Isaac Stern – a timeline

1920
1921
1928
1930
1937
1943
1946
1948
1950
1951
1953
1954
1956
1960
1961
1961-1991
1964
1965
1967
1971
1973
1974
1975
1977
1979
1980
1981
1982
1984
1985
1986
1987
1990
1991
1992
1993
1995
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001

1920

Born in Krimieniecz, Poland (now the Ukraine)
1920

1921

With parents Clara Jaffe and Solomon Stern, emigrates to U.S., settling in San Francisco.

1921

1928

Begins violin studies with Naoum Blinder

1928

1930

Makes San Francisco Symphony debut, playing Bach Double Violin Concerto with Blinder.
(Isaac Stern and his teacher, San Francisco Symphony concertmaster Naoum Blinder)

Photo : San Francisco Symphony
1930

1937

Debut in Town Hall, New York

1937

1943

Debut at Carnegie Hall, New York

1943

1946

Musical advisor and played soundtrack for feature film Humoresque.

1946

1948

Married dancer Nora Kaye. The marriage lasted 6 months.

1948

1950

Premiered William Schuman’s violin concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Charles Munch.

In the photo below the Conductor Charles Munch with Isaac Stern, circa 1950.

Photo : Erika Stone
1950

1951

Married Vera Lindenblit.
They had 3 children Shira (1956), Michael (1959) and David (1963

1951

1953

Plays the part of Eugene Ysaÿe in feature film, Tonight We Sing.

1953

1954

Premiered Bernstein’s Serenade at La Fenice, with the Israel Philharmonic.

Photo : Library of Congress Music Division
1954

1956

First American artist to tour the Soviet Union to promote cultural exchange.  At each concert, Mr. Stern spoke in Russian to the audience. He would become an revered and iconic figure in the Soviet Union.

1956

1960

Stern and his wife Vera lead the effort to save Carnegie Hall from demolition.  Organize the “Citizen Committee to Save Carnegie Hall” consisting of artists, politicians and business people to galvanize the NYC government into action.

1960

1961

American premiere of Bartok Violin Concerto No. 1.

1961

1961-1991

GRAMMY AWARDS

Stern receives 7 Grammy Awards and 29 nominations.

1991 – BEST CHAMBER MUSIC PERFORMANCE
Brahms: Piano Quartets (Op. 25 & 26)

1981 – BEST CLASSICAL PERFORMANCE – INSTRUMENTAL SOLOIST OR SOLOISTS (WITH ORCHESTRA)
Isaac Stern 60th Anniversary Celebration

1977 BEST CLASSICAL ALBUM
Concert Of The Century

1970 – BEST CHAMBER MUSIC PERFORMANCE
Beethoven: The Complete Piano Trios

1964 – BEST PERFORMANCE – INSTRUMENTAL SOLOIST OR SOLOISTS (WITH ORCHESTRA)
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1 In D

1962 – BEST CLASSICAL PERFORMANCE – INSTRUMENTAL SOLOIST OR SOLOISTS (WITH ORCHESTRA)
Stravinsky: Violin Concerto In D

1961 – BEST CLASSICAL PERFORMANCE – INSTRUMENTAL SOLOIST (WITH ORCHESTRA)
Bartók: Violin Concerto No. 1

1961-1991

1964

Advisor and the chair of the American-Israel Foundation.

Isaac Stern was inducted to the National Arts Council, establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts.
(Swearing-in session with President Johnson)

1964

1965

Serves as an advisor for the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts

1965

1967

Performs with Leonard Bernstein and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at Mount Scopus in the days after the Six Day War

1967

1971

Played the soundtrack for the feature film  Fiddler on the Roof.

1971

1973

Co-founded Jerusalem Music Center, which identifies and nurtures the finest musical talent in Israel.

During the Yom Kippur War, Stern came to Israel on a humanitarian visit, playing in hospitals and visiting the wounded

1973

1974

Premiered George Rochberg Violin Concerto, with Pittsburgh Symphony and Donald Johns. Recorded with André Previn and Pittsburgh Symphony.

.

