Isaac Stern

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This article is about the American violinist. For the accountant to Oskar Schindler, see Itzhak Stern.
Stern at his 60th birthday concert at Lincoln Center, 1980

Isaac Stern (Ukrainian: Ісаак Стерн, Russian: Исаа́к Штерн; 21 July 1920 – 22 September 2001) was a Soviet-born violinist and conductor.[1] He was renowned for his recordings and for discovering new musical talent.

Biography[edit]

Isaac Stern in 1979

Isaac Stern was born into a Volhynian-Jewish family in Kremenets (Krzemieniec), then in the Soviet Ukraine (the year after his birth it again became part of Poland). He was fourteen months old when his family moved to San Francisco. He received his first music lessons from his mother. In 1928, he enrolled at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he studied until 1931 before going on to study privately with Louis Persinger.[2] He returned to the San Francisco Conservatory to study for five years with Naoum Blinder, to whom he said he owed the most.[3] At his public début on 18 February 1936, aged 15, he played Saint-Saëns' Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor with the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Pierre Monteux. Reflecting on his background, Stern once memorably quipped that cultural exchanges between the US and Soviet Russia were simple affairs: "They send us their Jews from Odessa, and we send them our Jews from Odessa."[4]

Stern's November 1948 marriage to ballerina Nora Kaye ended in divorce in 1949. On 17 August 1951, he married Vera Lindenblit. They had three children together. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1994 after 43 years. On 23 January 1997, Stern married his third wife, Linda Reynolds, who survived him.

Stern died in New York City on 22 September 2001, of congestive heart failure, age 81.

Music career[edit]

In 1940, Stern began performing with Russian-born pianist Alexander Zakin, collaborating until 1977.[5] Within musical circles, Stern became renowned both for his recordings and for championing certain younger players. Among his discoveries were cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Jian Wang, and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. In the 1960s, he also played a major role in saving New York City's Carnegie Hall from demolition, which later named its main auditorium in his honor.[6]

Among Stern's many recordings are concertos by Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, and Vivaldi and modern works by Barber, Bartók, Stravinsky, Bernstein, Rochberg, and Dutilleux. The Dutilleux concerto, entitled L'arbre des songes ["The Tree of Dreams"] was a 1985 commission by Stern himself. He also dubbed actors' violin-playing in several films, such as Fiddler on the Roof.

Stern served as musical advisor for the 1946 film, Humoresque, about a rising violin star and his patron, played respectively by John Garfield and Joan Crawford. In 1999, he appeared in the film Music of the Heart, along with Itzhak Perlman and several other famed violinists, with a youth orchestra led by Meryl Streep; the film was based on the true story of a gifted violin teacher in Harlem who eventually took her musicians to play a concert in Carnegie Hall.

In his autobiography written with Chaim Potok, My First 79 Years, he cites Nathan Milstein and Arthur Grumiaux as major influences on his style of playing.

He won Grammys for his work with Eugene Istomin and Leonard Rose in their famous chamber music trio in the 1960s and '70s, while also continuing his duo work with Alexander Zakin during this time. Stern recorded a series of piano quartets in the 1980s and 1990s with Emanuel Ax, Jaime Laredo and Yo-Yo Ma, including those of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Fauré, winning another Grammy in 1992 for the Brahms quartets Opp. 25 and 26.

In 1979, seven years after Richard Nixon made the first official visit by a US President to the country, the People's Republic of China offered Stern and pianist David Golub an unprecedented invitation to tour the country. While there, he collaborated with the China Central Symphony Society (now China National Symphony) under the direction of conductor Li Delun. Their visit was filmed and resulted in the Oscar-winning documentary, From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China.

Stern was alleged to have used his fame and influence to prejudice the careers of other US violinists and attempted to destroy the pianist Mordecai Shehori [7] and others. The most specific and detailed accusation was made in July 2014 by the violinist Aaron Rosand, who said Stern sabotaged his progress after Rosand refused to study with him.[8]

Ties to Israel[edit]

Stern maintained close ties with Israel. Stern began performing in the country in 1949.[1] In 1973, he performed for wounded Israeli soldiers during the Yom Kippur War. During the 1991 Gulf War and Iraq's Scud missile attacks on Israel, he played in the Jerusalem Theater. During his performance, an air raid siren sounded, causing the audience to panic. Stern then stepped onto the stage and began playing a movement of Bach. The audience then calmed down, donned gas masks, and sat throughout the rest of his performance.[9] Stern was a supporter of several educational projects in Israel, among them the America-Israel Foundation and the Jerusalem Music Center.[1]

Instruments[edit]

Stern's favorite instrument was the Ysaÿe Guarnerius, one of the violins produced by the Cremonese luthier Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù.[10] It had previously been played by the violin virtuoso and composer Eugène Ysaÿe.

