July 5th, 1924 to April 28th, 2013
July 5th, 1924 to April 28th, 2013
"Janos Starker dies at 88; renowned cellist won a Grammy in 1997"
Renowned concert cellist Janos Starker was also a distinguished teacher and recording artist, earning a 1997 Grammy Award for best instrumental solo performance.
April 30th, 2013
Los Angeles Times
Janos Starker, a renowned concert cellist as well as a distinguished teacher and recording artist, died Sunday at his home in Bloomington, Ind. He was 88 and had been in declining health.
Since 1958, Starker had been a professor at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. The university announced his death.
Starker's cello seminars attracted students from all over the world.
"I personally cannot perform without teaching, and I cannot teach without performing," he told the Chicago Tribune in 1993. "When you have to explain what you are doing, you discover what you are really doing."
Born July 5, 1924, in Budapest, Hungary, Starker had been a child prodigy, giving his first public performance at age 6. At 7 he began studying cello with Adolf Cziffer at the Budapest Academy of Music and at 8 he was teaching other children. He made his solo debut at the academy at the age of 11. By the time he was 15, he was principal cellist of the Budapest Opera.
In 1945, as World War II neared its end, the 21-year-old virtuoso was sent to a German detention camp; he expected the next stop to be an extermination center. He managed to survive, but his two brothers were killed when American bombs accidentally hit the camp.
He left Hungary in 1946 and reached the United States in 1948. He served as principal cello for the Dallas Symphony and then the Metropolitan Opera before joining the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1953. He played principal cello there for five seasons.
"Although less fiery and never a superstar, Janos Starker was, in many ways, the Jascha Heifetz of the cello," Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed said Sunday. "His technique was impeccable and he produced an invariably refined sound. And yet he had depth of tone, an ability to give every note grave substance, which made him one of the rare musicians to find a way for beauty, grace and intensity to coexist, as if we lived in a world where they were all the same thing."
Even after he began his teaching career, Starker kept performing, touring and recording. His recording of Bach cello suites earned a 1997 Grammy Award for best instrumental solo performance.
Chicago Tribune music critic John von Rhein wrote in 1993 that all Starker "has to do is touch bow to strings, and out pours an intensity of sound that immediately takes hold of one's senses. And the spell is cast entirely through the music, for Starker in performance maintains a grave facial expression and little eye contact with his audience.
"It's as if he were telling us, 'Listen to what the music is saying; don't watch me.' We listen, we listen."
"Janos Starker, Master of the Cello, Dies at 88"
April 29th, 2013
New York Times
Janos Starker, one of the 20th century’s most renowned cellists, whose restrained onstage elegance was amply matched by the cyclone of Scotch, cigarettes and opinion that animated his offstage life, died on Sunday at a hospice in Bloomington, Ind. He was 88.
Indiana University, where he was a distinguished professor of music, announced his death.
A Hungarian-born child prodigy who later survived internment by the Nazis during World War II, Mr. Starker appeared, in the decades after the war, on the world’s most prestigious recital stages and as a soloist with the world’s leading orchestras. He was part of a vaunted triumvirate that included Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-76) and Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), collectively the most celebrated cellists of the day.
He was also widely known through his more than 150 recordings, including one of Bach’s six suites for solo cello for which he won a Grammy Award in 1998.
Mr. Starker played several magnificent cellos during his career — including the “Lord Aylesford” Stradivarius of 1696, a 1707 Guarnerius and a 1705 instrument by the great Venetian maker Matteo Goffriller — but he nonetheless managed to resist the seductions of the instrument to which cellists can fall prey.
The chief hallmark of his playing was a conspicuous lack of schmaltz. Effusive sentiment is an inherent risk of the cello, with its thundering sonorities and timbre so like the human voice. He also shunned the dramatic head tossing and body swaying to which many cellists incline.
“I’m not an actor,” he said in a 1996 interview with the Internet Cello Society, an online fraternity of cellists and devotees. He added, with characteristic candor, “I don’t want to be one of those musicians who appears to be making love to himself onstage.”
Unlike many acclaimed string players, Mr. Starker used a lean, judicious vibrato — the minute, rapid variations in pitch by the left hand that can enrich a note’s sound but can also border on the histrionic. Excessive vibrato, he said, was like “a woman smearing her whole face with lipstick.”
While the musical style that resulted was too dispassionate for some critics’ taste, others praised Mr. Starker’s faultless technique; purity of tone; clean, polished phrasing; and acute concern with the composer’s intent. His style was especially well suited to the Bach suites, canonical texts for the instrument, which he recorded on several occasions.
“The technical aspects of Mr. Starker’s playing are so wholly merged in the solution to problems of interpretation and style that the listener tends to forget how much technical mastery the cellist has achieved,” Raymond Ericson wrote in The New York Times in 1962, reviewing a recital at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “The pitch is unerringly right, the tone is mellow without being mushy, difficult leaps and runs are manipulated with the easy unobtrusiveness of a magician.”
