[Marxism] A master musician passes on
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
By MARGALIT FOX
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
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
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
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
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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