Death of Poland’s great violinist

Death of Poland’s great violinist


norman lebrecht

May 01, 2018

Wanda Wilkomirska, Poland’s outstanding post-War violinist, died today at the age of 89.

She achieved US fame as a Sol Hurok artist and was highly popular in the UK.

In 1983 she refused to return to Poland while it was under martial law.

From 1999 she taught at the Sydney Conservatorium in Australia.


  • Robert Roy says:

    Very sad news. She was a regular visitor to Edinburgh where she often played with the (R)SNO?


  • Scott MacClelleand says:

    Her Bach Chaconne on Connoisseur Society label is the most intensely gripping of any recording of it ever made.

  • Rosana Martins says:

    I loved Wanda! She was a wonderful violinist and a lovely person. She stayed at my house every time she was in New York during the 70s and made me laugh a lot about the many different funny events that happened to her. I will miss her. RIP.

  • Paul Davis says:

    A marvellous artist. She revealed Szymanowski’s 1st concerto in an ecstatic way which i’ve never found equalled…a sense of melisma and line with fascinating sensuality. I feel that i owe her an important part of my musical upbringing!
    Beautiful person and unique artist. Thank you so much. RIP.

  • Rosanne Goldman says:

    Absolutely beautiful!

  • Rodney Friend says:

    Her Szymanowski playing was a great influence on me. RIP, Wanda

    • Elisabeth Matesky says:

      For the superb London Leader, Rodney Friend ~

      How I wish the circumstances were different on this day, May 2, 2018, just
      following the passing of the great Violinist and intriguing person of Wanda
      Wilkormirska, whom I’m presuming you knew and worked with as Leader
      of one of the great London major orchestra’s ~ We met when I was residing
      in inner London — studying with Sascha Lasserson and later, w/ N. Milstein,
      at Chester Square ~ Your words about Ms. Wilkormirska, simply expressed,
      took me back to the ’70’s, and such an enriched time for great violin playing
      which was flourishing in London ~

      When in Poland, on a cross country concert tour, I became very aware of and
      moved by Wanda Wilkormirska’s presence as a heralded artist, & champion of
      Szymanowski’s Violin works which were intertwined with Wanda Wilkomirska’s
      very being … When my American pupil’s wish to study Szymanowski’s Violin Concerti, I’ve always put Wilkomirska’s recording’s on the main course Menu
      as a Must Hear First Acquaintance with excellent results & stylistic awareness
      of ‘How’ Szymanowski can and should sound …

      As my colleague and friend, Simon Scott, writes above, we simply cannot afford
      to lose these wonderful artist’s & person’s … If you have special memories of Ms.
      Wilkomirska, might you share one now?

      Thank you, Rodney Friend, for all you represent as a Violinist & superb Leader/
      Soloist at the heart of London’s core ‘pool’ of the Best of British string playing ~

      Sending warm nostalgic musical wishes from America

      Elisabeth Matesky

  • Aleksander says:

    Wanda Wiłkomirska was absolutely one of the greatest musical personalities of the XX century. She made the works of Szymanowski, Karłowicz (most on YT now) known to the western audience. Wilkomirska’s internal coherence and support of opposition was manifested when martial law was imposed in Poland (1981) – she emigrated to Australia (returned after the fall of communism).
    She also played herself in a polish film “Jowita” (1967, by J. Morgenstern) – see link below:

    • Rosana Martins says:

      Wanda had to stay away from Poland for sometime in the 70s when her then husband (Rakowski) wrote to her saying that there were several anti-semitic events happening in the country and that she might be in danger. The local press had written more than once about a famous Jewish instrumentalist married to a political figure.

  • Alexander Walker says:

    I had the privilege of conducting a concert with her in Poland 10 or so years ago – she was a unique artist and a wonderful character too!

  • David R Osborne says:

    “Poland’s outstanding post-War violinist, died today at the age of 89.”

    She was great but um… Henryk Szeryng?

    • Jonathon says:

      I’m not sure such a comment is really necessary in this context, but I suppose SD is correct in that Szeryng made his debut in 1933, while Wilkomirska was still studying in the late 40s. But hey, two great violinists, and Wilkomirska really deserved to be better known.

