Wanda Wiłkomirska (born 11 January 1929 in Warsaw) is a Polish violinist and teacher. She is known for both the classical repertoire and for her interpretation of 20th-century music, having received two Polish State Awards for promoting Polish music to the world and also other awards for her contribution to music. She has given world premiere performances of numerous contemporary works including Tadeusz Baird and Krzysztof Penderecki. She now lives and teaches in Australia. Wiłkomirska performs on a violin crafted by Pietro Guarneri in 1734 in Venice.
Wanda Wiłkomirska first learned the violin from her father, and studied with Irena Dubiska at the Łódź Academy of Music, graduating in 1947. She graduated from the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy in Budapest in 1950, where she studied under Ede Zathureczki (a student of Jenő Hubay). She performed in Paris, which led to Henryk Szeryng asking her to study with him. She won prizes at competitions in Geneva (1946), Budapest (1949) and Leipzig (the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition, 1950; 2nd prize), She also studied in Warsaw under Tadeusz Wroński, who helped her prepare for the Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Poznań in December 1952, where she played Karol Szymanowski’s Concerto No. 1 for the first time (it became a favourite of hers). She shared 2nd prize with Julian Sitkovetsky; the 1st prize winner was Igor Oistrakh.
In 1955, Wanda Wiłkomirska performed at the inauguration of the rebuilt Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, with the Poland National Philharmonic Orchestra under Witold Rowicki. She became the orchestra's principal soloist and gave many performances with the orchestra around the world, with such conductors as Rowicki, Stanisław Wisłocki and Antoni Wit. The American impresario Sol Hurok (who managed such violinists as Isaac Stern and David Oistrakh) introduced her to the enthusiastic U.S. and Canadian markets. She has since performed in over 50 countries, in all continents. In the 1960s and 1970s, Wanda Wiłkomirska gave an average of 100 concerts per year.
In 1969, she gave 37 performances in Australia (a country she later emigrated to). These interpretations won her great acclaim and she received further recital and concert proposals from Australian orchestras. In 1973, she was the first violinist to perform a solo recital in the newly built Sydney Opera House (she was accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons).
In 1976 she helped inaugurate the Barbican Hall in London with a performance of Benjamin Britten's Violin Concerto, scheduled to be conducted by Sir John Barbirolli, but in the end Erich Leinsdorf.
In 1982, during the period of martial law in Poland, Wanda Wiłkomirska announced during a concert tour in the West that she would not return to Poland at the end of the tour. One of her sons, Arthur, also defected to West Germany.
In 1983, she accepted the chair of music professor at the Heidelberg-Mannheim Hochschule für Musik. Since that time, teaching has become her great passion and an opportunity to share her instrumental skills and experience as a musician with the next generation of virtuosos.
In 1999 she joined the teaching staff of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and since February 2001 has also worked for the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne. Wanda Wiłkomirska continues to be a part of musical life in Europe, flying between the two continents for concerts, master classes and competitions, whilst remaining involved in musical life in Australia.
Wanda Wiłkomirska is often a jury member at violin competitions, such as those held in: Moscow, Tokyo, London, Munich, Vienna, Graz, Hanover, Gorizia, and in Poland, in Poznań, Kraków, Łódź and Lublin.
Wanda Wiłkomirska has often performed in a piano trio, accompanied by her sister Maria at the piano and her brother Kazimierz on the cello, as the Wiłkomirska Trio. She has also played with Krystian Zimerman, Daniel Barenboim, Gidon Kremer, Natalia Sheludiakova, Martha Argerich, Kim Kashkashian and Mischa Maisky. She has performed at such festivals as: "Bravo Maestro", Gidon Kremer and Friends in Kuhmo, and Martha Argerich and Friends in Bochum.
Wiłkomirska gave premiere performances of various Polish contemporary compositions, such as: Grażyna Bacewicz's Violin Concerto No. 5 (1951) and Violin Concerto No. 7 (1979), Tadeusz Baird's Expressions (1959), Augustyn Bloch's Dialogues (1966), Krzysztof Penderecki's Capriccio (1968), Zbigniew Bargielski's Violin Concerto (1977), Zbigniew Bujarski's Violin Concerto (1980), Roman Maciejewski's Sonata (1998) and Włodzimierz Kotoński's Violin Concerto (2000).
