The Kennedy Center

Isaac Stern


Issac Stern
(violinist, born July 21, 1920, Kreminiwcz, Russia; died September 22, 2001)

Issac Stern is universally considered to be one of the greatest musicians of all time. He has been hailed as "one of the supreme violinists of this century" and "the first American violin virtuoso." He calls himself "a fiddle player."

When Stern was less than a year old, his parents fled with him from the Russian Revolution and settled in San Francisco. His earliest memories are of American life. Both his parents were musical, and his mother, who had studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, began teaching him the piano when he was six.

Unlike some child prodigies, he did not take up the violin until the advanced age of eight, and he was 14 before he made his recital debut. With his San Francisco Symphony Debut, playing a Brahms Violin Concerto, two years later, with Naoum Blinder, his major teacher and concertmaster of the orchestra, his career was launched. On October 11, 1937, at the age of 17, he made his New York debut at Town Hall. In 1943, he debuted at Carnegie Hall, and in 1944, with the New York Philharmonic under Arthur Rodzinski. He played with the New York Philharmonic for more than four decades.

With his early performances in New York, his career began to soar, at first under the guidance of impresario Sol Hurok.

By 1949, a New York Times critic noted: "It was not the violinist one seemed to be hearing. It was, in turn, Haydn, Bach, Bartók, Mozart, and Szymanowski. For such was Mr. Stern's immersion in the music that his own spirit and his immense technical skill were but the mediums that made the music audible."

Since his European debut in 1948 at the Lucerne Festival under Munch, he has concertized the world over including the USSR in 1956, played in the internationally renowned Istomin-Stern-Rose Trio and premiered violin works by Bernstein, Hindemith, Penderecki, Rochberg, and Schuman. He gave an historic performance, with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, was captured in the film A Journey to Jerusalem. More then a decade later, his visit to China resulted in the Academy Award-winning documentary From Mao to Mozart: Issac Stern in China, which also received a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival.

One of the most recorded violinists of our age, he is versatile in his performances. He was the ghost violinist for John Garfield in the 1946 film Humoresque and played the violin solo for the Oscar-winning soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof. Another film in which he performed was Tonight We Sing, the film biography of Sol Hurok, in which he appeared as Eugene Ysaye.

Stern is not only a champion musician, he has also championed cultural preservation in America. In 1960, he organized a group to save Carnegie Hall from demolition and was instrumental in the decision to preserve it as a National Historic Landmark. Consequently, he became president of the Carnegie Hal Corporation, a position he held for over thirty years. He was featured in the Emmy Award winning "Carnegie Hall: The Grand Reopening" (1987).

Among the numerous awards he has received is the first Albert Schweitzer Music Award bestowed on him "for a life dedicated to music and devoted to humanity."

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