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Sad news: a legendary cellist has died

We are informed by pupils and friends that the great cellist and teacher Janos Starker died today in Bloomington, Indiana, at 5am. He was 88 years old and had been in terminal care for the last few weeks.

Budapest born, to Jewish parents who arrived from Poland and Russia after the first world war, Janos began teaching other kids at eight years old. He studied with Bartok, Kodaly and Dohnanyi at the Liszt Academy and was fortunate to survive a Nazi camp; his older brothers were killed.

He left Communist Hungary in 1946, reaching the US two years later. After serving as principal cello in Dallas, the Met and ultimately the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he resumed a solo career in 1958 and took up teaching at Indiana University. His pupils include numerous soloists and principals in major orchestras. He appears as soloist on 160 recordings.

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Comments

  1. Ray Lindsay says:

    Remember hearing him play as a student, years ago. Incredible, solid tone.

  2. PK Miller says:

    Not necessarily “sad news.” He was not young and was, apparently, ill for some time. It’s very subjective but I don’t think Yo Yo Ma, great as he is, is worthy to untie the shoelaces of Starker & Casals. I never saw Starker live but had the oppportunity to hear & watch Casals at Marlboro. I’ve heard Starker many times on recordings inc. a a few live performances via our local classical music station when it was in its prime and not “Classical Top 40.” I know this sounds hooky but he’s playing with Casals et al in the Great Orchestra in the Sky. (And, as a mentor of mine always said, “Aint none of us gettin outta here alive!”)

  3. José Bergher says:

    Great cellist, great artist, great teacher. May he rest in peace.

  4. One of the very greatest has left us. The world of the ‘cello will now never be the same. Rest well, Mr. Starker; thanks for the path you carved out for us.

  5. The link leads to Starker playing Strauss’s Don Quixote

  6. Nobody lives forever, so it’s sad though not tragic when a man lived as long and rich a life as Janos Starker did. I was fortunate to hear him a few times in Seattle; the first, time, in the Shostakovich 1st concerto, was an absolute revelation, one of those “I didn’t know the cello could DO that” experiences. I subsequently heard him play concertos by Haydn, Dvorak, Prokofiev, Mennin, and Hindemith (He came to Seattle a lot in the mid-80s to mid-90s). I also saw him do a master class once, and while I had heard that he wasn’t always the warmest person, found him to have a great sense of humor and surprisingly hip to American pop cultural references (not a stuffy European who didn’t “get it.”). A true legend, and a life well lived.

  7. Tom Sudholt says:

    PK Miller: I agree with you as he had a full rich life. As to who is worthy, I interviewed him in 1990 and asked if there were any other cellists he admired. He was not willing to do a list but he did say:”I don’t think there is any question that Yo Yo Ma is a great cellist.” Were I a cellist, that would make my day for the rest of my life. Several years later I told Yo Yo Ma of this exchange and he replied: ” Maestro Starker has a wonderful sense of humor “.

    • Nice story. I got off boat and went to IU a while ago. In my early year, I did not know who Starker was. I saw this faculty standing in front of the school building with his car, and I asked if he could give me a lift (I forgot my music at home). He did help me. From watching many masterclasses, I remembered that Starker was a man with less words, but when he spoke, he was funny.

  8. I carry these words from an interview with Janos Starker in my journal from 1985: “how to improve performance and to make it consistent is what we are all trying to get. I spent a lifetime trying to understand the underlying basic principles that make it possible for someone to use body, arms and then the head. The word consistency is the key. Discipline means concentration and concentration means discipline. When I go on stage, nothing exists for me but that piece of music I am playing. And, after the performance, if I remember that in the second movement my mind drifted for a moment, I am ashamed.” ” The important thing is never who watches. Whether the audience cheers or not does not mean anything. If I know that I have done well, whether they liked it or not. Is not important.”
    Indiana Alumni Magazine, April 1985

  9. Ralph Pollock says:

    Janos Starker was a man with incredible taste. And he could actually deliver on that taste. I was fortunate to play with him in Santa Barbara in the 60s, as first horn. He was always appreciative of all the Horn solos, and spent enough energy to make it known. I will never forget those moments in the Dvorak Concerto. He was an incredible musician and a great man.

    His interpretation of the Dvorak concerto was provocative and I will never forget it.

