Grand Lady of the Violin: Camilla Wicks

December 23, 2013 Updated: December 23, 2013

Back in the ’90s in a distant town in Washington state, I was violist for a Brahms piano quartet concert, and afterward concertgoers came back to greet the artists. Among the small group of well-wishers, a sweet little lady came up and told me she enjoyed the performance very much. She introduced herself as Camilla Wicks.

Mention the name Camilla Wicks to most violinists and they will rave about her recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, which rivals any recording out there. Listen to her recording of a live concert with the great Bruno Walter made in the ’50s and hear her Beethoven’s Violin Concerto—purely marvelous playing.

I had been such a fan of Ms. Wicks and here she was.

The child prodigy and famous violin student of Louis Persinger (one of the violin teaching legends of yesteryear) performed with many of the world’s top orchestras of her era and toured extensively in Europe.

She is known for her large repertoire, which includes lesser known works by Scandinavian composers in particular. It might be said that she has the soul of a Norwegian gypsy.

Camilla Wicks is not a household name because the noble lady made other choices. She raised a family of five and experienced life’s ups and downs.  Later, she taught violin at Louisiana State University, University of Michigan, and Rice University and was invited to head the String Department at the Oslo Royal Academy. She taught many of Norway’s leading violinists, including Henning Kraggerud.

A Violinist of the Old School
Perhaps only one or two today play violin in a grand manner like Camilla Wicks. Her technique is at the service of music. She creates a beautifully turned phrase, turned with a sense of humility and breathtaking soul.

Stripped of box office tactics, she is a grandmaster for those who prefer the reality, not the hype, not the paparazzi, sound bites, flashy dresses, or competition at the box office.

We live in a YouTube age where many deduce worth by the number of hits, and Camilla Wicks with only several hundred doesn’t quite reach the mark.

Yet, playing the violin is a difficult achievement. Here a small box of beautiful wood is capable of expressing such magnificent intent. A manmade wonder of art with four little strings resonating through the air to our heart strings.

Correct playing in my opinion can be described as that which is capable of touching us and that which is beautiful. Aesthetics are like sunshine; when the sun comes out you know it is there, and when someone with taste performs, the playing is not gaudy. It is balanced. It captivates and draws you in.

Since music is an escape, drawing us in from our mundane lives, it leads us away from clichés, toward the human experience deeply embedded into our DNA, filtered through the soul of an artist.
I was so impressed with Camilla Wick’s humility and lovely nature that I left the concert understanding that artists’ work mirrors how they are as people.

Simply put one does not have to be a diva to be a great artist. Ultimately, it even gets in the way.

She is a great example is a model to all of us striving to make beauty.

More about Camilla Wicks

  • Awarded a lifetime professorship at the Oslo Royal Academy
  • Made a Knight of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit  
  • Held the Isaac Stern Chair at the San Francisco Conservatory before retiring in 2005.

Eric Shumsky is an American concert violist, chamber musician, and conductor.