Among other instruments, Stern played the "Kruse-Vormbaum" Stradivarius (1728), the "ex-Stern" Bergonzi (1733), the "Stern-Alard" Guarneri del Gesù (1737), a Michele Angelo Bergonzi (1739–1757), the "Arma Senkrah" Guadagnini (1750), a Giovanni Guadagnini (1754), a J. B. Vuillaume copy of the "Panette" Guarneri del Gesu of 1737 (c.1850), and the "ex-Nicolas I" J.B. Vuillaume (1840). He also owned two contemporary instruments by Samuel Zygmuntowicz.

In 2001, Stern's collection of instruments, bows and musical ephemera was sold through Tarisio Auctions. The May 2003 auction set a number of world records and was at the time the second highest grossing violin auction of all time, with total sales of over $3.3M.[11]

Awards and commemoration[edit]

Isaac Stern with the Edison in 1971

In 2012, a street in Tel Aviv was named for Stern.[1]

Discography[edit]

Isaac Stern playing with one hand in 1979
Bezalel Schatz painting a portrait of Isaac Stern
  • 1944
Brahms: String Sextet No. 1 (with Alexander Schneider, Milton Katims, Milton Thomas, Pablo Casals and Madeleine Foley)
  • 1944
Brahms: Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello No. 1 in B Major, op. 8 (with Myra Hess and Pablo Casals)
  • 1958
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major op. 35 (with Philadelphia Orchestra; conductor: Eugene Ormandy)
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in e minor op. 64 (with Philadelphia Orchestra; conductor: Eugene Ormandy)
  • 1983
Bach, Vivaldi: Concertos for 2 Violins
Isaac Stern: 60th Anniversary Celebration
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; Beethoven: Romances in G & F Major
Haydn: London Trios
  • 1985
An Isaac Stern Vivaldi Gala
  • 1986
Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos
  • 1987
Dutilleux: L'Arbre des Songes (Concerto pour Violin et Orchestre) & Maxwell Davies: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Celebration
Bach: Double Concerto; Violin Concertos Nos.1 & 2
Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Mozart: The Flute Quartets
Bach: Concertos for Violin, BWV 1041–43 & 1060
  • 1988
Shostakovich: Piano Trio No.2; Cello Sonata
Brahms: Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in A Minor, Op. 102 & Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 60
Prokofiev: Violin Concertos No. 1 & 2
Brahms: Violin Concerto
  • 1989
The Japanese Album
Music, My Love
Prokofiev: Concertos No. 1 & 2 for Violin and Orchestra
Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos.4 & 5
  • 1990
Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schubert: Trios
Brahms: The Piano Quartets
Rameau: Pieces de clavecin en concerts
Lalo, Bruch, Wenianski, others: Violin Concertos
Bach, Mozart, Brahms, others: Violin Concertos
Mozart, Telemann, J.C. Bach, Reicha: Trios, Quartets
Schubert: Violin Sonatas
Humoresque: Favorite Violin Encores
  • 1991
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.5 "Emperor"; Triple Concerto
Beethoven: Complete Trios
Concert of the Century: Celebrating the 85th Anniversary of Carnegie Hall
Dvorák: Cello Concerto; Violin Concerto
Webern: Complete Works, Op. 1 – Op. 31
  • 1992
Brahms: Sextets; more
  • 1993
Tchaikovsky: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra & Serenade for Strings
Fauré: Piano Quartets
  • 1994
Greatest Hits: Violin
The House of Magical Sounds
Greatest Hits: Schubert
Greatest Hits: Brahms
Beethoven, Schumann: Piano Quartets
Mozart: Sonatas for Violin and Piano, K. 454, 296 & 526
Beethoven: Piano Trios "Ghost" & "Archduke"
Bach: Violin Concerto, BWV 1041; Piano Concerto, BWV 1056; Brandenburg Concerto No.5; more
Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante; Violin Concerto No.5
Brahms: Sextet in B-flat major, Op. 18 & Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8
Schubert: Quintet in C major, D956 & Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, D485
  • 1995
Isaac Stern Presents Encores with Orchestra
Telemann, Bach Family: Trio Sonatas
Mendelssohn: Piano Trios 1 & 2
Brahms: Piano Trios, Piano Quartets
A Life in Music, Vol.3: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, more
Beethoven: Piano Trios "Ghost" & "Archduke"; Variations
Schubert, Haydn: Piano Trios; Mozart: Piano Quartet
Bartók: Violin Concertos
Bernstein/Dutilleux: Violin Concertos
Berg: Violin Concerto; Kammerkonzert
Prokofiev/Bartók: Violin Concertos; Rhapsody No.1
Stravinsky/Rochberg: Violin Concertos
Barber/Maxwell Davies: Violin Concertos
Hindemith/Penderecki: Violin Concertos
Berg: Piano Sonata; Krenek: Piano Sonata No.3; Webern: Piano Variations; Debussy, Ravel: works
A Life in Music, Vol.1: Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Sibelius, more
Mozart: Haffner Serenade
Mozart: Sonatas for Violin and Piano, Vol. II
Beethoven, Brahms: Violin Concertos
Tchaikovsky/Sibelius: Violin Concertos
Bach: Violin Concertos; Double Concerto; more
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Concertos
Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos.1–5; Sinfonia concertante; more
Wieniawski/Bruch/Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos
Mendelssohn/Dvorák: Violin Concertos
  • 1996
More Mozart's Greatest Hits
Mozart: Violin Sonatas, Vol. III
Schubert and Boccherini String Quintets
A Life in Music, Vol.4: Bach, Bartók, Beethoven, Copland, Schubert, more
Prokofiev: Violin Sonatas
Bartók: Violin Sonatas; Webern: Four Pieces for Violin and Piano
Beethoven: Violin Sonatas
J.S. & C.P.E. Bach, Handel, Tartini: Violin Sonatas
Hindemith/Bloch/Copland: Violin Sonatas
Schubert: Sonatinas Nos.1–3; Rondeau Brillant; Grand Duo Sonata
Franck/Debussy/Enesco: Violin Sonatas
Brahms: Violin Sonatas No. 1-3
Isaac Stern Presents Encores with Violin & Piano
  • 1997
Barber: Adagio for Strings / Schuman – In Praise of Shahn etc.
Bartók Sonatas for Violin and Piano
Mozart: The Piano Quartets
  • 1998
Isaac Stern Plays Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D
Bernstein: The Age of Anxiety; Foss: Serenade
Bach, Vivaldi: Concertos
Caprice Viennois: Music of Kreisler
  • 1999
My First 79 Years
Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos
  • 2000
Dvorák: Piano Quartet No.2, Sonatina in G, Romantic Pieces
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Concertos for Two Violins

