Though born in Istanbul, Ida Kavafian is of Armenian lineage. She is the sister of violinist Ani Kavafian and has often performed with her sibling. The two have appeared together on the Today Show and CBS Sunday Morning. As both a soloist and a member of chamber groups such as Tashi and the Beaux Arts Trio, Ida Kavafian has appeared on many recordings for major labels, including RCA and Philips.
Born in Turkey, Ida Kavafian moved with her family to the United States in 1956. She showed musical talent very early on and began instruction on the violin at age six with Ara Zerounian in Detroit. She later studied with Mischa Mischakoff, then enrolled at the Juilliard School of Music in 1969, where she studied with Oscar Shumsky and Ivan Galamian. In 1973, Kavafian traveled to Lisbon and took first prize at the Vianna da Motta International Violin Competition. Two years later, she graduated from Juilliard with a master's degree and then co-founded the now-celebrated chamber group Tashi, which consists of Peter Serkin on piano, Fred Sherry on cello, Richard Stoltzman on clarinet, and of course, Kavafian on violin. They would make many notable recordings over the years, including one of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, for RCA. Kavafian concurrently established a career as a soloist, debuting in New York in 1978 with Serkin accompanying, and in London in 1982. Her first major appearance with her sister was at Carnegie Hall in 1983, which, like the debut concerts, received positive notices. Kavafian expanded her career to include performance of jazz compositions when she went on an international tour with an ensemble led by Chick Corea in 1983-1984. From 1989 until 1993, Kavafian was an Artist Member of the Chamber Music Society. She became a member once again in 1996, a post she retained through 2002. She was a member of the Beaux Arts Trio from 1992 to 1998 and still performs regularly with the group. Kavafian co-founded Opus One in 1998, a piano quartet whose other members are pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, violist Steven Tenenbom (Kavafian's husband), and cellist Peter Wiley (also a former member of the Beaux Arts Trio, who joined the Guarneri Quartet in 2001). In 2002, Kavafian was on the faculty at the Curtis Institute and Mannes College of Music. She and Wiley live in Connecticut, where they also find time to breed show dogs. Kavafian's repertory is broad, encompassing compositions by Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn, as well as new works by Wuorinen, Ruth Crawford, and Toru Takemitsu, the latter having composed a concerto for her, which she premiered.