One of the world’s great musical personalities, violinist Isaac Stern, has died aged 81. Famed as much for his values as a humanitarian and his dedication to the advancement of the arts as for his virtuosity on the violin, Stern died of heart-failure at the Cornell Medical Center in New York yesterday.
The first recipient of the Albert Schweizer Music Award for "a life dedicated to music and devoted to humanity" and holder of the highest US civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Stern’s stellar musical career and achievements over six decades have been recognized with commendations, awards and honors worthy of a distinguished world leader.
Isaac Stern was born in Kremenets, Ukraine, in 1920, moving to the United States the following year to avoid the effects of the revolution in Russia. He was raised and educated in the San Francisco area and began playing the violin at the age of eight, making his recital debut at 13. He studied with Louis Persinger and Naoum Blinder. Immediately following his Carnegie Hall debut recital in early 1939 he was catapulted into the front rank of world-class violinists – where he stayed for the next 60-odd years.
Warm toned and vibrantly expressive, Stern’s violin playing was perhaps most notable for his peerless feeling for style, whether playing Bach or Bartók, Mozart or Maxwell Davies or any one of the more than 200 works in his repertoire. As a chamber musician, he collaborated (typically, rather than led) in one of the finest trios of the post-war era, with Eugene Istomin on piano and cellist, Leonard Rose. But to list even a smattering of musical events and personalities would take forever - he played everywhere and with everybody who was anybody. Munch, Monteux, Mitropoulos, Ormandy, David Oistrakh, Rampal, Casals, Bernstein represent only a handful of the greatest of Stern's musical partners.
He is most fondly remembered by New Yorkers and music lovers everywhere for preventing the demolition of the Carnegie Hall in 1960. Referring to the hall as "not only a building. It’s an idea. A necessary mythology about music" he almost single-handedly saved one of the world’s great music venues from being replaced by a 44-story skyscraper and soon afterwards was named President of the Carnegie Hall Corporation.
As an originating member of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1964 he contributed enormously as a member of the advisory board throughout the years. He was Chairman of the board of the American-Israeli Cultural Foundation and founded the Jerusalem Music Center and maintained strong links in Israel through performance and teaching.
Oscars and Emmys came his way for projects outside the classical concert hall: he was the soloist on the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack and appeared in numerous films and documentaries including the acclaimed 'From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China' and 'A Journey to Jerusalem' - a memorial concert for those lost in the Six-Day War in 1967 where Stern played the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto atop Mount Scopus. He also acted the part of the legendary violinist źsаŷe in a film on the life of impresario Sol Hurok. Television appearances took him from Sesame Street through 60 Minutes.
His commitment to the furtherance of young musical careers was yet another string in Stern’s generously strung bow. Performing with youthful ensembles and student orchestras in any number of specially engineered programs and masterclass scenarios was a source of immense pleasure to Stern.
Isaac Stern is survived by his wife, Linda Reynolds Stern whom he wed in 1996, three children and five grandchildren.
Sat Sep 22 2001 (2:38:20 PM)