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Noam Ben Zeev (1 November 2012), "New Tel Aviv street to honor Isaac Stern." Haaretz Daily. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  2. ^ K Robert Schwarz (24 September 2001). "Isaac Stern". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 10 October 2006. 
  3. ^ "Isaac Stern 1920–2001". The Musical Times. 
  4. ^ New York Times
  5. ^ "Alexander Zakin, 87, A Piano Accompanist". The New York Times. 16 October 2011. Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  6. ^ "Violinist Isaac Stern dies". BBC News. 23 September 2001. Retrieved 21 July 2007. 
  7. ^ http://slippedisc.com/2014/07/isaac-stern-tried-to-expel-me-from-the-us/
  8. ^ http://slippedisc.com/2014/07/high-explosive-aaron-rosand-accuses-isaac-stern-of-sabotaging-his-career/
  9. ^ Woo, Elaine (23 September 2001). "Isaac Stern, Violinist and Musical Envoy, Dies". Los Angeles Times. 
  10. ^ Jeff Bradley (5 December 1999). "Stern, Shostakovich, Gedda stories on shelves". The Denver Post. Retrieved 21 July 2007. 
  11. ^ Keough, James. "Stern's Stars." Strings. August/September 2003, No. 112.
  12. ^ Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts
  13. ^ George Bush Presidential Library & Museum

Further reading[edit]

  • Stern, Isaac; Chaim Potok (1999). My First 79 Years. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-45130-7. 

External links[edit]