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The World Loses A Great Musician

Sun Sep 23, 2001 2:24 pm

Today, the world lost a great musician. Isaac Stern, one of the best violinists ever to grace the instrument passed away. I have been lucky enough to hear him perform in person, and this saddens me to hear this. I'm sorry this is so long, but here you go.

"Violinist Isaac Stern, 81, Dies

By MARTIN STEINBERG, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Isaac Stern, the master violinist who saved Carnegie Hall from the wrecking ball, died Saturday. He was 81.

Stern was one of the last great violinists of his generation and helped advance the careers of generations of musicians who followed, including Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Yo-Yo Ma (news - web sites).

He died of heart failure at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center, said Ann Diebold, spokeswoman for Carnegie Hall.

Five-foot-6, rotund and with pudgy, dimpled hands, Stern commanded a rich tone and steady rhythm from his 18th century Guarneri. With his dynamo energy and fluid bow strokes, he was equally at home with the mathematical contortions of Bach, the fury of Beethoven, the syncopations of Brahms and the convulsions of 20th century composers.

Stern was one of the most recorded classical musicians in history, making well over 100 recordings.

A supporter of Israel, tireless concertizer, teacher and raconteur, Stern played well over 175 performances by the late 1990s at Carnegie Hall, America's musical temple renowned for its acoustics.

The hall was built by industrialist Andrew Carnegie and opened in 1891 with a concert conducted in part by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky.

``Carnegie was, is and will not be only a building. It's an idea. It's a mythology, a necessary mythology about music,'' Stern said in a 1997 interview with CNN's Larry King.

In the late 1950s, as the city was planning Lincoln Center, a developer proposed razing Carnegie Hall and building a 44-story office tower with panels of bright red porcelain and diagonally placed windows. Life magazine in 1957 described the architect's plan as ``a strange-looking checkerboard.''

Using his prestige and his contacts among fellow artists and benefactors, Stern rallied the opposition, eventually securing legislation that enabled the city to acquire the building in 1960 for $5 million.

``I talked a lot,'' Stern told King. ``It's something I do very well. When you believe in something, you can move mountains. I knew that this could not disappear from the face of the Earth.''

Stern was born in 1920 in Ukraine in the fledgling Soviet Union. His parents brought him to America when he was 10 months old, settling in San Francisco.

Believing that music was an essential ingredient to education, they started him on the piano at age 6. Two years later, after hearing a friend's violin playing, he picked up the fiddle and wound up playing it for the rest of his life. Ironically, he never went to college.

He studied at the San Francisco Conservatory and with Naoum Blinder, concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony and a violinist of the Russian school of playing.

``He taught me to teach myself, which is the greatest thing a teacher can do,'' Stern recalled in a 1987 interview with the Guardian.

At 16, Stern attracted his first national attention, performing the Brahms Violin Concerto with Pierre Monteux conducting the San Francisco Symphony in a concert broadcast on national radio.

Seven years later, on Jan. 8, 1943, he made his Carnegie Hall debut in a recital produced by the impresario Sol Hurok. Performing with pianist Alexander Zakin, who became his longtime accompanist, Stern played Mozart, Bach, Szymanowski, Brahms and Wieniawski.

``I played almost defiantly, to demonstrate my skills, to show them all what I was capable of doing with the fiddle,'' Stern recalled in his 1999 memoir, ``My First 79 Years.''

The performance attracted the attention of composer-critic Virgil Thomson. Writing in the New York Herald Tribune, Thomson proclaimed him ``one of the world's master fiddle players.''

He later played in countless places around the world: Iceland, Greenland and the South Pacific for Allied troops during World War II; Moscow after Stalin's death; Jerusalem's Mount Scopus immediately after Israeli soldiers recaptured it in 1967; China months after Washington restored full diplomatic relations in 1979. One country he refused to perform in was Germany, which he boycotted for years because of the Holocaust.

During the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites), a concert in Jerusalem was interrupted by a siren warning of an Iraqi Scud missile attack. After the audience put on gas masks, Stern returned to the stage and played the Sarabande from Bach's D minor Partita for solo violin. Stern didn't wear one, saying he doubted Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) would fire missiles at Jerusalem with its many Muslim holy sites and large Palestinian population.

``It was a very eerie sensation to look out in the hall with the audience covered with gas masks,'' he said.

Through the American-Israel Cultural Foundation, he helped finance the studies of many Israeli performers, including Perlman and Zukerman. He also helped arrange for Ma to study with the great cellist Leonard Rose - Stern's partner in the much recorded Istomin-Stern-Rose trio, along with the pianist Eugene Istomin, and he approached Hurok about the sensational young cellist.

At his peak, Stern would perform more than 200 concerts a year.

He also played in the movies ``Humoresque,'' ``Fiddler on the Roof'' and on TV's ``Sesame Street.'' The Academy Award winning documentary ``From Mozart to Mao'' chronicled Stern's performance and tutoring in China in 1979 after the Cultural Revolution.

Stern ended his boycott of Germany in 1999 for a nine-day teaching seminar, saying it was time to see how young German musicians were absorbing their musical heritage of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn.

``It isn't very human not to give people a chance to change. The time came when I wanted to hear, search and think. With my visit, I forgive nothing,'' he said at the time.

``I have a responsibility to pass on to the next generation what I learned from my teachers,'' Stern said. ``It keeps me young and reminds me where I came from. Teaching young artists is like giving water to a flower.''

Survivors include his wife, Linda Reynolds Stern, whom he married in 1996; three children from a previous marriage, daughter Shira, a rabbi, and sons Michael and David, both conductors; and five grandchildren.


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RE: The World Loses A Great Musician

Mon Sep 24, 2001 3:04 am

That's very sad news. It seems like I saw him interviewed fairly recently...I had no idea he was ill.

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RE: The World Loses A Great Musician

Mon Sep 24, 2001 11:31 pm

Yes, I am sad he is gone-- and happy he lived and contributed to beauty.

When I was a boy he often visited my neighbor two doors down. He had a touch of class.

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RE: The World Loses A Great Musician

Tue Sep 25, 2001 1:04 am

Ummm....who is he?
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RE: The World Loses A Great Musician

Tue Sep 25, 2001 1:24 am

This is a sad that he is gone. He was a fabulous violinists.
I have a reel to reel tape he recorded with Zubin Mehta in 1979.
Bring back the Concorde

RE: The World Loses A Great Musician

Tue Sep 25, 2001 1:54 am

Indeed his death is a great loss to the Arts around the world. Probably one of the greatest violinists ever.
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RE: The World Loses A Great Musician

Tue Sep 25, 2001 2:18 am

... . . .
Topic Author
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RE: The World Loses A Great Musician

Tue Sep 25, 2001 5:21 am

Read the article Jaspike.
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RE: The World Loses A Great Musician

Tue Sep 25, 2001 5:34 am

".....he picked up the fiddle and wound up playing it for the rest of his life."
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RE: The World Loses A Great Musician

Tue Sep 25, 2001 11:01 am

I know 2 of his grandsons, his daughter actually lives in my neighborhood. If anyone would like to offer their condolences please e-mail me @ lubcha132@hotmail.com and i will be glad to pass them along

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