Though Mr. Starker eschewed romantic mannerisms, he did not stint Romantic works: he gave many well-received performances of the Dvorak concerto, the lush, haunting B minor staple of every concert cellist’s arsenal.
Nor did he neglect 20th-century music: he was considered one of the foremost interpreters of his countryman Zoltan Kodaly’s sonata for solo cello, composed in 1915 and so technically demanding that it is sometimes described as having been written by a fiend.
In these works, too, his restrained approach differed greatly from the ripe romanticism of Rostropovich and Piatigorsky.
“What I’d like to see is a little more humility and dignity displayed toward our art, and less self-aggrandizement,” Mr. Starker said of Rostropovich in a 1980 interview with People magazine. “Slava is more popular, but I’m the greater cellist.”
That was merely one of his abundant opinions on all manner of things, including conductors (Mr. Starker had enduring, well-publicized feuds over musical matters with Eugene Ormandy and Herbert von Karajan) and other eminent cellists.
Conductors, he once said, “are the most overrated people in music.”
And here is Mr. Starker on Jacqueline du Pré, the expressive English cellist whose career was cut short by multiple sclerosis: “She was an incredibly gifted cellist and a beautiful artist, but I believe she accelerated her own destruction because she expended so much energy in her performances.”
Opinion was but one area in which Mr. Starker allowed himself joyful immoderation; cigarettes and alcohol were others. He adored Scotch and by his own account consumed it with abandon. For much of his life he smoked 60 cigarettes a day, though in old age he reduced the number to 25.
He once walked out of a scheduled performance of the Elgar Concerto with the South Carolina Philharmonic because he was barred from smoking his accustomed preconcert cigarette backstage.
Unlike many world-renowned musicians, Mr. Starker made teaching a major facet of his career. In 1958 he joined the faculty of what is now the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, where he taught until shortly before his death.
His presence there turned Bloomington into a Midwestern mecca for cellists; among his former students are the prominent soloists Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, Gary Hoffman and Maria Kliegel.
“I personally cannot perform without teaching, and I cannot teach without performing,” Mr. Starker told The Chicago Tribune in 1993. “When you have to explain what you are doing, you discover what you are really doing.”
With his bald head and menacing eyebrows, Mr. Starker looked ferocious, and by all accounts he could be ferocious in the teaching studio. He was so adamant about his students’ need for all-consuming commitment that he was once enlisted by Bobby Knight, Indiana’s long-serving, combustible basketball coach, to give a like-minded pep talk to the team.
Janos Starker was born in Budapest on July 5, 1924, the son of Sandor and Margit Starker; his father was a tailor. (The European pronunciation of the family name is SHTAR-ker; after moving to the United States, he pronounced it STAR-ker.)
Before he turned 6, Janos was given a cello; by the time he was 8 he was giving lessons to younger children. He entered the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, making his recital debut at 11; at 14 he played the Dvorak concerto with a symphony orchestra on a few hours’ notice.
As a young man, Mr. Starker was the principal cellist of the Budapest Opera and the Budapest Philharmonic.
The Starkers were Jews. Near the end of World War II, Mr. Starker and his parents were dispatched to an internment camp on an island in the Danube outside Budapest. All three survived the war, though his two older brothers, Tibor and Ede, disappeared; Mr. Starker said he believed the Nazishad shot them.
After the war, Mr. Starker worked as an electrician and a sulfur miner before making his way to Paris. There, in 1947, he recorded the Kodaly sonata; that recording won the Grand Prix du Disque, France’s most prestigious award for recorded music, bringing him international fame.
In 1948, Mr. Starker was brought to the United States as the principal cellist of the Dallas Symphony by its music director, Antal Dorati.
Afterward, he was principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York. (In his 2004 memoir, “The World of Music According to Starker,” Mr. Starker recalls the day his seat in the orchestra pit was changed so he would not be distracted by any attractive women onstage.) He was later principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony.
Mr. Starker’s first marriage, to Eva Uranyi, ended in divorce. He is survived by a daughter from that marriage, Gabriella Starker-Saxe; his second wife, the former Rae Busch; her daughter, Gwen Starker Preucil, whom he adopted; and three grandchildren.
His other recordings include works by Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak and Bartok.
To those who called his concert demeanor aloof, Mr. Starker had a potent antidote. Inspired by a suggestion from the theatrical producer Joseph Papp, he created a touring show, “A Special Evening With Janos Starker.”
On those evenings, Mr. Starker, armed with a chair, his cello and other essential props, took the stage. There, between musical numbers, he regaled the audience with tales from the classical-music battlefield, interspersed with sips of Scotch and companionable clouds of smoke.
