Isaac Stern is possibly the most well-known violinist of the 20th
century. In over sixty years as a professional musician, Stern has
worked with many great composers, and acted as a mentor for many younger
musicians including Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Yo-Yo Ma.
With more than one hundred classical recordings, Isaac Stern is
the most recorded musical artist of our time.
Stern was born on July 21, 1920 in Kremnets, Russia (now
Ukraine). When Isaac was ten months old, his parents moved to San
Francisco to flee from the Russian Revolution. Isaac was first
trained in music (piano) by his mother at age seven and began taking
violin lessons at the age of eight. He later studied violin with Robert
Pollack, Louis Persinger, and the influential Nahum Blinder. He was
a true child prodigy, having his first violin recital at age thirteen
and his first orchestral debut at sixteen (a national broadcast of the
Brahms Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony).
In 1937, Stern made his New York-debut in Carnegie Hall. The
famous concert hall would be his musical home for many years, and
without Isaac Stern, the building would not exist today. In the late
1950s, a construction company was planning to tear down Carnegie Hall
and build Lincoln Center on its grounds. Isaac Stern strongly opposed
to the destruction. His rally secured legislation to save the monument,
and he raised over $5 million dollars for the city of New York to buy the
Stern's musical legacy is diverse: his interpretations of the
classical works are critically acclaimed, but he also recorded many
works for violin by twentieth century composers such as Leonard
Bernstein, Maxwell Davies, William Schuman and Krzysztof
Penderecki. His open-mindedness also expanded to other media such as
cinema and television. In 1945, he was the music advisor to the movie
Humoresque (doubling the violin parts for the actor John Garfield).
He played violinist Eugene Ysaye in the movie Tonight we Sing (1953).
The 1980 documentary "From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China" won an
Academy award for best documentary.
He appeared on TV programs such as 60 minutes, Good Morning America,
the Today Show and Sesame Street. During his most productive years,
Stern performed around the world, in over 150 concerts per year. In the
last years of his life, Stern toured and recorded with a chamber
orchestra that consisted of Emanuel Ax, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma and
Stern has been a mentor and teacher to many younger musicians. He
worked with individuals and ensembles in what he called "encounter
sessions"; in these training sessions (that sometimes lasted up to
two weeks), he further developed the artist's musical skills that he
believed were not taught at conservatories: I teach them how to
listen to themselves and be honest, so they can become independent and
go as far as their talent can take them, which is usually farther than
they've gone at the time they come to me. The main direction is teaching
them not how you play but why. Why do you want to be a musician?"
Isaac Stern received numerous awards, such as the (first) Albert
Schweitzer Music Award, the Kennedy Center Honors Award, the Gold
Baton of the American Symphony Orchestra League, and a Grammy
Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1992, President Bush
awarded him the highest civil honor, the Presidential Medal of
Freedom. In 1997, he received Japan's highest award, The Order of the
Rising Sun. Isaac Stern holds honorary doctorates from many
universities around the world.
One final anecdote to characterize this legendary violinist: In 1991,
during the Gulf War, Stern performed in Jerusalem when the sirens
rang for a potential bomb strike. But Isaac Stern refused to cancel his
performance. Instead, the audience donned their gas masks, while Stern
returned to stage to finish his Bach solo...
Isaac Stern died on Saturday September 22, 2001 in New York at the age of