Sad news: Death of a pedigree violinist

Sad news: Death of a pedigree violinist


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2014

We have been informed of the death, last night from cancer, of the formidable violinist Lydia Mordkovitch, at the age of 70.

A student of David Oistrakh and later his assistant, Lydia lived in Israel in the 1970s. In 1980 she moved to England, where she recorded vast amounts of violin music – much of it by UK composers – on the Chandos label.Many regard her account of the Shostakovich concertos as second only to her teacher’s. As a concert artist she suffered from poor dress sense and a fidgety stage presence. She never achieved the eminence that her playing deserved.

In 1995, Lydia was appointed professor at the Royal Academy of Music, where her teaching was highly prized.

We shared a mutual friend and I attended quite a few of her performances. Lydia was always matter-of-fact about her artistry, nothing showy, the music came first. She will be widely missed.

mordkovitchmordkovitch oistrakh


  • Peter says:

    Great teacher, great musician. Unique sound.

    When listening to Suk’s “un poco triste” played by Ginette Neveu. “So special” she would say…
    With Lydia, the music she liked was “special, out of this world”.
    Just like her. One of a kind.

  • Ulex Xane says:

    A truly great violinist and a beautiful woman. She leaves us with some wonderful recordings. Sad news, R.I.P.

  • Nicholas A says:

    I’d like to leave my tribute to a great musician, a wonderful teacher and a very, very kind person.

    I remember Lydia well from RNCM – particularly on one occasion, when I was upbraided in front of the entire orchestra (in the first rehearsal for the Tchaikovsky 1st concerto) for nervously speeding ahead in the first movement. I don’t think I was the conductor’s preferred choice of soloist and I was terribly upset. There was a very awkward silence and I felt the embarrassment of all my friends in the orchestra and those who had dropped into hear me.

    Lydia was also sitting in on the rehearsal. She had only just started as a professor and – so typically – wanted to see and hear as much student work as possible. She calmly, diplomatically, put her hand up to speak and with great good humour (and in her melodious, richly accented English) announced that she had once been told off in exactly the same way by her professor for the same thing. It saved the day for me, for the conductor and for the rehearsal and I have never forgotten that simple yet wise act of kindness.

    • Natasha Petrovic says:

      Thank you for sharing your lovely memory of Lydia. We have lost an amazing person with her own unique style… I am missing her too

      • Nicholas A says:

        Dear Natasha, Thank you so much for this: There have been very moving tributes to Lydia in the press over the past days and I am so glad about this. My best wishes and thanks, N

  • Stephen Morris says:

    Her recording of Moeran’s Violin Concerto is superb

  • esfir ross says:

    Extremely sad on passing Lidochka, greatest violinist and beautiful person. Child protegee she was send from Kishinev, Moldova to study with Benzion Mordkovich in Odessa. She was later my collegue in Kishinev conservatory. I buy her CD,s and give as presents to her former students. One of the best violinist .

  • Elizabeth Lesar says:


  • Paul S says:

    Very sad news.

    Last week (December 3rd) another geat teacher passed away. Roman Nodel (1942-2014) was considered one of the greatest Violin teacher in Germany. He was a teacher at the MuHo Mannheim. His students include the famous pedagogue Stephan Picard as well as players in the Major orchestras.

    You can find the obituary here:

  • Charles B says:

    Lydia was a wonderful, kind person and teacher. She never accepted anything but the highest standards. She will be greatly missed by all who were lucky enough to hear her playing or to study with her.

  • James Kirby says:

    I feel sorry that, in such a short article, Mr Lebrecht mentions Lydia’s dress sense and nervous stage presence. I was lucky enough to work closely with her for over 15 years and yes, she was a larger than life personality, and her concert attire often matched that, usually bold, colourful or daring, (sometimes all three!) showing an individuality perhaps too rare these days. And yes, she fizzed with energy on stage, but she was always perfectly in control and her performances were without exception exciting, sometimes unpredictable but always inspiring and full of beauty and humanity.
    Surely most important to remember is her artistry, her unmistakeable tone, her phrasing, as expressive as the human voice, and her amazing ease with the instrument, (she seemed to hold it so lightly that I was sometimes worried that she was going to drop it!) and apparently effortless ability to make the violin sing in a truly unique way.

  • Natasha Petrovic says:

    Lydia Mordkovitch- A woman of formidable glamour and impeccable passion.
    Her artistic sensibility is something I could never doubt.
    I miss her dearly.

  • Julian Gregory says:

    Ah, Lydia; she played with us at the BBC Northern and Philharmonic on a number of occasions, and her fiery style was am inspiration to anyone who sees performance as a risky, passionate business. And her dress sense? I never noticed.

  • Ilana Mordkovitch-Roos says:

    My name is Ilana. I’m Lydia’s daughter.
    I would like to thank you for what is mostly a very warm tribute.
    However , there are a couple of points I would like to make . I feel that the remark regarding my mum’s dress sense is somewhat irrelevant . She came out of Russia bare. At first she had no means of purchasing any concert dresses. Much of her decision making was based on conventions of her youth. Her stage attire was part of her history and who she was: expressive, colourful, fragile and strong all at once; she felt the fear and dared! She never went through a premedited image building project. I feel that to discuss her dress sense is rather like discussing the weather… It is what it is and has little to do with the incredible music making and the artist who she is.
    The second point I wanted to make was is connection to the ‘fidgety’ stage presence. I feel that her sensitivity was in essence the thrill and the excitement she generated. She took huge risks and felt the fear. A listener would often be on the edge of his seat. Today it’s not so fashionable . A player is supposed to deliver a steely, risk free account comparable to a CD. Much of the magic is lost …
    Mum was an inspiration to me and my girls. We will miss her dearly.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Hi Ilana. Your Mum called me about three months ago and wanted to have a conversation – two hours she said it would take. I put her off until the holiday period. Now I am so sorry for that. I liked her a lot. The observations I made in reporting her death were ones that I made to her in person. She always welcomed the truth. As you say, she was what she was. I will miss her greatly. best wishes, Norman