"Janos Starker, celebrated cellist, dies at 88"
April 30th, 2013
The Washington Post
Janos Starker, a Hungarian-born master of the cello who emerged from the devastation of World War II to became known as one of the most rivetingly powerful instrumentalists of his generation, died April 28 at a hospice in Bloomington, Ind. He was 88.
Indiana University, where Mr. Starker taught for more than five decades, announced his death but did not disclose the cause.
For decades, Mr. Starker was one of the most sought-after cellists in the world. He was venerated as a soloist and particularly as an interpreter of Bach — he received a Grammy for a 1997 recording of the composer’s solo cello suites — and was equally revered as a chamber musician and teacher.
Baldheaded, with a penetrating gaze from beneath his expressive eyebrows, Mr. Starker drew critical acclaim for the caged emotion that he projected from the stage. Unlike rival musicians who larded their performances with theatrics, he held himself stoically still, as if to demonstrate that the world already contained enough drama.
The son of a Jewish tailor, Mr. Starker was a child prodigy and began his musical training in Budapest during the interlude between the two world wars. During the second, Mr. Starker survived internment in a Nazi work camp, where he said he practiced the cello in his head. His brothers, both of whom played the violin, perished during the war.
Mr. Starker established his international reputation in the late 1940s, when he received the Grand Prix du Disque, a prestigious French award, for his recording of a sonata by the contemporary Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly. Kodaly remained a staple of Mr. Starker’s centuries-spanning repertoire. He recorded more than 165 works, including compositions by Bartok, Brahms, Debussy, Strauss and Rachmaninoff.
But he was best known for his command of Bach and especially the baroque composer’s six suites for solo cello, which former Washington Post music critic Lon Tuck described as “the Everest of the cello repertory.” Mr. Starker recorded the suites numerous times, first during a series of nocturnal sessions in the early 1950s, when, by day, he was a first cellist with the Metropolitan Opera’s orchestra in New York City.
“We’d start recording around midnight and continue until 4 a.m.,” he told the American Record Guide. “Then I’d get home for about three hours’ sleep and be at the Met for a 10 a.m. rehearsal. It went on for about a week. I’m still very proud of that set.”
Reviewing a live performance of the Bach suites decades later, New York Times music critic James R. Oestreich wrote that Mr. Starker “seemed to be communing with the composer rather than performing in public.”
At the peak of his career, Mr. Starker performed in as many as 100 concerts a year and drew comparisons to celebrated cellist-conductor Mstislav Rostropovich. “Their contrasting styles are almost musical mirror images of the men’s personalities,” Tuck noted. “Rostropovich — open, ebullient, restless and romantic. Starker — aloof, sober, controlled and classical.”
With ironic detachment, Mr. Starker once summarized the assessment of critics who were unfavorable to his style: They found him to be a “cold bastard onstage,” he was quoted as saying. He stood firm in his opinion — and held firm on stage. He was “not an actor,” he liked to say.
Observers delighted in noting Mr. Starker’s predilection for cigarettes (he reportedly smoked as many as 60 a day), his self-professed weakness for liquor and his healthy supply of self-confidence. “Slava is more popular,” Mr. Starker once told the Forward, referring to Rostropovich by his nickname, “but I’m the greater cellist.”
But Mr. Starker also possessed an endearing sense of humility. It was on display every time he gave a lesson and declined to call it a “master class,” preferring the simpler term “seminar.”
Janos Starker was born July 5, 1924, in Budapest. He gave his first recitals at age 6, according to Indiana University, and made his professional debut as a teenager. Before his internment during World War II, he studied at his city’s Franz Liszt Academy of Music.
After the Holocaust, he was “unafraid of anyone because he concluded that nothing worse could possibly happen to him,” biographer Joyce Geeting wrote in “Janos Starker: ‘King of Cellists’ ” (2008).
He immigrated to the United States in 1948 and became a U.S. citizen several years later. He played with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and, under conductor Fritz Reiner, the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra before joining Indiana University in 1958 and beginning his solo performing career in earnest. He continued teaching until shortly before his death.
His memoir, “The World of Music According to Starker,” was published in 2004.
Mr. Starker’s first marriage, to Eva Uranyi, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 52 years, the former Rae Busch, of Bloomington; a daughter from his first marriage, Gabriella Starker-Saxe of Toronto; a stepdaughter from his second marriage, whom he adopted, violinist Gwen Preucil of Cleveland; and three grandchildren.
In the world of classical music, artists pursue a command of Bach, such as the one possessed by Mr. Starker at the height of his ability, as if it were a sort of holy grail.
“Except for a man’s limited time and capacity, one hopes it never ends,” Mr. Starker told The Post. “Bach’s creations will remain as long as human aspirations center on art and music.”
Bach Cello Suite 3 I.