The Razumovsky Academy and Ensemble’s weekend events on 8 and 9 December were already hotly anticipated when a stroke of fate took matters abruptly onto a whole new level. The Razumovsky Artistic Director Oleg Kogan, for many years a tremendous admirer of the artistry of Ida Haendel, had worked his special magic to persuade the great violinist to travel to London especially to give masterclasses to the Razumovsky Academy students.
These were due to take place in a beautiful concert salon in Queen’s Gate Terrace. With barely a week to go, however, news emerged that a pianist had cancelled a recital at the Wigmore Hall on 9 December. Oleg booked the hall at once for classes in the afternoon and a concert by the students in the evening – allowing for a possible ‘surprise’ guest appearance…
Miss Haendel flew in on 7 December and began her masterclasses the following afternoon in Mansfield Street, another of London’s most beautiful salons, giving lessons on the Chausson Poème with Amelie Lied Haga, Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen with the youngest Razumovsky student Sonoko Miriam Shimano Welde, and the Dvorák Violin Concerto with Miriam Helms Ålien. That evening, she attended the Razumovsky Ensemble’s Wigmore Hall concert to listen to an exhilarating programme of the Beethoven Septet and the Schubert Octet.
Driving past Marble Arch en route to Wigmore Street, she reminisced about her years in England: “Now I know I’m in London – this is the area where I lived.” She was in place on Sunday morning, as glamorous as ever in denim, high-heeled boots and a fur collar, ready to begin work with an initial session in Kensington.
To Guro Kleven Hagen, who played the Sibelius Violin Concerto, Miss Haendel described the loneliness of the Scandinavian and Finnish landscapes and the necessity of balancing the presence in the music of fire on the one hand and ice on the other. The pacing of energy was also a paramount issue as she worked through Ravel’s Tzigane with Eldbjorg Helmsing, en route demonstrating some of the bowing techniques used by Gypsies, as well as their poise and their capacity for musical frenzy. And to a virtuoso double-bass performance by Ha Young Jung, she commented simply: “Fantastic!”
Over lunch, the conversation turned not only to reminiscences of string players but also to the great singers of the 20th century, among whom Miss Haendel singled out as favourites Renata Tebaldi for her beauty of tone, the glorious “Luciano”, and, more unexpectedly, Harry Secombe of The Goon Show. Like singers, she explained, every string player has a ‘voice’, a special sound with which he or she is born, that can be enhanced, encouraged or intensified, but the essence of which does not change.
Now the project transferred to the Wigmore Hall, where a sizeable contingent of London musicians and enthusiasts had assembled to listen despite the short notice. No guarantee yet existed, though, that the much-vaunted ‘surprise’ would happen in the evening concert.
The afternoon started slightly late and it was decided to ask the first student, Guro, to play to the patient audience while they waited for Miss Haendel to arrive. But a couple of lines into the Wieniawski Polonaise de Concert, the door onto the stage swung open: a diminutive figure in a white coat and a black hat emerged and stepped carefully round the piano to the chair that awaited her. The hall erupted with delight – and Guro, undeterred, stood quietly while the welcomes and introductions were made, ready to begin the Wieniawski again from the beginning.
The grandeur of the Polonaise was soon shining out; next Alexander Sitkovetsky played the Franck Violin Sonata, drawing praise not only for his interpretation but also for Olga Sitkovetsky’s wonderful piano accompaniment. The afternoon reached a climax with another lesson on the Sibelius Violin Concerto, this time for Anna-Liisa Bezrodny. The encouragements, experiments and exchanges developed such a rapport between teacher and student that at the end the pair simply embraced centre stage.
Now no doubt remained: the ‘surprise’ would go ahead. The only question was what it would be, and when.
The Academy’s evening concert drew an enthusiastic audience, admitted free. The younger students performed in the first half, beginning with Sonoko Miriam in a Kreisler transcription of Manuel de Falla and proceeding with cellist Mihail Nemtsov playing the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata, Miriam in Ysaye’s Fourth Sonata, Ha Young performing a virtuoso double-bass transcription by Bottesini, and finally Guro with her Wieniawski, this time straight through and delivered with gallons of charm and musicality.
After the interval, it was time for Miss Haendel’s ‘surprise’: nothing less than the Bach Chaconne in D minor. Addressing the audience first, she remarked that she had only ever taken part one international competition, so wasn’t accustomed to finding herself having to hold her own against such a collection of beautiful girls! The hall sat motionless and dead silent as she played: her sound contained phenomenal power, directness and an exceptional concentration of character and energy, which carried the audience en masse into a state resembling intensified consciousness.
Following that would have been a tall order for any musician, but Anna-Liisa carried off the challenge brilliantly, with an incandescent performance of the Elgar Violin Sonata’s first movement. Sasha Sitkovetsky relaxed the mood with Song Without Words by Tchaikovsky and a delicious version of Monti’s Czardas; and Eldbjorg Helmsing, radiant in grey silk, rounded off this dazzling evening with Tzigane.
Perhaps the best news of all is that Ida Haendel has accepted Oleg’s invitation to become patron of the Razumovsky Academy.
Backstage after the concert, she was full of enthusiasm for the Razumovsky’s achievements.
“I think it’s a tremendous event,” she declared, “and I’m participating in the encouragement of it. I hope that this wonderful gentleman, Oleg Kogan, is inspired to continue and that he will have a lot of support. I am one of the supporters and I am honoured because he has asked me to be a patron. I accept this invitation with great delight. I hope that we will be working together in the future and that everyone in London will join in. It’s a very important mission to support music and young talent. And such talent!
“It’s very important,” she added, “because our world is disappearing. It’s all about rock and pop today; the classical world is slowly diminishing.” So we have to save our music? “Yes, this is what I feel.” And this is the way to do it? “Yes,” said Miss Haendel. “The only way.”