Gypsy, a Jewish cantor, a Blues singer, a Cossack acrobat, a Flamenco guitarist and dancer - and always herself. Whatever the piece she always had something distinctive and important to say about it.

If anything the reputation of her Sibelius has overshadowed her other accomplishments! With so many more recordings now available. I’ll close by pointing out a very small sample of recordings which are maybe not the most obvious ones to seek out:

Nin Four Spanish Songs; Tailleferre and Bloch sonatas; Chopin Nocturne op.9/2

I very much hope the silver lining of her passing is that more people will discover her and explore her recordings.

December 4, 2020 at 04:22 AM · Nathaniel, what beautiful recollections and observations, thank you so much for sharing!

December 4, 2020 at 06:43 AM · Can you imagine what would transpire on "social media" today if the greatest female violinist of our time entirely and permanently withdrew from performing in the prime of her artistic powers to raise five children? But it was Camilla's life to live! And I am grateful to learn from Elizabeth's warm testimony that Camilla was happy with her choice.

Responding to Jeff, I wonder if those who grew up listening to Paganini thought Joachim was rubbish, and those who grew up hearing Joachim thought poorly of Thibaud, and so forth.

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