Wanda Wiłkomirska was a violinist and pedagogue who played on a violin crafted by Petrus Guarnerius in 1734 in Venice. She was born on 1st January 1929 in Warsaw. She passed away on 1st May 2018.
A violinist and pedagogue. She was born on January 1st 1929 in Warsaw and currently lives in Australia.
Teachers: from her father through Ede Zathureczky to Henryk Szeryng
She was born into a family of famous musicians and started to play violin when she was five, with her first public performance at the age of seven. She also experimented with singing, piano, and conducting. In 1947 she graduated from the violin department of the Academy of Music in Łódź under the supervision of Irena Dubiska, and in 1950 at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest under the supervision of Ede Zathureczky. Later on, she polished her skills guided by Eugenia Umińska and Tadeusz Wroński in Warsaw and Henryk Szeryng in Paris.
As a young girl she earned rewards at numerous competitions and international fame as a result. She performed with tremendous orchestras and great conductors in the most famous auditoriums in the world. Her artistic achievements are impressive and her career has been brilliant, while her life has been colourful and turbulent. She was the greatest violinist in Poland, having continually raised spectators’ enthusiasm. The position of the soloist at the National Philharmonic Orchestra was created specifically for her and she occupied the spot for twenty-two years. She accompanied the orchestra on its journeys and was asked to participate in tours by other Polish and international orchestras. As a soloist, she took part in the inauguration of the National Philharmonic Orchestra when it was rebuilt after the war, in the opening of the Barbican Hall in London, performed the inaugural recital with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House and opened the season of the New York Philharmonic at the Lincoln Center in 1977.
After 13th December 1981, during the period of martial law in Poland, she left the country and returned only after after the collapse of communism in 1990.
Such an escape meant at this time that one could no longer perform in Poland. Furthermore, one could no longer perform in this part of the world. I was left with performances in the West but they were also problematic as until that very moment all my concerts were organised by PAGART, a national impresario, who forgot about me after my escape. Those possibilities were destroyed too. I knew it was going to be that way. At first I went to Australia but quickly left to Canada. I was truly starting from the beginning. I was surrounded by artistic silence as people in the West thought that my break up with PAGART meant the end of my career, they thought: ‘she must have stopped playing’. I had communication problems with my agent in Germany and it took me a while to come back to my normal concert routine. I finally managed to return to my everyday work. I performed in the United States (e.g. in New York) and played in London at the third concert after the opening of a wonderful concert hall in the Barbican Centre. A great part of the world was still closed to me. The part which was really important to me. That is why my return to Poland was an unrepeatable event in my life.
At Warsaw Autumn in 1990 Wiłkomirska performed Violin Concerto written by Andrzej Panufnik, another political emigrant who returned to Poland in 1990 for the first time since 1954.
I was welcomed enthusiastically. It was something incredible. It was not a typical concert. My second journey to Poland, combined with a tour around the country, was more ordinary – I came exclusively to perform. It was a very hard test for me as I thought about that very moment during all the days I spent abroad. I was afraid that the moment I stood on the stage in the National Philharmonic my old friends would say: ‘It is just the shadow of the old Wanda’. Not to play even one day too long! I am obsessed with that thought and I believe that my career will end much earlier than it could. I witnessed the way great legends were destroyed, the way artists agreed on people saying: ’For his/her age she is still doing fine…’, people explaining themselves after bad performances: ‘Oh, you know, I have just had too little practice in recent days’. I always thought in reply: ‘You are not forced to perform by anyone’. It is a mistake we do not want to grow old in harmony. I never knew how to rest. I thought that rest is a waste of time. Now I let myself sit down, rest, wake up early on Saturday and have a long breakfast. I believe one can have a beautiful old age without trying to do what we used to do when we were young. I perform much less than I used to. I used to perform a lot, too much, one year I performed at 164 concerts. Now I have 30 concerts a year and I noticed that when I do not perform I am a happy, free, and healthy human. I often say no because I do not want to be that fatigued all the time. But one has to do something and so I teach. (Studio 1994, nr 4)
She has performed on five continents, giving recitals and playing with the greatest orchestras under the baton of such masters as Witold Rowicki, Otto Klemperer, Leonard Bernstein, Carlo Maria Giulini, Sir John Barbirolli, Kurt Masur, Wolfgang Sawallish, Zubin Mehta and Erich Leinsdorf. She also performed with smaller accompaniments, e.g. with her siblings: Maria (pianist) and Kazimierz (cellist) as Wiłkomirski Trio, which performed in Poland and abroad. In 1986 she founded a new Wilkomirska Trio together with German musicians.
