Stern, Isaac

views updated May 14 2018

Isaac Stern


Glory at Carnegie Hall

Impeccable Musicianship

Ties With Israel

Selected discography


Isaac Stern has triumphed not only as one of the premiere violin virtuosos of the twentieth century, but also as a leading political force in the world of music. Sterns trademarks as a violinist, according to The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians, are a beautiful, incandescent tone and a playing style that is notable for its intensity and power. An active concert and recording artist throughout his career, Stern has received numerous Grammy Awards and was designated by CBS Masterworks Records in 1984 as its first artist laureate. But Stern is equally well known for his tireless efforts on behalf of musical causes. He has been a leading recruiter of new musical talent, an ambassador bringing his artistry to countries around the world, and the driving force behind saving New York Citys venerable Carnegie Hall from the wreckers ball in the early 1960s. In 1975 Stern received the first-ever Albert Schweitzer Award, bestowed for a lifes work dedicated to music and devoted to humanity.

Born in the Soviet Ukraine in 1920, the son of music-loving parents, Stern was brought to the United States as an infant and was raised in San Francisco. He began playing the piano when he was six years old and took up the violin two years later. As a teenager he studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and became a student of violinist Naoum Blinder. Stern also studied chamber music with musicians of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and, at the age of 15, made his concert debut with the orchestra, performing the Bach Double Concerto with Blinder. Sterns early music teachers provided guidance, yet allowed him to develop largely on his owna crucial ingredient to his becoming a musician among musicians. I studied with Blinder until I was seventeen, and after that I never studied with anyoneI was responsible for my own mistakes, Stern told Simon Collins in Strad. It is a process of intellectual and personal involvement with music as an idea and a way of life, not as a profession or career, but a rapport with people who think and feel and care about somethingyou have to find your own way of thinking, feeling and caring.

Glory at Carnegie Hall

Stern made his New York City debut in 1937 at the age of 17, by which time he was heralded as a musician of great promise. He then returned to California and undertook an arduous apprenticeship, studying fervently and performing concerts whenever possible. His debut at Carnegie Hall five years later demonstrated the development of his talents. Hailed as one of the worlds master fiddle players, by one New York critic, Sterns

For the Record

Born July 21, 1920, in Kremenets, Ukraine, USSR; emigrated to the United States, 1921; raised in San Francisco, CA; son of Solomon (a contractor) and Clara Stern; married Nora Kaye (a ballerina), November 10, 1948 (divorced); married Vera Lindenblit, August 17, 1951; children: Shira, Michael, David. Education: Attended San Francisco Conservatory, 1930-37.

Orchestral debut, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, c. 1936; Carnegie Hall debut, New York City, 1942; member of Istomin-Rose-Stern Trio, 1962-83; has performed around the world at numerous recitals, music festivals, and with symphony orchestras. Chairman of the board of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation; founding chairman of the Jerusalem Music Center; former president of Carnegie Hall. Appeared in films Humoresque, 1946, and Tonight We Sing, 1953.

Selected awards: First Albert Schweitzer Award, 1975; Kennedy Center Honors Award, 1984; recipient of numerous Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, 1987; Emmy Award, 1987, for Carnegie Hall: The Grand Reopening; Gold Baton Award, American Symphony Orchestra League. Numerous honorary degrees, including those from Yale University, 1975, Columbia University, 1977, Johns Hopkins University, 1979, and New York University, 1989.

Addresses: Home New York, NY. Agentc/o ICM Artists Ltd., 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

Carnegie Hall success launched a career over the course of which he would become one of the violins foremost maestros.

With his accompanist, Alexander Zakin, Stern was a frequent concert performer during the 1940s and in 1945 began what would become a prolific recording tenure with CBS Records. By the 1950s he was widely held as one of the great violinists of his time and began performing extensively overseas, including a 1956 tour of the Soviet Unionthe first American musician allowed to do so. In addition to his solo pursuits, Stern was a member of the highly regarded Istomin-Rose-Stern Trio from 1962 to 1983. The violinists career, which has spanned seven decades, has been marked by remarkable breadth; he has performed nearly every major work for the violinboth classical and contemporaryand has played with practically every major orchestra in the world, under most of the leading conductors.

