The passing of internationally acclaimed violin virtuoso Camilla Wicks recently was felt deeply by many of us in North Central Washington. She passed away at the home of her daughter, Lise-Marie Wertanzl, in Florida.
Camilla, a child prodigy who was recognized as the foremost female concert violinist in the 1940s and 1950s, lived in Wenatchee with her children in the 1970s where she taught violin and played in the Wenatchee Valley Symphony, under conductor Malcolm Seagrave. Despite her unfathomable talent, she was also a humble soul. When she asked to join our local symphony, I’m told, Seagrave had no idea who she was and had her sit in the second violin section. He immediately moved her to the position of concertmistress, the first chair of the violins, upon recognizing her talents.
How extraordinary that a world-renowned violinist came to be living and performing and teaching in our region.
Camilla was born into a musical family of Norwegian heritage. She started playing the violin at age 3 ½ and performed the Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor in public, from memory, at age 4. Her family relocated to New York so that she could attend the Juilliard School of Music at age 10. In 1942, at age 13, she debuted as a soloist in New York’s Town Hall and later with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. By her late teens, she was appearing with leading American orchestras and touring in Europe, to critical acclaim.
In an obituary appearing in The Washington Post last week, Camilla’s life and artistry were featured. “Ms. Wicks was widely known and photographed, yet she gave few substantive interviews throughout her life. Instead, it was left to critics, most of them men, to describe her variously as ‘a violin genius,’ a ‘violin-playing Madonna’ and a ‘delicate woman…consumed by the demon of music.
As a young woman, she performed the violin concerto for its composer, Jean Sibelius. She is mentioned with the greatest violinists of her generation, including Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin and Jascha Heifetz.
Camilla retired from performing in her early 1930s to raise her four children.
There were few recordings of Camilla's’ amazing talents, but the ones that survive have been lauded by music critics, including her legendary performance of the Sibelius concerto in 1952. I’ve included a link to the audio recording of that performance in my blog at artofcommunityncw.com. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/5gwjkFoBX4Y
Her late sister once recounted that Stern described Camilla as “the greatest violinist” and when asked whether he meant the greatest female violinist, he replied: ‘No, I mean the greatest.’”
She received an honorary doctorate and taught at Rice University, Eastman School of Music, the Royal Conservatory of Oslo and others. In 1999, she was honored with a knighthood from the Norwegian Royal Order of Merit for her contributions in music.
She is survived by three of her children: Lise-Marie Wertanzl, Angela Thomas Jeffrey and Erik John Thomas.
Camilla had a special bond with Walt Leonard and Gudrun Hansen. The Norwegian couple was deeply involved in the music scene in Wenatchee. Gudrun taught violin and Walt Leonard performed and taught piano. I have fond memories of Camilla as a teacher, having been fortunate to take lessons from her at her Wenatchee home for a time.
Camilla was a remarkable human being and a masterful teacher and influence so many musicians in our valley and around the world. The arts bring us not just entertainment and instant pleasure but help us touch into all is sacred, infinite and timeless.
If you are interested in hearing more of Camilla’s music, in 2015 she released the album: Camilla Wicks: Five Decades of Treasured Performance. More information on her remarkable life can be found at camillawicks.net.