    Ralph Pollock

  10. Roberto Gonzalez says:

    I have a very rare three-channel SACD of his Bach Cello Suites, and the sound is just like having this great cellist in my living room. I heard him live in Puerto Rico at the Casals Festival, where I also grew up watching Don Pablo conduct and play and teach. Starker was magnificent. I also have the other two concerto performance SACDs of Mercury mastertapes. Those get quite a lot of play, especially the Dvorak with Antal Dorati conducting…

    He will be greatly missed…

  11. Marshall says:

    I’m trying to rmember whether I heard him in one or two solo concerts-but whatever the case it/they were experiences that stayed with me with such intensity from many years ago. It must have been two-becaue I recall him playing the Bach suites-and then the half of one program was the Kodaly sonata. That performance and the that music remain one of my great concert experiences from a lifetime of attending concerts. Not being especially a “modern” music fan, or particularly of the cello I was amazed by the music and the performance-probably it was and remains defintive for this piece. (I never understood until years later that it was considered such a technical challenge)

    Also he was my ideal for the Bach-and without negating other names, I always wondered why his wasn’t mentioned first.

  12. Istvan Horthy says:

    Janos Starker wrote a very interesting and entertaining autobiography, still in print. In it we learn that he was not in a Nazi concentration camp but in a work camp on Margit Island, Budapest. He didn’t suffer torture or extreme ill treatment.

  13. M.A. Steinberger says:

    I first heard him in person about 1965 or 66 when he gave a recital at my (middle-of-nowhere) college. The Kodaly was not on the program, but the other cellist & I (only 2 of us on campus!) expressed disappointment & he played the entire 3rd movement as encore, saying he was playing it for us! He was, of course, phenomenal. He also encouraged both of us to keep working at it.

  14. I so appreciate these postings, as we at AIMS (American Institute of Musical Studies) prepare to say farewell to our our own principle cellist, Mimi McShane, who died a few months ago. She, too, was principle cellist at the Dallas Symphony, and played with the AIMS in Graz Festival Orchestra for 22 summers. I know she was a huge fan of Starker’s…I wish I had met him. Now, to listen to him!
    Love all the stories and quotes!
    Many thanks.

  15. Janos Starker, violoncello virtuoso, consummate musician, devoted pedagogue, is no longer with us. His wit, charm, magical turn of phrase, his devotion to the Arts and the Young who will further them, has been silenced. Every muted voice that had sounded a positive, constructive, human note among the discordant cries of the ignorant, the fanatic, the militant, is a grievous loss to humanity.

    I remember his delicate interpretation of the Haydn ‘cello concerto I was privileged to accompany (Israel Philharmonic), his collaborative music-making when we played the Kodaly duo for violon and ‘cello…just the two of us at my home in Castleton, Virginia…his invaluable contribution to the decisions taken by the Loan Committee of the Nippon Music Foundation when deliberating to which worthy performing artist a specific Stradivarius should be lent, his decades-long nurturing of young musicians at Bloomington, Indiana. He is now joined in death to the select few whose lives and deeds have brought light and solace to humankind.

  16. Surely Mr. S. is very alive and happy now in another realm after such an energetic, long and generous life on earth. (?) Are we not off-base in using terms like `death` due to our own lack of perception of the various dimensions of existence ?

    Much appreciation to those above who posted these precious and unforgettable anecdotes about Mr. S.

  17. steve packer says:

    many though starker was a cold fish. but even being a dispenser of notes is a high calling (and he was certainly more than that); as Stravinsky said, “even a correctly played scale constitutes art.” His approach to students, which some called “intimidating” and his refusal to complement, might make psychological sense, I think, because he didn’t want students to become addicted to complements and focus more on getting good strokes, as opposed to the real business at hand. Also they wouldn’t feel the burden of having to repeat their last ‘success’ which can cause loss of focus and tightening. Starker would be like the ‘black box’ flight recorder, just returning data, and the student would have “nothing to lose’ in effect. However, his act as priest at the alter of Apollo, the uncompromising god of moderation (some have called him “robot monster’) was just as dramatic and grandiose as all the musicians he decried for their emoting on stage. Though he was great, he was a poseur, and I’m not the only one who suspected that he was on a power trip.

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