Impeccable Musicianship

Many critics feel that Sterns foremost quality as a violinist is his musicianshipthe way in which his understanding of composition results in a particularly masterful and balanced interpretation. Wrote Margaret Campbell in The Great Violinists, Stern can relate his own phrasing and style to the orchestral requirements, and is aware of the structure of the music and instinctively feels the harmonies underlying every phrase. Similarly, critic Peter G. Davis praised Sterns stylistic flexibility in the New York Times Magazine. According to Davis, he invariably seems to perceive all music from the inside with an instinctual sense of what is right in terms of tone, gesture and expressiona treasurable gift. And of Sterns colleagues, violinist Itzhak Perlman told Annalyn Swan in Newsweek that Stern, unlike many violinists, never gets lost in mannerisms. He plays like a musician instead of like a virtuoso. Stern confirmed these testimonials when he commented to Swan on his feelings about the continuity of performer and composition: No line, no phrase lives alone. Everything is coming from somewhere and going somewhere else. There is a natural rise and fall, like with the human voice. You must never lose the direction of the music.

Sterns role as musical activist came to the fore in 1960 when he successfully led a drive to preserve Carnegie Hall, the historic New York City performance venue. The landmark threatened with demolition, Stern formed and led the Committee to Save Carnegie Hall, which, through fundraisers, awareness campaigns, and meetings with government officials, was able to amass the financial and public support necessary to save the hall. Stern went on to serve for over two decades as president of Carnegie Hall, an advantageous position from which to conduct another sideline: developing new musical talent. Among Sterns protegees have been violinists Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Miriam Fried, Shlomo Mintz, Gergiu Luca, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Stern remarked to New York Times Magazine contributor Stephen E. Rubin of his role as a powerbroker in the music world: I didnt make power; I was granted power, as any person who is successful in public life is granted it. What do you do? Just sit back and say, Look at me now? You have to give some of it back. You cant just take all the time; its simply not right.

Ties With Israel

Throughout his career Stern has also been active as a musical ambassador. In addition to his groundbreaking Soviet Union trip, he visited mainland China in 1979 by invitation from the Communist government. Stern toured the musically isolated country giving lectures, conducting master classes, and searching for new talent. His trip became the basis for the 1980 documentary film From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, which won an Academy Award for best short subject. Sterns greatest foreign ties, however, are with Israel. Christopher Porterfield wrote in Time that Stern serves as a sort of patriarch of Israeli musical life. In 1964 Stern became chairman of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation, which subsidizes Israeli musicians, and in 1973 he founded the Jerusalem Music Academy, where Israeli musicians play and study with some of the worlds leading performers. Not surprisingly, Stern has been a frequent performer in Israel throughout his career.

During a February, 1991, concert in Jerusalem, while the Persian Gulf War ravaged the Middle East, Sterns performance was interrupted by air-raid sirens warning of an Iraqi Scud-missile attack. The 800-member audience put on gas masks and the orchestra left the stage; Stern, however, returned moments later without his mask and played a Bach piece to settle the crowd. I was so moved, looking out over that sea of masks. It was surreal, Stern told People. The gas mask is temporary, but the music I was playing will go on. Thats the only reason one does this. Echoing this response, Boris Schwarz wrote in Great Masters of the Violin: Sterns distinctive playing style reflects his vibrant personalitya total involvement in music and intense communication with his audience. He uses his virtuoso command of the instrument only in the service of music, never for technical display. Schwarz went on to report that Stern lives by the motto To use the violin to make music, never to use music just to play the violin, and concluded that he never plays down to his audience, nor does he have to: those who come to listen to Stern expect the best music interpreted in the best style.

Selected discography

Bach, Johann Sebastian: Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra, S. 1041, A Minor, CBS Masterworks, 1967.

Bach and Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins and String Orchestra; Concerto in C Minor for Oboe, Violin, and Orchestra (Bach); Concerto in A Minor for 2 Violins and Orchestra (Vivaldi), CBS Masterworks, 1982.