Conductors and orchestras
Wanda Wiłkomirska has given recitals and performed symphonic concerts in many famous halls, including: Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, Salle Pleyel in Paris, Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Royal Festival Hall, the Pyotr Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow and the Berlin Philharmonic Hall. She has performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Hallé Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Berliner Philharmonic, with such celebrated conductors as: Paul Kletzki, Pierre Boulez, Paul Hindemith, Otto Klemperer, Zubin Mehta, Sir John Barbirolli, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Kurt Masur and Erich Leinsdorf.
She played only once with Leonard Bernstein, artistic differences leading them not to repeat the experience.
In 1968, she began regularly recording for the Connoisseur Society record company in New York, for which she made 12 albums, some with the pianist Antonio Barbosa. Two of these won awards, namely "Best of the Year" (1972) and the "Grand Prix du Disque" (1974). She has also recorded with Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Philips, Naxos, and Polskie Nagrania.
Her recordings include the works of Accolay, Bacewicz, Bach, Baird, Bargielski, Bartok, Beethoven, Augustyn Bloch, Brahms, Bujarski, Dancla, Franck, Handel, Karlowicz, Khachaturian, Kreisler, Martini, Mussorgsky, Pallasz, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Shostakovich, Szymanowski, Tchaikovsky, Viotti and Wieniawski.
- Wanda Wiłkomirska plays Polish music by Paderewski, Bacewicz, Zarzycki und Bargielski, with Paul Dam, fortepiano, Ambitus, amb97830
- Prokofieff, Two Sonatas for Violin and Piano, with Ann Schein, piano, Connoisseur Society, CD 4079
- Works by Wieniawski, Lipinski and Bacewicz with Jadwiga Szamotulska, Gambit 1003-1
- Britten Violin Concerto Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Witold Rowicki, 1967, Orchestral Concert CDs, CD12/2011
- Wanda Wilkomirska plays Moussorgsky, Kreisler, Wieniawski, Debussy, Bartok, Szymanowski and Sarasate, with David Garvey, piano. Connoisseur Society CS2070 (LP) Original release in SQ QuAdraphonic sound.
- Brahms: Sonata No. 3 Op. 108; Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 "Sprng" with Antonio Barbosa, piano. Connoisseur Society CS2080 Stereo
- Fritz Kreisler's Beloved Melodies with Antonio Barbosa, piano. Connoisseur Society CS2022 Stereo
- Ravel: Habanera; Sonata for violin and piano; Grieg: Sonata No. 3 for violin and piano with Antonio Barbosa, piano. Connoisseur Society CS2038 Stereo
- Bach: Music for unaccompanied violin - Sonata no. 1; Partita no. 2 Connoisseur Society CS2040 Stereo
- Franck: Sonata for violin and piano; Szymanowski: 3 myths, with Antonio Barbosa, piano. Connoisseur Society CS2050 Quadraphonic
- Delius: Three sonatas (complete) with David Garvey, piano. Connoisseur Society CS2069 Quadraphonic
- Brahms: Sonatas for violin and piano 1 and 2 with Antonio Barbosa, piano. Connoisseur Society CS2079 Quadraphonic
Wanda Wiłkomirska's marriage to Mieczysław Rakowski ended in divorce. He later became Prime Minister of Poland (1988–89) and First Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party. They had 2 sons, one of whom emigrated to Australia.
- Polish State Awards (1952, 1964)
- Commander Cross of the Rebirth of Poland Order (1981)
- Commander Cross with a Star (2001)
- medal for her work for the Polish community in Australia (2005)
- Award of the Karol Szymanowski Foundation (1997) for “a special emphasis on Karol Szymanowski's music; unique, ardent and expressive interpretation thereof; and propagation of his music worldwide.”
- Honorary Doctorate from the Music Academy in Łódź (2006).