Ida Haendel, master violinist and champion of Israel musicians, dies at 91

Despite giving many master classes, she always said: “I never teach, but I rather share my ideas about music with those who are ready to listen.”

Ida Haendel 311 (photo credit: MAXIM REIDER)
Ida Haendel 311
(photo credit: MAXIM REIDER)
Ida Haendel, one of the greatest violinists of our time, passed away in her Miami home on June 30th, at age 91. Some claim, and not without a reason, that in fact she was at least five years older. Haendel was the first to crack jokes about her age. “I remember performing this piece before the war. WWII, not WWI, I mean. I am not THAT old!”
She was born in Chelm, Poland – another source of her endless jokes since the town name bears a connotation to the Sages of Chelm – into a Jewish family. Haendel knew early “that I am a violinist from day one. I was three when with the words ‘This is me who is a violinist here,’ I picked up my sister’s violin.” A child prodigy, student of legendary Carl Flesch and George Enescu, after winning a prestigious competition she catapulted to a world career, which lasted for about 70 years.
Starting from the 1950s, Haendel appeared in Israel on numerous occasions. From 1999 until 2011, when her health started to deteriorate, she served as the honorary faculty member at Keshet Eilon International Mastercourse, a master class for string players. “I come here out of respect to those who pass the tradition of violin playing to the new generation,” she explained. In 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, when suggested by the course management not to come to Israel due to the security situation, she replied: “I was with Israel in its good days, why wouldn’t I be with it on its bad days?”
Despite giving many master classes, she always said: “I never teach, but I rather share my ideas about music with those who are ready to listen.”
At one of these classes, a talented teenager played for her Bach’s Partita for Violin No. 2, the “Chaconne,” with a young bravura. “You may play it like this, but I see it differently. For me, this is like something after the death. It’s all over.” Picking her up Stradivarius, she started playing looking up with her sad Jewish eyes straight into the girl’s eyes. The sound had faded in the air, but the students in the class – who had forgotten to breathe – stayed silent for a minute or two.
Those, who were lucky to meet this miniature woman blessed with a powerful mind and a generous soul, confide that they were immensely saddened by Ida’s (this is how everybody called her) death. She was a genius, you realized it from the moment you met her.
Gilad Sheba, Keshet Eilon cofounder and CEO relates: “Ida was an integral part of the Keshet Elon family, a source of inspiration for students, teachers, professors, artists and the general public. She was a bridge between the golden generation and the generation of contemporary violinists. She had a clear opinion in every field. Her precious words, pronounced on the kibbutz’s paths and dining room as well as from the stage touched the heart of us all. What a privilege we had to know her!”
Itzhak Raskovsky of the Royal College of Music, cofounder and music director of Keshet Eilon adds: “I cannot express the profound sorrow of losing our dearest Ida, an icon of the golden generation of violinists! Her grit and emotional power were enormous beyond description. She afforded us the greatest privilege of privileges, by opening her unique sound, lessons and master classes where she shared her deep musicianship and her trademark sense of humor. At Kibbutz Eilon, she inspired generations of violinists and left a legacy which will be treasured forever.”
Vadim Gluzman once a Keshet Eilon student and is now a faculty member as well as one of the world’s leading violinists reacted saying, “Ida, the one and only... ! The sound of her violin was as unique and unforgettable as the aura of her personality. She loved music and life with such passion and sincerity, it made her playing so completely and utterly irresistible.
I will always treasure memories of her stunning performances in front of the toughest crowd one can assemble – violinists, and I will smile at endless stories and anecdotes she shared late into the night after concerts and master classes. How sad it is to write “was”... Ida was a True Artist – passionate, inspiring, funny, wise, simple, brilliant in every way – and honest (sometimes painfully) to the very last drop... ”