Bach: Sonatas of J. S. Bach and Sons, CBS Masterworks, 1983.

Bach: Trio Sonatas, CBS Masterworks, 1983.

Barber, Samuel: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Columbia, 1965.

Bartok, Bela, Concerto for Violin, CBS Masterworks, 1962.

Bartok: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra; Rhapsody No. 1; Rhapsody No. 2, CBS Masterworks, 1962.

Bartok and Alban Berg: Two Rhapsodies for Violin and Orchestra (Bartok); Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Berg), CBS Masterworks, 1962.

Bartok: Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, Odyssey, 1978.

Beethoven, Ludwig van: The Complete Piano Trios, CBS Masterworks, 1960.

Beethoven: Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello, No. 6 in B-Flat Major, Columbia, 1966.

Beethoven: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61, D Major; Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 26, G minor, CBS Masterworks, 1967.

Beethoven: Sonata No. 7 in C Minor for Violin and Piano, Odyssey, 1979.

Beethoven and Kreutzer: Sonata No. 9 in A Major for Violin and Piano (Beethoven); Sonata No. 5 in F Major for Violin and Piano (Kreutzer), CBS Masterworks, 1984.

Beethoven: The Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano, CBS Masterworks, 1985.

Berg, Alban: Kammerkonzert For Piano and Violin with 13 Wind Instruments; Concert for Violin and Orchestra; To the Memory of an Angel, CBS Masterworks, 1986.

Bernstein, Leonard: Serenade for Violin Solo, Strings, and Percussion, Odyssey, 1978.

Bloch, Ernest: Baal Shem Three Pictures of Chassidic Life; Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, Columbia, 1965.

Bock, Jerry: Fiddler on the Roof (selections), Liberty, 1971.

Brahms, Johannes: The Trios for Piano, Violin, and Cello, CBS Masterworks, 1967.

Brahms: Brahms Violin Concerto, Columbia, 1972.

Brahms: Isaac Stern Plays Brahms, Columbia, 1973.

Brahms: Double Concerto in A Minor for Violin and Cello, Odyssey, 1977.

Brahms: Double Concerto, Op. 102; Piano Quartet, CBS Masterworks, 1988.

Bruch, Max: Concerto No. 1 in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Columbia, 1967.

The Classic Melodies of Japan, CBS Masterworks, 1978.

The Concert of the Century, Columbia, 1976.

Copland, Aaron: Copland Performs and Conducts Copland, Columbia, 1974.

Debussy, Claude: Sonata in G Minor for Violin and Piano, Columbia, 1960.

Dutilleux, Henri, and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: Larbre des songes; concerto pour violon et orchestre (Dutilleux); Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Davies), CBS Masterworks, 1987.

Dvorak, Antonin: Concerto in A Minor for Violin and Orchestra; Romance, Columbia, 1966.

Frank, Cesar: Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, Odyssey, 1979.

The Great Violin Concertos, CBS Masterworks, 1986.

Greatest Hits: The Violin, Columbia, 1972.

Haydn, Joseph: London Trio No. 2 in G Minor; London Trio No. 3 in G Major; Divertissement No. 2 in G Major; Divertissement No. 6 in D Major; London Trio No. 4 in G Major, CBS Masterworks, 1982.

Hindemith, Paul: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Columbia, 1965.

Hindemith: Sonata for Violin and Piano, Odyssey, 1979.

Isaac Stern Plays Saint-Saens, Chausson, Faure, Columbia, 1976.

Isaac Stern 60th Anniversary Celebration, CBS Masterworks, 1981.

Lalo, Edouard Victor Antoine: Symphonie espagnole, Columbia, 1976.

Mendelssohn, Felix, and Pyotr llich Tchaikovsky: Concerto in E Minor for Violin and Orchestra (Mendelssohn); Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra (Tchaikovsky), CBS Great Performances, 1981.

Mendelssohn: Trio No. 1 in D Minor; Trio No. 2 in C Minor, CBS Masterworks, 1981.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Major for Violin and Orchestra; Concerto No. 5 in A Major for Violin and Orchestra (Turkish), Columbia, 1964.

