Helen Claire Hodgkins (Wright)

 1929 - 2011

Claire Hodgkins was an internationally known violinist, teacher, chamber musician, and the founder of the Jascha Heifetz Society. She was acclaimed for her playing from her earliest years and in her lifetime would perform as a soloist with and in prestigious groups in internationally known venues.

Claire was born in Portland, Oregon, on March 7, 1929, 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, when she was a student at Lewis and Clark College, and Jascha Heifetz.

She began her career in the Portland area, where she played as concertmaster in the Little Chamber Orchestra and Portland Chamber Orchestra, both conducted by Sirpo from 1946 to 1960. In the LCO’s 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 chamber music with Heifetz, Gregor Piatagorsky, Lennard Pennario, and others.

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 1970, she served as concertmaster for the institute orchestra and as the program evolved, scheduled successful ongoing summer string workshops 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, California, when she died on June 13, 2011, 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; “Claire Hodgkins Symphony Soloist,” North Pacific Union Gleaner, April 18, 1944, 4; Numerous articles in the Walla Walla College campus newspaper, The Collegian, in the 1950s and 1960s; “Concert Violinist to Entertain Students at Lyceum Saturday Night,” The Collegian, Walla Walla College school paper, October 15, 1959, 1; “Claire Hodgkins Benefit Concert,” North Pacific Union Gleaner, April 6, 1970, 10; 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; Institute of Orchestral Conducting and Symphonic Performance printed programs, orchestra listings, 1970-1979, Ninth Annual Program listing of master classes (1979); “Loma Linda University,” Adventist Review, November 22, 1979, 21; “Loma Linda University Plans Diamond Jubilee Concerts,” North Pacific Union Gleaner, February 2, 1981, 22; U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014, Ancestry.com.