[Marxism] A master musician passes on

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Apr 29 19:06:10 MDT 2013

Starker playing Kodaly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MEUIGjfHNw

NY Times April 29, 2013
Janos Starker, Master of the Cello, Dies at 88

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 his home 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.”

Through 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 

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 

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.

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