Mozart: Concerto No. 3 in G Major for Violin and Orchestra; Sinfonia Concertante in E-Flat Major for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra, CBS Masterworks, 1968.

Mozart: The Mozart Flute Quartets, CBS Masterworks, 1971.

Mozart: Sinfonia concertante in E Flat, K. 364, for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra, Columbia, 1972.

Mozart: Concerto in C Major for Two Violins and Orchestra, Columbia, 1974.

Mozart: Divertimento in E-Flat Major for String Trio, Columbia, 1975.

Mozart: Concerto No. 4 in D Major for Violin and Orchestra; Concerto No. 2 in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Columbia, 1978.

Mozart: Concerto No. 4 for Violin and Orchestra in D Major; Concerto No. 5 for Violin and Orchestra in A Major (Turkish), Columbia, 1978.

Mozart: Concerto in G; Concerto in D; Andante in C, RCA Red Seal, 1979.

Mozart: Sonata No. 26 in B-Flat Major for Violin and Piano, Odyssey, 1979.

Penderecki, Krzysztof: Violin Concerto, Columbia, 1979.

Pleyel, Ignaz Joseph: Sinfonie Concertante in B-Flat Major, Columbia, 1974.

Prokofiev, Sergey Sergeyevich: Concerto No. 1 in D Major for Violin and Orchestra; Concerto No. 2 in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Columbia, 1964.

Prokofiev: Sonata in F Minor for Violin and Piano; Sonata in D Major for Violin and Piano, Odyssey, 1979.

Rochberg, George: Violin Concerto, Columbia, 1979.

Romance: Favorite Melodies for the Quiet Hours, Columbia, 1972.

Schubert, Franz: Trio in E-Flat Major for Piano, Violin, and Cello, Columbia, 1970.

Shostakovich, Dmitri: Trio No. 2 for Violin, Cello, and Piano; Sonata for Cello and Piano, CBS Masterworks, 1988.

Sibelius, Jean: Concerto in D Minor for Violin and Orchestra; Karelia Suite, Columbia, 1970.

Stamitz, Karl: Sinfonia Concertante in D Major, Columbia, 1972.

Stravinsky, Igor: Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra; Symphony in Three Movements, Columbia, 1962.

Tchaikovsky: Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra; Meditation, Columbia, 1979.

Viotti, Giovanni Battista: Concerto No. 22 in A Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Odyssey, 1979.

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, Columbia, 1978.

Vivaldi: Concerto in D Minor; Concerto in C Minor, Columbia, 1978.

Vivaldi, Bach, and Mozart: Le quattro stagioni (Vivaldi); Konzert fuer 2 Violinen und Streicher d-moll; Konzert fuer 4 Violinen, Streicher und Cembalo h-moll (Bach); Sinfonia concertante fuer Violine, Viola und Orchester Es-dur (Mozart), Deutsche Grammophon, 1983.

Wieniawski, Henri: Concerto No. 2 in D Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Odyssey, 1979.



Campbell, Margaret, The Great Violinists, Doubleday, 1980.

The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians, 10th edition, edited by Oscar Thompson, Dodd, Mead, 1975.

Schwarz, Boris, Great Masters of the Violin: From Corelli and Vivaldi to Stern, Zukerman, and Perlman, Simon & Schuster, 1983.


Newsweek, November 17, 1980.

New York Times Magazine, October 14, 1979.

People, March 11, 1991.

Strad, August 1977; November 1985.

Time, July 7, 1980.

U.S. News & World Report, August 13, 1990.


From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China (documentary film), 1980.

Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman (video), Paramount Home Video, 1988.

Jerusalem (video), 1986.

Michael E. Mueller

Isaac Stern

views updated May 21 2018

Isaac Stern

Isaac Stern (born 1920) is one of the foremost violinists in the world. He is renowned for his great musical talent, for his great energy, and for his enormous heart.