She also performed with Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Gidon Kremer, Mischa Maisky, Kristian Zimerman, and Kim Kashkashian. She took part in numerous festivals, including Bravo Maestro in Kąśna Dolina, Domaine Musicale in Paris, Gidon Kremer and Friends in Kuhno, and Martha Argerich and Friends in Bochum, as well as many other festivals in such cities as Munich, Salzburg, Edinburgh, and Vienna.
Wiłkomirska started to give violin lessons without giving up concerts. She was a professor at Hochschule für Musik Mannheim-Heidelberg, leading master courses all around the world. She currently works as the head of the violin department in the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
I really like Australia. I work for many hours a day in the Sydney Conservatorium without a meal. I am happy with this, I am not tired. I love to teach. In the evening I close my classroom and leave, the school is very close to the opera, I take a path between palms and head towards the closest subway station, I get out at the third stop right onto Bondi Junction, a very popular place in Sydney. I smell Thai, Arabian, Turkish, and Chinese scents and become incredibly hungry. I am tired. I am happy. Everywhere.
First performances and records
Wiłkomirska was the first performer of many works written by composers from Poland, Germany and Australia. Some of those works were dedicated to her. At the First Polish Music Festival in 1951 in Warsaw she performed the premiere of Grażyna Bacewicz's 5th Violin Concert. Furthermore, she performed at the premieres of Tadeusz Baird's Expressions (1959), Augustyn Bloch's Dialogs (1966), Krzysztof Penderecki's Capriccio (1968), Bacewicz's 7th Violin Concert (1979), and Roman Maciejewski's Violin Sonata (1998) as well as Zbigniew Bargielski's (1977), Zbigniew Bujarski's (1980), and Włodzimierz Kotoński's (2000) violin concerts.
She has recorded with EMI, Deutsche Grammophon, Polskie Nagrania, Philips, Hungaroton and Connoisseur Society (since 1968 she recorded twelve albums with the latter and received two awards: Best of the Year from Stereo Revue in 1972 and Grand Prix du Disque from Record World in 1974.
In 1983 Wiłkomirska launched a pedagogical career in Hochschule für Musik Mannheim-Heidelberg where she continued to teach until 1999. She run a class at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. In addition, she conduced workshops and master courses in Poland (in Jadwisin and Gdańsk), Japan, Switzerland, Finland, Austria, Germany, and Italy. She was a jury member at many prestigious concerts in Tokyo, Moscow, London, Munich, Vienna, Graz, Hannover, Gorizia, Lichtenberg, Warsaw, Łódź, Lublin and Poznań.
Awards and decorations
Wiłkomirska is a laureate of four international competitions: in Geneva (1946), In Budapest (1949), Bach Contest in Lipsk (1950) and H. Wieniawski Competition in Poznań (1952). For her music achievements she received many decorations and prizes, including: Second Degree National Award (1952), First Degree National Award (1964), Order of Polonia Restituta (1981), Karol Szymanowski Award (1997), Order of Polonia Restituta with Star (2001), decoration for activity for Australian Polish Community Abroad (2005). In 2006 she was awarded Doctor Honoris Causa of Music Academy in Łódź and honorary citizenship of Kalisz.
Author: Małgorzata Kosińska, Polish Music Information Centre, Związek Kompozytorów Polskich, April 2002, updated: October 2009, translated by AW, November 2016.