    • Bruce says:

      I didn’t see it as a claim that she was Poland’s only, or greatest, outstanding postwar violinist.

      • Simon Scott says:

        As Carl Flesch said,many(NOT all) of the best violinist came from either Poland or the Ukraine. Of course,things are rather different today.
        I might add that my all time favourite violinist came from Marseille. He was born in 1902. Only one guess…!!

        • Elisabeth Matesky says:

          My dear Simon ~ Zino Francescatti, I believe!!! How privileged we are to have been born at a lush time for great violin playing and unique individual sounds &
          style of many Great’s! Wanda Wilkomirska was certainly one of the rare artists with great integrity and a grand soul ~

          Let us hope a major retrospective of Wanda Wilkomirska will evolve for newer
          generation’s of violinist’s to awaken to & Wilkomirska’s Legacy in Music as our
          most ‘human’ Violinist, bar none …

          In Memoriam of Wanda Wilkomirska ~


  • George Zacharias says:

    The music world has become poorer today. It was the greatest privilege and honour for me to have studied under her at Syd Con for two trully unforgettable years… Each lesson was transcending beyond words. A true artist and one-of-the-kind human! RIP dearest Maestra

  • Aleksander says:

    More on Wanda Wilkomirska’s education and youth: after WWII she moved to Łódz (Warsaw was in ashes) where she studied with the greatest polish violinists : Eugenia Umińska, Tadeusz Wroński, Irena Dubiska (close friend of Karol Szymanowski). She studied then in Budapest and in Paris with Henryk Szeryng. She played the Petrus Guarnerius ( 1734). Her concert inaugurated the opening of the Polish National Philharmony Hall rebuilt after WWII in 1955. Her life and performances are a great and unfortunately less known chapter (a book rather) of polish music in the “times of cholera” in Eastern Europe.

    • Alexander Walker says:

      Also worth mentioning her family – her elder half-brother (I think I have got that right!) Heinrich was a fabulous cellist and her brother Jozef (whom I knew) was Chief Conductor in Walbrzych for many years and was also a wonderful musician of great integrity.

  • daveferre says:

    I met Wanda first in Germany, in 1985, where she was supremely helpful with my Andrzej Czajkowski (Andre Tchaikowsky) research. They were students together in Łódz and she remembered everything from that time. My last meeting with her was in Warsaw, in 2015, after a concert that featured works by Andrzej Czajkowski. We took the metro back to central Warsaw and I held her hand the whole time. She was just a kind of small bird at that point but still feisty and sharp as ever. I feel blessed to have known her just this little bit. They is also a 90-minute documentary of her life that was created for Polish television. There is a YouTube trailer but the availability of this documentary (I’ll Play It For You) isn’t well know. I do have an email address of the filmmaker.

    • Elisabeth Matesky says:

      Deeply saddened to read the news of a cherished person & a truly dedicated ‘human Violinist’, Poland’s Wanda Wilkomirska, morte at aged 89, yesterday, Tuesday on May 1st 2018, I extend sincere sympathies to Ms. Wilkomirska’s family including all her devoted pupil’s and loving colleagues in Europe, Asia, wonderful England & the UK, Australia & here in the United States (where Kurt Sussmannhaus & Ilkka Talvi have already posted individual expressions of grief re ‘Wanda’s passing’) with, no doubt, many more in The America’s to come. Ms. Wilkomirska’s Earthly departure leaves a big void in the global Classical Music World, as although she was known & admired by many ‘inner circle’ colleagues & W.W. audiences/fans, Wanda Wilkomirska didn’t receive ‘star’ recognition, yet she earned an utterly profound regard and respect for her ‘moral integrity’ which was personal and not targeted for Headline’s. Instead, her choice to pause from Poland was borne of ‘right’ vs wrong in the ’70’s, with a minimum of fanfare …