Violinist Isaac Stern made his formal debut with the San Francisco Symphony as a teen-ager. Since that time he has played countless concerts around the globe. His world tours are an annual event. The crux of Stern's talent lies in his total mastery of each piece. Critics are amazed at his tone and his effortless style. Yet Stern is more than an accomplished musician, he is a great benefactor of the arts. He took it upon himself to spearhead the rescue of Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1960 when the building was slated for demolition. As founder and chairman of the Jerusalem Music Center, he travels regularly to Israel to sponsor master classes and workshops. Stern is well known for his efforts in mentoring young people and in sponsoring programs to encourage music for youth. Some noteworthy Isaac Stern students include violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and Pinchas Zukerman.

Isaac Stern was born on July 21, 1920 to Solomon and Clara Stern, in the town of Kremenets in the Russian Ukraine. Stern's father was a contractor; his mother, a musician, attended the Imperial Conservatory in St. Petersburg. Fleeing the political upheaval in their native land, Stern's parents immigrated with their young son to the United States in 1921. Stern was ten months old at the time. The family made their home in San Francisco. In time Clara Stern began to share her love for music with her young son. She taught the boy to play the piano when he was six, and he started playing the violin at the age of eight. Stern was never labeled a prodigy, but his parents enrolled him at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music when he was ten years old. He studied there from 1930 until 1937 under Naoum Blinder, who was the concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony. Blinder was very liberal in his teaching style; he never burdened Stern with tiresome hours of practicing scales. Instead, Stern learned to play as he listened to others perform; he learned to imitate the quality of the sounds he heard.

Accounts vary as to the progression of Stern's career as a virtuoso. He played his first recital in 1934 at the age of 13, and most likely it was two years later when he debuted with the San Francisco Symphony under Conductor Pierre Monteux. On October 11, 1937 he debuted in New York at Town Hall. Critics praised his performance, and he acquired a manager, noted impresario Sol Hurok. Stern played seven concerts during his first year of tours; the following year that number doubled. On January 8, 1943 he debuted with a recital at Carnegie Hall. That concert earned critical acclaim and thereafter Stern was recognized worldwide as a master violinist. He was renowned for his style and flexibility, for his tone, and for the sure movement of his fingers and hands. So memorable was his first performance at Carnegie Hall, that 25 years later, in 1968, he performed a silver anniversary encore concert at Carnegie to mark the occasion.

Stern signed his first record contract in 1945 with a company that was then called CBS Masterworks, now Sony Classical Records. He remained with that record label throughout his career.

New Horizons

In the 1940s, during the Second World War, Stern played for the Allied Armies in Greenland, Iceland, and the South Pacific. In 1944, he debuted with the New York Philharmonic under conductor Arthur Rodzinski. Stern's film debut was in 1946, in Warner Brothers' Humoresque, with Joan Crawford. Stern recorded the soundtrack for the film. His hands were superimposed in the stead of co-star John Garfield's when the script called for Garfield to play the violin. In 1952, Stern appeared in a film biography about his own manager, Sol Hurok, called Tonight We Sing.

Stern, began touring the globe in the late 1940s. He debuted in 1948 at the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland under Charles Munch. He performed 120 concerts in 1949 alone, including a tour in South America. That same year he made his first visit to Israel. Stern played the Prades Festival with premiere cellist Pablo Casals from 1950 through 1952. In 1956, he became the first American musician since World War II to perform in the Soviet Union. That occasion also marked Stern's first return to Russian soil since he left with his family for the United States. After that initial trip, Stern visited and performed in the Soviet Union on various occasions during the 1960s. Eventually, he boycotted the Soviet regime and was grateful to return in 1997, after the Communist government collapsed. Quoted by ITAR-TASS news agency, he said, "I am glad to meet the Muscovites again."

Throughout his career Stern was the guest soloist with every major orchestra in the world. He performed his famous chamber music concerts at virtually all of the major festivals. The Istomen-Stern-Rose (chamber) Trio, co-founded by Stern in 1961, played through the early 1980s. It featured Stern, Leonard Rose on cello, and Eugene Istomen on piano. The group embarked on a world tour from 1970 to 1971, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of composer, Ludwig Von Beethoven. Stern also collaborated with Emanuel Ax, Jaime Laredo, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Stern toured South America, Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and France with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra. He contributed to countless television specials during the 1970s and 1980s, including his work on the two series, Tonight at Carnegie Hall, and Live from Lincoln Center.

