Remembering Janos Starker: Memorial Concert Sunday, June 9, Mills Hall

Written by Cathy Spann.

On Sunday, June 9, the National Summer Cello Institute (NSCI), a summer program affiliated with the UW-Madison School of Music, will present a free special tribute concert to Janos Starker, one of history’s greatest cellists and teachers, who died in Bloomington, Indiana on April 28, 2013.  Starker was professor of cello at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University from 1958 until recently.  He also had served as principal cellist of many major symphony orchestras: Chicago, the Metropolitan Opera, Dallas, Budapest, and the Budapest Philharmonic.

An obituary of Starker was published in the New York Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/30/arts/music/janos-starker-master-cellist-dies-at-88.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The Wall Street Journal called Starker’s death “the end of cello’s golden age.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324266904578461103567260348.html

Uri Vardi, cello professor at the UW-Madison School of Music and the artistic director of the NSCI, who studied at Indiana with Starker from 1972-1975, said  Starker helped him to confront the gaps in his performance and cover the pedagogical topics required for mastery. “After three years, I had an amazingly clear view of how to continue to grow as a cellist and of what professional teaching meant,” he said. With Starker’s recommendation, Vardi then entered the Yale Masters program with Aldo Parisot.

Janos Starker at Eva Janzer conference Bloomington, IN 2004
Janos Starker at the Eva Janzer conference in Bloomington, Indiana, 2004.

Vardi maintained contact with Starker throughout his life and found him always supportive of former students and cellists everywhere.

In 1996, Starker came to Madison for a residency in which he conducted a cello master class and performed a duo recital with Vardi which included the Boccherini Sonata for two cellos. A recording of their Boccherini performance is available at this website:

https://uwmadison.box.com/s/1dwu4ihkjq6q99wi37o9

Starker also contributed to the formation of the Wisconsin Cello Society, founded in 2000.

To commemorate Starker’s life and mark his loss, participants in the National Summer Cello Institute will give a concert in his honor on Sunday, June 9th at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.  Entitled “A Tribute to Janos Starker,” the program will feature two sarabands of Bach, duos by Bartok, David Popper’s Requiem for three cellos and piano (a cello choir version), Julius Klengel’s Hymnus for twelve cellos, and an arrangement by Laszlo Varga of Bach’s 5th Cello Suite for cello choir.  Additionally a video interview of Starker filmed in 2012 and excerpts of IU’s 75th Birthday Tribute will be shown. Performers will include Vardi, cellist and professor Timothy Eddy of the Juilliard School and the Orion Quartet, as well as about twenty cellists from this year’s cello institute.

Called the “King of Cellists” in Joyce Geeting’s 2008 biography, Starker was born on July 5, 1924 in Budapest, Hungary, the third son of Sandor and Margit Starker.  His older brothers were violinists so his parents gave him a cello.  Deemed a child prodigy at an early age, Starker gave his professional debut at age 14.

World War II intervened and by its end all of the family had been interned in Nazi concentration camps.  Starker and his parents survived.  Working his way to Paris as a tradesman after Liberation, Starker was able to resume a career as a professional cellist.  His breakthrough came in 1947 performing Zoltan Kodaly’s Sonata for Solo Cello.  His recording of the sonata, previously thought unplayable, won him the Grand Prix du Disque and international fame.

Soon after this success, Starker immigrated to the United States.  He held principal cellist positions with major symphony orchestras and in 1958 accepted the teaching position at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.  Along with teaching, Starker embarked on a career as a concert soloist performing solo with the world’s major symphonies and in chamber recitals world-wide.

Over the next 30 years, he recorded over 165 works for cello on labels such as Angel, Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, London Mercury, and RCA Victor, among others.   His recorded works include the major cello repertoire.

Early in his teaching career, Starker published An Organized Method of String Playing and in 2004 a memoir, The World of Music According to Starker (Indiana University Press).

“Starker was the perfect combination of a great artist/performer and an extremely dedicated teacher who felt that his main mission in life was to teach,” says Vardi, adding that Starker understood what professional cello playing entailed.  With a surgeon’s ability to diagnose and cut to the core of a cellist’s problem, Starker was very direct in his remarks and instruction.  Though his comments could be painful to the recipient, they were the essential tools needed for improvement.

Video from Medicitv.com

Vardi’s path to Starker came through the recommendation of Gabriel Magyar, cellist of the Hungarian String Quartet. Vardi met Magyar in 1972 in a summer festival in Holland.  Magyar  described the crux of Starker’s teaching method and philosophy:  It is not enough to be an intuitive performer, the essential method of playing the instrument–the physical requirements, musicality, phrasing– must be consciously known and understood by the cellist.  It was this concept of the combined importance of performance and teaching  that resonated with Vardi.

In 1979 at Indiana University, Starker established the Eva Janzer Memorial Cello Center to honor and promote comradeship among cellists internationally.

Starker’s lifetime achievements are numerous, and include performance, teaching and mentoring awards, including the Tracy M. Sonneborn Award for distinction in teaching at Indiana,  five honorary doctorates and the title of Honorary Professor of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.  He is considered one of the greatest cellists and teachers of the cello in history.

For more information about the National Summer Cello Institute, see  http://www.yourbodyisyourstrad.com/main/2013_National_Summer_Cello_Institute.html

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