1974

1975

Receives the first ever Albert Schweitzer Award for a life’s work “dedicated to music and devoted to humanity”

1975

1977

Premiered Penderecki’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and recorded it with the Minnesota Orchestra and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. The concerto is dedicated to him.

1977

1979

One year after full diplomatic relations between the USA and China are restored, Stern travels to China to engage in musical dialogue and masterclasses.  The documentary “Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China” is filmed.

1979

1980

Establishes “Musical Encounters” for chamber musicians.  A series of ongoing workshops led by Isaac Stern and his esteemed colleagues to coach talented chamber ensembles at the Jerusalem Music Center.
(Isaac Stern with Leon Fleischer, David Finckel, and Larry Dutton)

1980

1981

“Mao to Mozart” is awarded an Oscar as best documentary film

1981

1982

Receives Sonning Award (Denmark).

1982

1984

Receives Kennedy Center Honor.
(Washington, DC: President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan in East Room ceremony at the White House, to honor the 1984 Kennedy Center honorees. Left to right are Gian Carlo Menotti, Arthur Miller, Lena Horne, Danny Kaye and Isaac Stern. December 2, 1984)

1984

1985

Premiered Henri Dutilleux violin concerto (L’arbre does somges/ Tree of Dreams) with L’Orchestre National de France at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and Lorin Maazel. The concerto is dedicated to him.

1985

1986

With advocacy and fundraising, full restoration of Carnegie Hall is complete.

Premiered Peter Maxwell Davies violin concerto with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with André Previn at the St. Magnus Festival in the Orkney Island. The concerto is dedicated to him.

In the photo below Peter Maxwell Davies and Isaac Stern in St Magnus Cathedral. 1986

Photo : Gunnie Moberg
1986

1987

Receives Wolf Prize (Israel).

Receives Lifetime Achievement Grammy.

Receives Emmy for Outstanding Individual in Classical Music.

1987

1990

Receives Commandeur de la Legion d’ honneur (France).

Photo : Marion Kalter
1990

1991

Played Bach (Saraband from the d minor Partita) in the Jerusalem Theater during an air raid for the audience who remained to hear music during tense times.

1991

1992

Received Honorary Doctorate in Music from Harvard University.
He also held honorary degrees from the Jiulliard and Curtis Schools of Music and from Columbia, Yale, New York, Bucknell, Johns Hopkins, Oxford, Tel Aviv and Hebrew Universities.

1992

1993

First chamber music workshop led by Isaac Stern and colleagues at Carnegie Hall.
(With the Cambiata String Quartet during a Carnegie Hall Professional Training Workshop)

Photo : Steve J. Sherman
1993

1995

Married Linda Reynolds.

1995

1997

Carnegie Hall’s Main Hall is renamed “Isaac Stern Auditorium”.

The Japanese government conferred on him the Third Rank of The Order of the Rising Sun in recognition of his high degree of artistry and passion for educating the next generation.

1997

1998

Having publicly stated that he would never perform in Germany after World War 2, he visited the country for the first time, and while he still did not perform, he spent his time coaching young musicians. He called it “communication as healing”.
(Linda and Isaac Stern in Germany)

1998

1999

Makes a cameo appearance of himself In feature film Music of the Heart.

Co-Authors with Chaim Potok an autobiography, “My First 79 Years”.

1999

2000

Isaac Stern is awarded the 2000 Polar Music Prize (Sweden) ” for a unique and consummate artistry distinguished by a personal musicianship without compare for half a century, for his pioneering achievement on behalf of young people the world over, for his patient and energetic commitment to preserving and developing places where music is played, and for his uncompromising attitude concerning the humanistic power of music”.

2000

2001

September 22, 2001, Passes away in New York.


Remembering Isaac

By Gino Francesconi

Isaac Stern in his New York studio, photo by Arnold Newman

Isaac Stern was born on July 21, 1920, in Kremenets—at the time, a city in Poland, now in today’s Ukraine—and immigrated to San Francisco with his family when he was 10 months old. Isaac was not a child prodigy on the violin—in fact, he didn’t touch a violin until he was eight, primarily inspired by his best friend who played the instrument. But it was obvious from the start that Isaac had an extraordinary talent. His first public performance was at nine, his recital debut at 11, and at 17 he performed the Brahms Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony—a concert that was broadcast across the country. At 23, he made his Carnegie Hall debut to rave reviews.