Stern celebrated his 60th birthday in 1980 by performing 60 concerts across four countries during the course of the year. Stern, who plays modern as well as classical music, was honored on multiple occasions to offer the premiere performances of compositions by William Schuman, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Hindemith, and other modern composers. Since his first visit to Israel, Stern maintained close ties with that nation. He returned frequently to perform, and to hold workshops and master classes.

In 1981, Stern filmed a documentary of his Chinese tour. The film, From Mao to Mozart-Isaac Stern in China won an Academy Award for best full-length documentary. The feature also received a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1987, Stern filmed Carnegie Hall: The Grand Reopening, a film which earned him an Emmy Award.

Six Decades of Music

In 1993, the Arts & Entertainment Network (A&E) featured a biographical piece on Isaac Stern in a program called Isaac Stern—A Life. He made numerous television appearances, including 60 Minutes, Sesame Street, Live from Lincoln Center, Good Morning America, and Today. Stern, along with Yefim Bronfman, toured the United States and the Far East during 1993 and 1994. The pair undertook a collaborative project to record the complete Mozart violin sonatas. They toured Russia in 1991, where they recorded a live performance of the Brahms Violin Sonata, the same piece that Stern performed during his debut with the San Francisco Symphony in the early 1930s.

In May 1993, Stern hosted a two-day chamber music workshop at Carnegie Hall, and another in Israel that same year. The Israeli workshop, called the Jerusalem International Music Encounter, attracted students from around the world. Stern reprised the event in 1995.

Stern celebrated his 75th birthday in 1995, and Sony marked the occasion with a set of 44 compact disks, entitled Isaac Stern: A Life in Music (1946-82). After six decades of making music, Stern continues to perform in scores of concerts every year. His notable appearances in the 1990s included a performance with students at the San Francisco Conservatory and another at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. In 1994 and 1995 Stern toured with Yefim Bronfman and Robert McDonald.

Stern is devoted to humanity and finds that music is a natural form of expression for him. Quoted in the Jerusalem Post, he said, "We can sing, act, pray and do many things with music and all without one word. That is its real magic. Music can be violent because it grows in a violent world."

Civic Duties

During the administration of President John F. Kennedy, Stern organized the National Council on the Arts, a program that evolved into the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) under President Lyndon Johnson. In 1973, Stern founded the Jerusalem Music Centre where he held many master classes taught by international musicians. He also served as chairman of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation.

Stern voiced his political opinions in support of a boycott against a Greek military junta in 1967. He celebrated the end of the Six-Day War in Israel by performing a concert on Mount Scopus with Leonard Bernstein and the Israel Philharmonic. The concert was filmed as A Journey to Jerusalem.

Stern campaigned against Soviet opposition to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1974. He became a Commander of the French Ordre de la Couronne in 1974, and received the French Légion d'honneur in 1977 and Commander's Cross of the Danish Order of Dannebrog in 1985. Stern was named a fellow of Jerusalem in 1986. His biography, Isaac Stern: A Life, appeared in 1991. He was named the 1996 Honorary Fellow of the Diaspora Museum during a trip to Tel Aviv to perform for the 60th anniversary celebration of the Israel Philharmonic.

Three times married, Stern wed ballerina Nora Kaye on November 10, 1948 and divorced soon afterward. He then married Vera Lindenblit on August 17, 1951, following a truly whirlwind courtship-the couple met in Israel and married less than three weeks later. They divorced after 43 years, in 1994. They had three children: daughter Shira, and sons Michael and David; and three grandchildren. Stern married his third wife, Linda, shortly before the dedication of the Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall on January 28, 1997.

Renowned for his tireless energy, Stern loves to play tennis-with gloves to minimize blisters to his violin-playing hands. By his own admission he is not a disciplined individual; he accepts his spontaneous spirit, and concedes that the secret to the sensual character of his violin playing lies in the inability to limit his desires and wants. Stern plays his instrument, an Alard Guarnerius "del Gesu" violin, for hours on end, especially into the night.

