Howard Taubman, who reviewed the New York debut of violinist Camilla Wicks at City Hall for the New York Times in 1942, had to admit that she had “a certain flair for the violin.” He was particularly impressed with her handling of difficult passages in the Paganini D major Concerto, a work that requires a wealth of technical skills.
Incidentally, as the opening sentence of the review noted, Mrs. Wicks was “a pretty, flat-haired girl of thirteen and a half” at the time.
She had been impressing West Coast audiences for years after making her debut with an orchestra in Long Beach at the age of 7. But she wasn’t a child prodigy whose skills don’t develop with age. Eleven years after this New York debut, now in her mid-twenties, she played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, and even the orchestra’s musicians were impressed.
“The Larghetto was particularly good,” said the review in The Times, “because here her playing was so ecstatic and serene that it fully justified her unusually slow pace.” The men of the orchestra joined the audience to warm applause. “
Mrs. Wicks had developed from a child prodigy to one of the best violinists of her time, and she was one of the few women of that time who achieved an outstanding position as a violin soloist. She later became a respected teacher.
She died on November 25th in Weston, Florida, with her daughter Lise-Marie Thomas Wertanzl, where she has lived for several months. She was 92 years old. Ms. Thomas Wertanzl said Ms. Wicks was infected with Covid-19 in April and had been in hospital for 42 days, but recently tested negative for the virus.
Camilla Delores Wicks was born into a musical family on August 9, 1928. Her father Ingwald was a violinist and her mother Ruby (Dawson Stone) Wicks was a pianist.
A biography on her website said she asked for a violin at 3 1/2 and played Vivaldi’s A minor Concerto from memory at 4. Her father was her first teacher and recognized her innate talent; At the age of 10 she was sent to the Juilliard School in New York to study with the famous teacher Louis Persinger, who was her companion at her town hall concert in 1942.
She played the Hollywood Bowl when she was a teenager in 1946 and was widely heard on the radio in the years after World War II. In 1952 she recorded the Sibelius Violin Concerto, an interpretation that has been admired ever since.
In the early 1950s she married Robert Thomas and in 1953 the first of their five children was born. For a while she was able to meet the requirements of being both a mother and a professional musician.
“I’ve always played with one of my children in me,” she said in a 2017 interview with auction house Tarisio, which earlier this year sold the Arthur Smith violin, which she had played for half a century, for $ 84,000. “I was pregnant with my first daughter for the Beethoven Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall, and then I continued when I was pregnant with my son, and so on.”
Ms. Wicks addressed the difficult balancing act in a 1987 interview with Louise Cavanaugh Sciannameo that the Strad’s music page published last week.
“I don’t think the difficulty of making a career, getting married and raising children will ever be resolved,” she said. “I didn’t dare tell management when I was pregnant. It was so hard. I wore special clothes and learned to walk so that I wouldn’t look pregnant. “
In the late 1950s she finally withdrew from the performance for some time and even sold her prized instrument, a Stradivarius from 1725. But she was back playing regularly. Her online bio is reported that in the early 1970s when she settled in Washington state and taught at Wenatchee Valley College, she sometimes played with a non-professional community orchestra there. In a reminder posted in The Wenatchee World last week, the newspaper’s retired editor Rufus Woods said that the orchestra’s conductor, who didn’t know who she was, initially sat her in the second violin section.
Ms. Wicks also appeared in later years with professional groups such as the Detroit Symphony and overseas, especially in Scandinavia. She has taught at institutions such as the University of Michigan, Rice University, and the Eastman School of Music.
She made only a few recordings, but gained new recognition among lovers of classical music in 2015 with the release of “Camilla Wicks: Five Decades of Precious Performances”, a collection of six CDs that brought together numerous live recordings.
In the Tarisio interview, Ms. Wicks recalled the difficulties she sometimes had in her youth as a woman in the male-dominated field of classical music.
“I was one of the few women who broke through to play in the big leagues,” she said, “and some of the conductors were really pretty upset about it. I won’t give names, but one of them didn’t purposely follow me and was half a measure behind me the whole time. At that time I didn’t know how to adapt to the company of the persistent conductor. That would have been the answer, but I played my pace! “
Her marriage to Mr. Thomas ended in divorce. Her son Philip Thomas died in 2011 and her son Paul Thomas died in 2017. In addition to Mrs. Wertanzl, she survived another daughter, Angela Thomas Jeffrey; one son, Erik Thomas; and three grandchildren.
In the interview published posthumously by Strad, Ms. Wicks reflected on the role of music.
“We need something that will bring us hope,” she said. “All music can do this. The biggest pieces are the ones that say, “Yeah, that’s terrible, but there is hope.”