Isaac toured nearly nonstop, performing more concerts in front of more people than any violinist of his day, creating (as he called it) “a network of friends.” He premiered, commissioned, and recorded more new works than any other violinist in history. In addition to his artistry, the husband and father of three also gave generously and passionately to numerous causes. His agent, Sol Hurok, complained that when Isaac wasn’t on stage, he was on the phone. Conductor George Szell lamented Isaac could have been the greatest violinist after Jascha Heifetz, but he was “wasting” his time on so many worthy causes. And worthy indeed: Isaac was a founding member of the National Council on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, and Jerusalem Music Centre; president of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation; a mentor to many young musicians, including Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma, Midori, Itzhak Perlman, and Pinchas Zukerman; and the instrumental force behind the saving of Carnegie Hall.

Isaac Stern was 39 when he led the successful campaign to save the Hall from demolition in 1960. After convincing the City of New York to purchase the building, Carnegie Hall became the first structure in the city saved for its historical significance. Isaac envisioned that the Hall could serve as a national center for music education and the training of young musicians. The nonprofit Carnegie Hall Corporation was formed, and Isaac was its president for more than 40 years. In 1997, the Main Hall was named in his honor.

The hub of Isaac’s activities was his office—a large apartment on Central Park West. Everywhere one looked, a visitor’s eyes landed on an achievement: Grammy Awards on bookshelves; an Emmy on the mantle; an Academy Award on a table; artwork for a recording cover signed by Marc Chagall; dozens of photos on the walls, many autographed by such luminaries as actress Joan Crawford, composer Jean Sibelius, Secretary-General of the United Nations U Thant, and presidents from Kennedy onwards. There were numerous keys to cities, honorary doctorates from schools like Oxford and Juilliard, boxes of medals from the Presidential Medal of Freedom to France’s Legion of Honour, stacks of correspondences, and music neatly stored in cabinets and piled on the grand piano. Large filing cabinets filled one bedroom and boxes of files filled other rooms. And the phone lines never stopped ringing: “Mr. Stern, Senator Javits is on line two.” Then there was the privilege of seeing the temperature-controlled closet that held the priceless violins and bows, including the Guarneri del Gesù that belonged to the great Eugène Ysaÿe, who had inscribed the inside in French: “This del Gesù was the faithful companion of my life.” Isaac said he would add, “Mine, too.”

Isaac Stern died on September 22, 2001, at the age of 81. His tombstone in Gaylordsville, Connecticut, is marked simply: “Isaac Stern, Fiddler.”

— Gino Francesconi is director of the Carnegie Hall Archives and Rose Museum.

This article appears courtesy of Carnegie Hall; Clive Gillinson, Executive and Artistic Director

It was originally published in Carnegie Hall’s September/October 2019 Playbill.


Musical Ambassador

When Isaac Stern was 36 years old, he toured Soviet Russia in 1956, which marked the first time he would act as a cultural ambassador. He played in a number of venues and, significantly, he fielded questions from the stage after his performance in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. That he did so in Russian, as a representative of the American school of violinists, was an act that endeared him to Russian musical audiences immediately. Upon his return to the United States, he spoke about the music worlds on the two sides of the Cold War. He talked much more about his respect and admiration for the colleagues and audience members he met during his visit rather than focusing on the material differences between the musicians in the US and Russia.

In an interview in 1956 for WQXR he said: “ To say I am an expert on all Russian problems would be fallacious…but from what I saw, the work that has been done to support musical efforts is an answer not to a political credo, but to a need of the people themselves. They live with music… This must be emphasized: … we in the West have a responsibility to see that they know about us as much as is humanely possible, in terms that cannot be perverted by a different political intent. This is the thing which I think we can say to them: this is what we believe in… this is our dignity and our belief in the human spirit in terms that you don’t have to say in words, [but] by playing music.” 