Further Reading

Facts on File Encyclopedia of the 20th Century, edited by John Drexel, Facts on File, 1991.

ITAR-TASS (news agency), September 15, 1997.

Jerusalem Post, December 25, 1996, p. 12; June 5, 1998, p. 10.

Newsday, August 16, 1994, p. A11; January 29, 1997, p. A13.

JMC Isaac Stern: Violinist, (March 12, 1999). □

Stern, Isaac

views updated May 29 2018


Born: Kreminiecz, Russia, 21 July 1920; died New York, New York, 22 September 2001

Genre: Classical

One of the foremost violinists of his day, Isaac Stern was also one of the most influential and powerful figures in the classical music world. He is credited with having saved Carnegie Hall in the 1950s when it was threatened by developers. He helped promote the careers of numerous young colleagues, and he acted as a kind of international cultural ambassador, promoting various global causes.

Born in Russia in 1920, Stern emigrated to the United States with his family when he was ten months old. The family settled in San Francisco, where Stern began learning the violin at the age of eight, studying with Naourn Blinder and Louis Persinger. Stern gave his first solo recital at the age of thirteen, and at the age of sixteen made his professional debut with the San Francisco Symphony.

He made his New York debut at Town Hall in 1937 and his Carnegie Hall debut in 1943, by which time he was recognized as one of the foremost violinists of his generation. In the 1940s he performed extensively throughout the United States, but also traveled abroad to play for Allied troops in Greenland, Iceland, and the South Pacific. He also toured Australia and Europe. In 1951 he made a historic tour of the Soviet Union.

Stern always had an interest in chamber music, and in 1961 joined with cellist Leonard Rose and pianist Eugene Istomin to form a piano trio. The trio performed until Rose's death in 1984. Stern's wide-ranging performing career brought him to most of the world's major concert halls, performing with the world's leading orchestras and with distinguished colleagues in more than 100 concerts a year.

In the late 1950s he became politically active when developers threatened to tear down Carnegie Hall and build an office tower. He organized a campaign to help save it and became its presidenta post he held for forty years. In 1986 he oversaw the hall's extensive restoration, and in 1997 the main hall was renamed after him.

Stern was a founding member of the National Endowment for the Arts and founder of the Jerusalem Music Center. In 1974 he was named Commander of the French Ordre de la Couronne, was made a Fellow of Jerusalem and awarded the Commander's Cross by the Danish government and the Albert Schweitzer Music Award. He won a Kennedy Center Honor in 1984, and was named Musical America's Musician of the Year in 1986. He won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987, and an Emmy Award that year for a televised concert celebrating the reopening of Carnegie Hall after its restoration. In 1991 he was awarded the National Medal of the Arts, and in 1992 the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 1979 he made a historic trip to perform in China, and the film from that trip From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China won a 1981 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Full-Length Documentary. Other film projects include playing the role of violinist Eugene Ysaye in Tonight We Sing (1953), and playing in the soundtrack of the motion picture Fiddler on the Roof (1971). On television he was featured on 60 Minutes, Sesame Street, Live From Lincoln Center, and numerous other shows, and was the subject of a biography on the Arts & Entertainment network in 1993, which was later released as a home video.

Stern made more than 100 recordings of more than 200 works. In 1985 he was named Sony's first "artist laureate" in recognition of his long association with the label. His repertoire was extensive, encompassing all of the standard violin solo, chamber, and concerto literature, and he was committed to performing contemporary music, premiering works by Leonard Bernstein, Krzysztof Penderecki, William Schuman, and George Rochberg.

In 1991 he went to Israel to perform during the Persian Gulf War. At a concert in Jerusalem, air raid sirens began to go off during the performance and the audience began donning gas masks, but Stern played on, completing the program. That year he also helped organize and perform in Carnegie Hall's hundredth anniversary concert, which was broadcast live on PBS.

Throughout his life Stern was a teacher, holding master classes around the world. He is credited with helping to launch the careers of such artists as Emmanuel Ax, YoYo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Shlomo Mintz, and Yefim Bronfman.

