The son of Solomon and Clara Stern, 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. He returned to the San Francisco Conservatory to study for five years with Naoum Blinder, to whom he said he owed the most. 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:
Stern toured the Soviet Union in 1951, the first American violinist to do so. In 1967, Stern stated his refusal to return to the USSR until the Soviet regime allowed artists to enter and leave the country freely. His only visit to Germany was in 1999, for a series of master classes, but he never performed publicly in Germany.
Stern was married three times. His first marriage, in 1948 to ballerina Nora Kaye, ended in divorce after 18 months, but the two of them subsequently remained friends. On 17 August 1951, he married Vera Lindenblit. They had three children together, including the conductor Michael Stern. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1994 after 43 years. In 1996, Stern married his third wife, Linda Reynolds. His third wife, his three children, and five grandchildren survived him.
In 1940, Stern began performing with Russian-born pianist Alexander Zakin, collaborating until 1977. 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, by organising the Citizens' Committee to Save Carnegie Hall. Following the purchase of Carnegie Hall by New York City, the Carnegie Hall Corporation was formed, and Stern was chosen as its first president, a title he held until his death. Carnegie Hall later named its main auditorium in his honor.
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. He was also the featured violin soloist on the soundtrack for the 1971 film of Fiddler on the Roof. 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).
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.
Ties to Israel
Stern maintained close ties with Israel. Stern began performing in the country in 1949. 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. Stern was a supporter of several educational projects in Israel, among them the America-Israel Foundation and the Jerusalem Music Center.
Stern's favorite instrument was the Ysaÿe Guarnerius, one of the violins produced by the Cremonese luthier Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù. 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.
Awards and commemoration
- Sonning Award (1982; Denmark)
- Wolf Prize
- Kennedy Center Honors (1984)
- Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (with orchestra) (1962, 1963, 1965, 1982)
- Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance (1971, 1992)
- National Medal of Arts (1991)
- Presidential Medal of Freedom (1992)
- Polar Music Prize (2000; Sweden)
- Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur (1990)
- Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society (1991)
- Carnegie Hall Midtown Manhattan, New York: main auditorium was named for Isaac Stern in 1997.
- Brahms: String Sextet No. 1 (with Alexander Schneider, Milton Katims, Milton Thomas, Pablo Casals and Madeleine Foley)
- Brahms: Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello No. 1 in B Major, op. 8 (with Myra Hess and Pablo Casals)
- Bach: Partitia in E Minor & G Minor for Violin and Piano, Sonata No.3 in E Major for Violin and Piano (with Alexander Zakin)
- Wieniawski: Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, op. 22 (with Philadelphia Orchestra; conductor: Eugene Ormandy)
- 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)
- Bach, Vivaldi: Concertos for 2 Violins
- Isaac Stern: 60th Anniversary Celebration
- Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; Beethoven: Romances in G & F Major
- Haydn: London Trios
- An Isaac Stern Vivaldi Gala
- Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos
- Dutilleux: L'Arbre des Songes (Concerto pour Violin et Orchestre) & Maxwell Davies: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
- Bach: Double Concerto; Violin Concertos Nos.1 & 2
- Beethoven: Violin Concerto
- Mozart: The Flute Quartets
- Bach: Concertos for Violin, BWV 1041–43 & 1060
- 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
- The Japanese Album
- Music, My Love
- Prokofiev: Concertos No. 1 & 2 for Violin and Orchestra
- Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos.4 & 5
- 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
- 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
- Brahms: Sextets; more
- Tchaikovsky: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra & Serenade for Strings
- Fauré: Piano Quartets
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Barber: Adagio for Strings / Schuman – In Praise of Shahn etc.
- Bartók Sonatas for Violin and Piano
- Mozart: The Piano Quartets
- 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
- My First 79 Years
- Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos
- Dvorák: Piano Quartet No.2, Sonatina in G, Romantic Pieces
- Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Concertos for Two Violins
- Noam Ben Zeev (1 November 2012), "New Tel Aviv street to honor Isaac Stern." Haaretz Daily. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
- Allan Kozinn (2001-09-23). "Violinist Isaac Stern Dies at 81; Led Efforts to Save Carnegie Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-04-12.
- K Robert Schwarz (24 September 2001). "Isaac Stern". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 10 October 2006.
- "Isaac Stern 1920–2001". The Musical Times.
- Michael Specter (1994-04-11). "In Musical Odessa, Playing On for the Love of It". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-04-12.
- Kristin McMurran (1978-02-20). "Director Herb Ross and Ex-Ballerina Nora Kaye Know What a Turning Point Is". People. Retrieved 2015-04-12.
- "Alexander Zakin, 87, A Piano Accompanist". The New York Times. 16 October 2011. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
- "Violinist Isaac Stern dies". BBC News. 23 September 2001. Retrieved 21 July 2007.
- Dan Glaister (2004-12-09). "Children in court battle over Isaac Stern's estate". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-04-12.
- Woo, Elaine (23 September 2001). "Isaac Stern, Violinist and Musical Envoy, Dies". Los Angeles Times.
- Jeff Bradley (5 December 1999). "Stern, Shostakovich, Gedda stories on shelves". The Denver Post. Retrieved 21 July 2007.
- Keough, James. "Stern's Stars." Strings. August/September 2003, No. 112.
- Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts
- George Bush Presidential Library & Museum
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Isaac Stern.|
- Isaac Stern at AllMusic
- Isaac Stern at the Internet Movie Database
- Isaac Stern biography at Sony Classical
- Interview by Bruce Duffie, 27 May 1991
- Booknotes interview with Stern on My First 79 Years, January 23, 2000.
- From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China at the Internet Movie Database