His deep belief in the power of music guided him through his life and his career. In Israel he heard and nurtured the talent of a whole generation growing up in a new country, trying to find its voice and identity. While his decision to remain on stage to play Bach to an audience wearing gas masks during a missile attack in 1991has become his most famous moment there, it is the constancy of his yearly visits, listening and working with new talents that marked his most enduring contribution to the country. His creation of the Jerusalem Music Center remains the living testament to this legacy.

His visit to China in 1979 marked the beginning of the country’s departure from the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and its reopening to the world, which also brought a renaissance of cultural activity. His desire to go to China at that period was driven by an intense desire to understand a society that had been closed off. His approach was not one of demagoguery to explain western music; rather, he wanted to connect to the musicians he heard through the language that has no barriers, and in doing so, he managed to share his deepest credo, which still resonates there today. The gratitude is palpable 40 years later. If musical ambassadorship means true exchange and mutual respect, then Isaac Stern personified it at the highest level.In the academy award winning movie “From Mao to Mozart” he proclaimed, “if I have been critical, it is only to share…my faith, my abiding belief in both music and young people, and I believe between the two of them the world is a better place. And if I have left that behind, I will be very grateful.”

Isaac Stern in his NYC apartment


Activist

Stern the musician was also very much Stern the activist, focusing his energies on several important causes. He is best know as having spearheaded the saving of Carnegie Hall when it was slated for demolition in 1960, later becoming president of the institution. Stern’s ability to rally people to the cause of teaching music to young people led to his push to require teaching classical music to students in all New York public schools. As a result, he was also instrumental, with colleague Arnold Steinhardt, in bringing the groundbreaking violin program from East Harlem, Opus 118 to Carnegie for Fiddlefest, which allowed the program to continue in public schools. The story became the movie, “Music of the Heart.” Stern said, in a 1999 interview with Leonard Lopate of WNYC, “The whole idea, which I did not realize was driving me… I did things instinctively…I felt these things were important. That the quality of life depended to a great degree on how young people and young minds were given the opportunity to recognize what beauty there can be in creativity, which opens their own minds.” 

Isaac Stern Performing to a Gas-Mask-Donning Audience in Jerusalem during Iraqi Missile Attack, Gulf War 1991

Isaac Stern always had a strong connection to Israel. He became the founder and chairman of the Jerusalem Music Center, giving master classes and workshops and encouraging other artists to join him in his efforts as coach and mentor. In the same vein, he became president and chairman of the Board of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, which gave scholarships and instruments to young Israelis studying both in Israel and abroad. Many of today’s major talents were early recipients.

Although Russian by birth and cultural ambassador to Russia during the Cold War, he  later boycotted the Soviet regime,  campaigning against Soviet opposition to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1974. He returned after 1997 with the dissolution of the USSR, proclaiming, “I am glad to meet the Muscovites again.”

Stern would always quip: “I don’t worry about the Minister of Culture, but  I do worry about the culture of the Minister.” His passion for promoting culture in the United States led to his organization and founding of the National Council on the Arts, a program that evolved into the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) under President Lyndon Johnson.  “We can sing, act, pray and do many things with music and all without one word. That is its real magic.

Stern voiced his political opinions in support of a boycott against a Greek military junta in 1967, and in deference to survivors and victims of the Holocaust, never played in Germany.

Isaac Stern, Mstislav Rostropovitch, Leontine Price, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Zubin Mehta during the concert for the 30th anniversary of the birth of’ Israel, Jerusalem,  12th May 1978 (Photo by Alain MINGAM)

Mentor

Among all of Isaac Stern’s lifelong passions and commitments, none was more compelling, had a longer impact, or was more gratifying to him, than his mentorship of young people and the next generation of young musicians. He never held any official post, either privately or at a school, as a formal educator; and yet, he was an unusually effective communicator and insightful teacher, both technically and musically.  “Don’t use music to play the violin,” he would always preach; “use the violin to make music.” This philosophy best explains why his profound influence remains with so many young musicians, and not just with violinists. The list of the names whose lives intersected with his speaks for itself: Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman, Yo-Yo Ma, Midori, Vadim Gluzman, Cho-Liang Lin, Sarah Chang, Jian Wang, Shlomo Mintz, Yefim Bronfman, Jaime Laredo, Miriam Fried, Sergiu Luca – and those few only scratch the surface. In master classes, in private encounters, in chamber music workshops, he always had time to listen, to advise, and to encourage. His intent was abundantly clear when he said, “ It’s the most wonderful thing in the world to see young people, to touch them with music …to open their ears, to make them hear not what they’re doing but what is possible, what might be done, what might happen, and that they can do it.”