      • Ilana Mordkovitch-Roos says:

        Dear Norman,
        Thank you for your reply.
        Mum has been very sick for a year now. She was with me during this time. She was unable to walk or use the phone due to confusion and difficulties with sight. She told me that she rang you last November regarding a certain issue. I thank you for being in her life.
        All the best, Ilana.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          Dear Ilana

          Was it that long ago? I’ve just checked emails and find she was in contact again in Feb 2014, wanting to talk about RAM. I got to know her through Zsuzsi R. and was always happy to see her. all best wishes, Norman

          • Stuart says:

            Lydiya was computer illiterate – never touched a PC let alone write emails – unless she had someone do it on her behalf. She was also seriously ill in hospital in FEB 2014.

          • norman lebrecht says:

            She had someone write emails for her.

          • Lyudmilla says:

            Dear Norman,
            I would like to tell my truth about Lydia . I am a mother of one of her students. My son had lessons with Lydia all the last years until she became very ill and we both saw her every week for several hours at a time. She was always impecably dressed. She was the kind of person who would not want to appear on her doorstep not looking perfect. That was when she already was not young and not very healthy. Yes, she valued the truth but I think your comments about her dress style would have shocked and offended her. I appreciate that you are entitled to your opinion and taste is a very subjective thing. I felt that your comment on this occasion was very strong and not very appropriate. She was dazzling, sparkling as a violinist. Perfect in every sense. Highly inspirational for my son who discovered the violin in a different light since becoming her student. He will forever keep all that she taught him. We always will keep her in our hearts. She was one of the most stylish women I ever knew and she was a Real Lady in every sense. That is the truth and I am absolutely certain that a lot of people who knew her would agree with me.
            God Bless her soul. If there is Heaven she is there with angels.

  • james dickenson says:

    Hello, I studied with Lydia, she was always an inspiration and although in the end we did not see each other again, I always wanted to get back in touch. I will always remember the great things she taught me. I have written about it here at my blog

    Best James

  • Moray Welsh says:

    I am enormously saddened to hear about Lydia. Though I had not been in touch with her for some years I did play with her quite a few times, and respected her greatly. There were performances of the Beethoven Triple Concerto at the Proms, Ravel Duo for Radio 3, and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio ( with Martin Roscoe ) and Souvenir de Florence.

    Those performances were all memorable in different ways, and though some people were critical of Lydia’s style in the more classical repertoire, she brought her own complete conviction and emotional sincerity to everything she played.

    The Tchaikovsky Trio performance was one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my career, at the end of which I felt she had wrung every drop of emotion from the music, and the Ravel was one of the most exciting ( not to say hair-raising in the Scherzo!).

    Basically Lydia was all heart, which was her undoing in a way. Somehow, though she was a phenomenal violinist ( and able pianist as well ) she was herself emotionally vulnerable, which is what gave her playing such a visceral quality. Of course one could say that it was sometimes OTT, and wayward, but thank God for her conviction.

    To talk of her dress sense is completely irrelevant, not to say ignorant. Quite a few Russian musicians who had lived on a subsistence diet while in Soviet Russia displayed not a little excess in taste when they finally escaped their enforced drabness, (QED Mischa Maisky and his technicolor shirts! ) . Nobody criticised Rostropovich for his bizarre sense of taste in art.

    What many people do not know is that Lydia struggled to come to terms with a very complicated and difficult family history, the incredible story of which reads like a Russian novel. She suffered from a very nervous disposition, and periods of instability which adversely affected her career. But in spite of that Lydia was incredibly kind and generous to other people, including her students, whom she treated like her own family. Her generosity vastly exceeded her care for herself,

    If it’s only the lapses in dress sense that she is remembered for, I feel the world of music journalism has sold its soul to trash, if it ever knew about soul anyway.

    Let’s rather remember her fantastic Shostakovich Concerto recordings (amongst many ), her fearless exploration of lesser known violin repertoire, inimitable voice on the violin, devotion to teaching, and her warm exuberant personality. In a world of blandness she was a one off!

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Moray, your warm words are well placed. But you know as well as anyone that Lydia was alert to her virtues and her faults. She would not have wished either element to be suppressed.

  • Beth Petrovic says:

    Dear Ilana, thank you for your explanation of some of Lydia’s journey. To know the depth & richness of the artist as both a musician yourself and as her daughter is precious. You can speak where the rest of us can sometimes perhaps assume. Thank you for speaking from your heart and for talking to us from your unique position. Those of us who grieve with you can not properly imagine the depth of your sorrow as you are the one who was there. You are the one who must adjust the most… Please be comforted by Lydia’s wonderful music and the words of appreciation that have arrived from around the globe. May your precious memories comfort you also and one day perhaps you will allow the world a glimpse of more so that we may appreciate more of Lydia’s journey. Warm wishes to you and your remarkable family, from your ever devoted Beth & children.

  • Rita Weissman says:

    Dear Ilana
    It is only now, with great sadness and sorrow, that I discovered the sad passing of Lydia. I am so sorry not to have seen her in recent years and not to have known about her illness. I suppose it was her own choice not get in touch again. The round about way in which this news has reached me, three years after her passing is devastating and very shocking to me. I would very much like to hear from you, if only for a short call or email, for the sake of our long relationship of at least 20 or more years, to be able to share in your grief which, I hope, is eased a bit, as time passes by.
    With all my love and hope that you will respond..