      Those qualities, to me, demonstrate a remarkable human being not wishing to use personal choice for professional gain, & let it be said, Wanda Wilkomirska’s depth of character shines before all – whether musician or ‘civilian’, to look to and learn from this day and hereafter ~ Her music making was infused with the W.W. qualities of willing adherence to Truth and Good, which lifts Ms. Wilkomirska way up and beyond any earthling’s assessment of her ‘career’ ~

      Poland gave the World a great religious Leader in St Blessed Pope John Paul II, and in Great Music’s truly Noble Servant of the Violin, Ms. Wanda Wilkomirska ~ May she rest, Eternally, in enduring Grace and Peace ~

      Elisabeth Matesky

      (American colleague-fan & admirer of Wanda Wilkomirska’s human-ness)

      • Simon Scott says:

        ‘My’ first Wieniawski 2nd concerto was the recording by Wanda. She had a very unique and colourful sound and her interpretation of W2 was resplendent with Polish nostalgia,and ‘vituosity to spare’. Like other of her colleagues she had a fabulous technique,but didn’t care to show it off for it’s own sake.
        We just cannot afford to lose these people.
        BTW,did Wanda ever record the 2nd concerto by Szymanowski? Wanda plays the 1st extremely well,however,as a piece of music I prefer the 2nd. As her compatriot,Henryk Szeryng,said ‘Polish mountain music’. It makes sense.

        • Simon Scott says:

          Research has revealed that Wanda did indeed play Szymanowski no.2,and wonderfully so! She was unique

  • David H Spence says:

    From all I read here, this is an artist i should have gotten to know much better than I have. I still recall her playing the Szymanowski First Concerto at Jones Hall with Lawrence Foster conducting in the mid-1970’s, and for quite a long time, I identified her with this piece. The orchestra played a little more loudly than they should have (as does also the CBSO under Simon Rattle on their disc thereof), but she still made a bewitching presence on stage visually in a way, but musically most of all. Her brother Michael was also a fine section violinist here and excellent piano tuner as well, who later I was told moved to Portugal. I did not know that Wanda studied at all under Szeryng, but I find it intriguing that this must be the case.(Szeryng’s Beethoven concerto in 1983 downtown remains burned in my memory until this day). It would be excellent for a retrospective of her playing to be issued on compact disc and if possible, definitely the 90 minute documentary to accompany it as well.

  • David H Spence says:

    Ditto. When I think about it, I was goofy when just having posted that Michael was her brother. He must have been her uncle, some fairly close relative, given that she was in her forties when she performed here and he was around twenty years older than she was.

    • Elisabeth Matesky says:

      To David H. Spence ~

      Not to worry re Wanda Wilkomirska’s ‘brother’ or ‘Uncle’ as I’ve no doubt either
      was/is proud to be a close family relative and unimaginably grieved at this time.

      Your mention of attending a Wanda Wilkomirska concert in the 1970’s at Jones
      Hall, performing the Szymanowski First Violin Concerto, with a longtime born-in
      Los Angeles friend – fellow LA elder student, Lawrence Foster, has brought back
      ‘Hollywood’ memories when LA was in the pink! I knew of Larry and visa versa!
      After moving to London on my Fulbright, fellow LA musicians began trekking it to
      ‘Twiggy’ London! It was a great time & extraordinary place to continue learning so much more about Music and varying style’s/approaches of British musicians
      to music making … The World came to London and in so doing, London culture
      became embedded into the American musical DNA of our generation, including
      Conductor, Lawrence Foster ~ So many of us carry enormous gratitude in our hearts for all things British!!

      May the Sunset continue setting on the British Empire and all its people ~

      Elisabeth Matesky in America

  • Saul Davis says:

    For years I had a poster for a concert she performed to benefit Solidarity. It featured telephone wires strung from poles that were violin necks, an unforgettable image.

    • Simon Scott says:

      Hardly surprising. As I indicated above Poland produced many great violinists.
      Is there any way that I can see this poster?

  • Simon Scott says:

    2018 has got off to a pretty rotten start.
    Thus far,we’ve lost three great viola players in Luigi Alberto Bianchi,Michael Tree and Milan Skampa. Now we’ve lost a great violinist.