Betty-Jean Hagen began violin lessons at seven with Alexander Nicol in Edmonton and won Alberta Music Festival awards in 1937 and 1938. Studies continued 1938-39 at the Chicago Conservatory, mainly with Ludwig Becker. She was a member of the Edmonton Philharmonic in the early 1940s, then moved to Calgary in 1946 to study with Clayton Hare and play in the Calgary Symphony Orchestra. From 1949-51 Hagen studied at the RCMT on scholarship with Géza de Kresz. In 1950 she won the coveted Naumburg Award, which included a recital debut 15 November 1950 at Town Hall, New York. After winning the 1951 Eaton Graduating Scholarship (Toronto) she studied in New York with Ivan Galamian and at the Juilliard School. Also in 1951 she won the Pathé-Marconi Prize in Paris and gave recitals in France, Holland, Britain and Switzerland. Her accompanist was Boris Roubakine. She was a member 1950-51 of the Columbia Canadian Trio - Joan Rowland (piano), William Hossack (cello) - which toured Ontario, Quebec, and the USA.
In 1952 she made her London debut and received the Harriet Cohen Commonwealth Medal as the outstanding woman musician of the British Commonwealth. The Canadian Press named her 'Woman of the Year' in Canadian music in 1953. She also won the 1953 Carl Flesch Medal from the GSM and the 1955 Leventritt Foundation Award.
For her debut 4 November 1956 with the New York Philharmonic under Dimitri Mitropoulos, Hagen performed Lalo's Symphonic espagnole. Appearances followed with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the (Amsterdam) Concergebouw Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, and the Orchestre de la Suisse romande. Though living in New York, she had made seven concert and recital tours in Europe by 1960 and performed in Canada on the CBC, in recital, with the CBC Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Mayer at the Stratford Festival (21 August 1957), and with the Vancouver International Festival Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan (13 July 1959). She was a finalist (seventh place) in the 1962 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. In 1964 she toured western Canada for the JMC (YMC).
Review of 1974 Performance
Though she performed less often after the mid-1960s, Hagen appeared at Expo 67 and in 1974 gave the 400th concert in the history of Hart House, University of Toronto (she had given the 300th in 1960). Of her performance in Mozart's Concerto in D, K218, at a concert in Eaton Auditorium in honour of Géza de Kresz, Kenneth Winters wrote: "Miss Hagen's immaculate classical style produced music of marmoreal firmness, smoothness and elegance, with again that wonderful level, nourished tone in the slow movement and phrasing of rare cogency" (Toronto Telegram, 21 November 1969).
Performances and Teaching Positions 1970-2004
In the 1970s she devoted herself mainly to private teaching and coaching chamber ensembles in New York, specializing in teenage students. She was a member of the Westchester String Quartet and the Ermelin Piano Trio, served as concertmaster 1975-84 of the Westchester Symphony Orchestra, all in Westchester, NY; then was concertmaster 1985-90 of the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra (and again from 2000-04) and, beginning in 1990, of the Orange County Chamber Orchestra.
Hagen resumed her concert career 31 May 1981 with a performance at New York's Kauffman Hall. She gave recitals in Montreal, Edmonton, and Toronto in 1982, accompanied by pianist Arthur Rowe, and appeared as a recitalist and soloist with orchestras in Alberta and Ontario. Hagen and Rowe (later replaced by the US pianist Todd Crow), together with the violist Ralph Aldrich and the cellist Malcolm Tait, formed the Hart Piano Quartet in January 1985 (it was the first chamber group to perform in the newly opened Thunder Bay Community Auditorium), which was active until 1989. In 1985, Hagen was appointed a professor of violin at Vassar College, and concurrently commuted to the University of Western Ontario, where she taught violin 1985-89. She remained at Vassar for 20 years, and performed in the northeastern USA and Europe with the Tourmaline String Quartet (from 1999), the Vassar Piano Trio, the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, and other orchestras of the northeastern USA.