Helen Claire Hodgkins (Wright)
1929 - 2011
Claire Hodgkins, an internationally known violinist, teacher, chamber musician, and founder of the Jascha Heifetz Society, was born in Portland, Oregon the daughter of James L. and Viena H. Hodgkins. She started violin lessons at age four with James Eoff and continued with Edward Hurliman, concertmaster of the Portland Symphony at age nine. She would later study with Boris Sirpo.
She began her career in the Portland area, where she played as concertmaster in the Little Chamber Orchestra in the 1950s. In their first tour to Europe in 1955, where they played in six countries, they created a sensation and received rave reviews. The sixteen members, all young women from fifteen to eighteen years of age, gave impeccable performances, playing their concerts from memory.
In those years, Hodgkins was chosen from 500 applicants for the Brussels International Competition to be one of seven women to compete, along with thirty male contestants. La Libre Beligique praised her playing on that occasion for its "flawless accuracy, magnificent bowing, and superior tone quality."
Although in her early years she toured as a recitalist and as a soloist with orchestras in the Pacific Northwest, she would become known for her playing as a soloist and chamber musician with prestigious groups in internationally known venues during tours in the U.S. and Europe. While her first experience in playing in a master class in 1962 for Jascha Heifetz, hailed by many as the greatest violinist in the 20th century, was a frightening experience, she eventually worked closely with him for twelve years as a master teaching associate at the University of Southern California. During that time she played chanber music with Heifetz, Gregor Piatagorsky, Lennard Pennario, and others.
During these years Hodgkins also taught at four other Southern California universities, including Loma Linda University, La Sierra Campus, now La Sierra University, where she led the string program and the orchestra. When LLU launched the Blomstedt Conducting Institute in 1971, she served as concertmaster for the orchestra used during that program. She also scheduled a successful ongoing summer string workshop to coincide with the institute.
In 1974 she founded the Little Orchestra of Loma Linda University, a select group of musicians that included musicians, physicians, medical and dental students, and others in the medical professions. The ensemble toured extensively on the West Coast and toured in Scandinavia in 1979.
Following Heifetz's death in 1987, she founded the Jascha Heifetz Society, working with Sherry Kloss to preserve his concepts in playing and teaching. She assisted in cataloguing his personal music as part of a larger project to create a complete archive of materials related to his life and career.
Hodgkins was residing in Thousand Oaks, Ventura, California, when she died at age 82, following an extended illness.
Sources: Online Sources; Who's Who in American Music: Classical, 1983; 1930 U.S. Federal Census records; Social Security Records; Walla Walla Union Bulletin, 30 September 1956; Numerous articles in the Walla Walla College campus newspaper, The Collegian, in the 1950s and 1960s; Donald H. Hardcastle, "Choose Music for Lasting Pleasure," The Youth's Instructor, 16 December 1947, 8; North Pacific Union Gleaner, 19 January 1981, 18, and 2 February 1981, 22; Jascha Heifetz Society website, Claire Hodgkin's biography page.