Stern was an artist very much in the tradition of the old school. His playing was heartfelt and his musicianship was not bound by the latest musicological canons. In later years, though he still toured and performed frequently, much of his energy and attention was taken up with his various administrative and educational projects.


Isaac Stern: A Life in Music (Sony, 1995).


C. Potok and I. Stern, My First 79 Years: Isaac Stern (New York, 1999).


douglas mclennan

Stern, Isaac

views updated Jun 08 2018


STERN, ISAAC (1920–2001), U.S. violinist. Born in Kremenets, Ukraine, the following year he was taken to San Francisco, where his mother worked as pianist and teacher. He took up the violin at the age of eight. Following his recital début (1935) Stern was soloist with the San Francisco Orchestra under Pierre *Monteux (1936). During the years 1943–4 he played for Allied troops. In America he acquired a reputation, which became worldwide after World War ii. Stern made his European début in 1948 under Munch and thereafter he toured Europe regularly (except Germany, where he consistently refused to appear). His work with the cellist Pablo Casals at the Prades Festivals was important in his development. During the Cold War he toured the USSR. Stern had very strong ties with the State of Israel. He appeared frequently with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, most memorably in the concerts on Mount Scopus with Bernstein after the Six-Day War in 1967, and in the 1991 Gulf War, during which he continued his performance while sirens wailed to signal an Iraqi Scud missile attack. Stern founded the Jerusalem Music Center and became president of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation and a sponsor of Israeli artists, such as *Perlman, *Zukerman, *Fried, and *Mintz. In keeping with his long-standing commitment to working with young musicians, Stern held a number of chamber music workshops in Israel and at Carnegie Hall over the years. He was always active in chamber music with his piano partner Alexander Zakin and in a trio with *Istomin and *Rose (1961–1984); he performed regularly with Emanuel *Ax, Jaime Laredo and Yo Yo Ma and Yefim *Bronfman. For more than 60 years Stern appeared on the world's most prestigious concert stages. Recognized as one of the great violinists of his generation, he was particularly noted for his warm, rich tone in a repertoire that ranged from the Baroque to the modern. He premiered violin works by Bernstein, Penderecki, *Rochberg, Schuman, and Dutilleux and gave first American performances of works by Bartok and Hindemith. Stern is one of the most recorded musical artists of our time; he recorded all the great concertos, numerous chamber music recitals, and soundtracks for films (such as Fiddler on the Roof, 1971). He appeared frequently on television and documentaries. The film of his trip to China, From Mao to Mozart, received an Academy Award in 1981. Active in wider fields, he took part in the movement which saved Carnegie Hall in New York from demolition and became president of the Carnegie Hall Corporation. He was also a co-founder of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1964. Stern received many of the nation's and the world's highest honors, among them honors from the U.S., Japanese, Danish and French governments; the Albert Schweitzer Music Award for a life dedicated to music and devoted to humanity; a Fellow of Jerusalem (1986); Israel's Wolf Prize (1987); and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1992). He received honorary degrees from many institutions, such as Columbia, Harvard, New York University, Oxford, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Juilliard School, and Tel Aviv University. His biography, with Chaim Potok, entitled My First 79 Years, was published in 1999.


Grove Music Online; Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (1997); H. Roth, Violin Virtuosos: From Paganini to the 21st Century (1997); A. Mischakoff Heiles, "Isaac Stern Remembered," in: The Instrumentalist, 56 (Nov. 2001), 72–77.

[Uri (Erich) Toeplitz /

Rohan Saxena and

Naama Ramot (2nd ed.)]

Stern, Isaac

views updated Jun 11 2018

Stern, Isaac (b Kremenets, 1920; d NY, 2001). Russ.-born Amer. violinist, taken as infant to San Francisco. Début 1935 (recital), and 1936 with S. Francisco SO (Saint-Saëns 3rd vn. conc.). NY début 1937. Int. career as conc. soloist, also fine chamber-mus. player, esp. in assoc. with Eugene Istomin (pf.) and Leonard Rose (vc.).

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Isaac Stern

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