Lincoln Center, New York, September 24, 1980. From left, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta and Isaac Stern (Photo by Bernard Gotfryd)


His belief to pass along to the next generation as much as he could was an intrinsic part of who he was as a musician.
He was grateful to his formative teacher Naoum Blinder, the concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony, for having taught him what he considered to be the cardinal imperative of good studying, and by extension, good teaching. “My goal,” he always said, “was to try to teach young people how to teach themselves.” In the end, he was always consistent, in his playing and in his instruction, “to find the music between the notes.”

In addition to his keen sense for discovering talent, he was also focused on transmitting his core values. To the New York Times in 1979, he offered this assessment: “Most people, particularly some of the young ones today, don’t remember my apprentice years… I played seven concerts the first year, fourteen the next. I traveled in upper berths in trains. I practiced day and night. What did I know from Carnegie Hall, from arts councils, from big interviews? I worked my head off. Do they think that went for naught? I had a tough, hardening apprenticeship. It taught me the value of values.”

He approached the next generation with complete generosity and without any competitiveness. One year before he passed away, he affirmed his role as a mentor:“ I first heard Yo-Yo Ma when he was six years old; I first heard Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman when they were 10 years old. I’ve always heard gifted young people at all times and all over the world. So it became a natural thing, and I think later on I realized it was much more. It took many years for me to realize why I was involved. It’s just a sense of being grateful for what I have been lucky to have.”

Yo-Yo Ma and Isaac Stern onstage at Orchestra Hall in Chicago in November 1986, during rehearsals for performances and CBS recording of Brahms’s Double Concerto with Claudio Abbado and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (photo by Jim Steere, courtesy of the Rosenthal Archives of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association)

ISAAC STERN and Carnegie Hall

By Gino Francesconi

Imagine you are passing a tall skyscraper on the corner of West 57thand Seventh Avenue and you see a plaque upon which is written, “On this site once stood Carnegie Hall, one of the most famous concert Halls in the world.” Today, that is fantasy. Many people are unaware that, in 1960, Carnegie Hall was nearly demolished.

Isaac Stern stepped in at the last minute and did something no one else had ever done. He convinced the City of New York to purchase a building for its historical significance. The general mindset at the time was that old buildings came down and new ones replaced them. Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts was going to be the greatest cultural center in the world. Carnegie Hall was 70 years old and in need of repair.

Isaac Stern photographed on stage during the making of the documentary, Carnegie Hall: A Place of Dreams, in 1990. Peter Rosen – Copyright: © Carnegie Hall Archives

Isaac couldn’t bear the thought of Carnegie Hall being destroyed. “Like tearing down La Scala and replacing it with a garage,” he said.

The City of New York created the nonprofit Carnegie Hall Corporation with Isaac as its president. Just as Andrew Carnegie’s vision chose the location that seemed far uptown at the time, Isaac Stern had ideas of what Carnegie Hall could become. He saved it and then set wheels in motion to change it forever.

For its first 70 years, Carnegie Hall was simply a rental venue. After the Hall was saved in 1960, Isaac and his Citizens Committee to Save Carnegie Hall, chose board members, such as Marian Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt, hired staff, some of whom began producing the Hall’s own events and children’s concerts. Discussions for much-needed renovations began, more funds were raised, and the Hall’s first endowment was created.

In the 41 years Isaac was president of Carnegie Hall one-third of the events became Carnegie Hall presentations, children’s concerts were joined by a series of Professional Training Workshops that pointed the way to today’s Weill Music Institute. Since then, the entire building has been renovated and reclaimed in ways not even Andrew Carnegie himself could have imagined.

Gino Francesconi is director of the Carnegie Hall Archives and Rose Museum.

Link to Isaac Stern Centenary page on Carnegie Hall website:

https://www.carnegiehall.org/Events/Season-Highlights/Isaac-Stern-Centenary