Everyone’s turning out for Isaac Stern’s centenary

Everyone’s turning out for Isaac Stern’s centenary


norman lebrecht

November 21, 2019

From the BSO’s Tanglewood announcement:

Tanglewood honors the 100th anniversary of Isaac Stern’s birth with a weekend-long celebration, July 24-26


Tanglewood’s 2020 season honors the 100th anniversary of legendary American violinist Isaac Stern’s birth (July 21, 1920) with a weekend-long celebration, July 24-26, featuring six of the world’s most acclaimed violinists performing works closely associated with Mr. Stern’s 65-year career as one of the most preeminent artists of the 20th century. Stern’s relationship with the BSO began in January 1948,
when he made debut with the orchestra performing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with Serge Koussevitzky conducting. He made his Tanglewood debut that summer and continued to perform regularly at Symphony Hall and Tanglewood for nearly 50 years. The BSO’s weekend of performances is the culmination of a season-long celebration of the centennial of Mr. Stern’s birth.

On Friday, July 24, Andris Nelsons and the BSO open the Stern weekend with the Tanglewood Gala,
featuring violinist Augustin Hadelich in Beethoven’s Romance No. 1 in G, for violin and orchestra (which
Stern performed with the BSO in 1965) and Dutilleux’s L’Arbre des songes, for violin and orchestra, a
work written for and dedicated to Stern. Maestro Nelsons and the BSO close the gala program with
Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.
On Saturday, July 25, Midori joins the BSO and conductor Constantinos Carydis for a program featuring
Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s “Symposium”). Stern gave the world premiere of Serenade with
Bernstein and the Israel Philharmonic in 1954, and the following year gave the U.S. premiere
performances at with the BSO and Charles Munch. Mr. Carydis also leads the BSO in Beethoven’s
Symphony No. 7.
The celebration of Isaac Stern’s 100th birthday wraps up with a star-studded BSO performance
featuring violinists Joshua Bell, Pamela Frank, Vadim Gluzman, and Nancy Zhou, cellists Jian
Wang and Steven Isserlis, and pianist Jeremy Denk, under the direction of Isaac Stern’s
sons—conductors David and Michael Stern. The concert opens with J.S. Bach’s Concerto in D minor for
two violins featuring Pamela Frank and Nancy Zhou (Ms. Zhou was the 2018 winner of the Shanghai
Isaac Stern International Violin Competition). Cellist Jian Wang—who, as a young prodigy, was featured
in the documentary From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China—performs Tchaikovsky’s Andante
cantabile. The afternoon closes with one of Stern’s signature works—Beethoven’s Triple
Concerto—performed by Jeremy Denk, Joshua Bell, and Steven Isserlis. Further program details for the
July 25 and 26 performances will be announced at a later date

As part of the celebration, the Tanglewood Learning Institute will host a special Stern @ 100 Weekend,
presented in conjunction with the weekend’s Shed programming. The TLI Weekend will explore cultural
diplomacy here and abroad, leadership in the arts, and musical collaboration. Sessions include a
leadership in the arts panel discussion with Mark Volpe, Eunice and Julian Cohen BSO President and
CEO, and others, an open rehearsal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and a TLI-TMC OpenStudio
piano trios master class led by Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma, in honor of the incredible legacy of the
Istomin-Stern-Rose Trio. For further information about Stern @ 100 Weekend programs and activities,
visit www.tli.org.



  • Casa santos says:

    The layout SNAFU in this article made it unreadable.

  • M.Arnold says:

    Not sure if I should post this but…Back in the late 50’s when I was a (non-music) student at Columbia U, I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and became friends w/ a number of NY (Juilliard) musicians. One good acquaintance was the violinist Berl Senofsky who had recently won the Queen Elizabeth competition.He told me he hated to tour so he gave up a career as a major soloist and took a long time teaching position at Peabody along with his friend Leon Fleischer. One day I ran into Berl on the street and he told me he had just gotten off the phone w/ Heifetz (one of the Queen Elizabeth judges who liked Berl a great deal).Berl said, and I quote, the last thing Heifitz said to him was, “don’t forget to practice scales or you’ll play like Isaac.” In the course of their conversation, Berl said that Heifetz referred to Stern as “a whore”.

    • Mark says:

      Heifetz doesn’t appear as a judge on the website of the Queen Elizabeth competition. Perhaps the records on the website are incomplete ?

      • M. Arnold says:

        If so, I’m probably wrong about Heifetz being a judge.Senofsky won the competition sometime in the mid-50’s and Heifetz was a strong supporter of his playing.

        • esfir ross says:

          Second price was given to Yulian Sitkovetsky-the most promising violinist from USSR, the greatest talent that died age 33. Being first to YS mean what an outstanding violinist Berl S. was.

        • fflambeau says:

          You don’t seem to understand that the factual inaccuracy completely undercuts the veracity of your “story”. And what Senofsky said is 2nd hand.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      Something about Stern seemed to set Heifetz off. When Herbert Axelrod wrote his biography of Heifetz (which could fairly be called fawning) and rather casually mentioned, as part of a mere photo caption as I recall, the fairly self-evident fact that Heifetz didn’t have Stern’s wide and deep circle of friendships in the worlds of music, politics, and beyond, Heifetz was so incensed that he sued Axelrod.

      Senofsky won the QE of Belgium competition in 1955 (beating out the astonishing virtuoso Julian Sitkovetsky who took second). In common with Mark, I also do not believe Heifetz was a juror. But I would fully believe that Heifetz admired Senofsky – if for no other reason than that Senofsky could (and did) dare to play a notorious version of Paganini’s “Moto Perpetuo” in fingered octaves, which most fiddlers would either find unthinkable or something to be confined to the privacy of the practice room as finger strengthening material.

      Stern did his reputation little good by continuing to play, and record, well past his prime. But I’d never sneer at his technical abilities at his best, and for those who do, I hope you’ve heard Stern’s 78 rpm era recordings of the Tchaikovsky and Wieniawski No. 2 concertos, and his first LP recordings of the Prokofiev Concertos. He was still splendid when he re-did the Prokofievs with Ormandy in stereo. He should never, ever have recorded them a third time. And that can be said of so many of his “remakes.”

      • Greg Bottini says:

        You hit the nail on the head, there David – Stern was one of the greatest when he was in his prime. You and I have many of his mono and early stereo Columbia recordings to attest to that.
        But at some point, he stopped practicing, just like Heifetz said. His tone became scratchy, his intonation became approximate, and his rhythmic accuracy became looser.
        Pavarotti did the same thing (vocally of course, not violinistically). He stopped practicing, and that beautiful, expressive, liquid-toned voice became a shadow of what it was.
        Rubinstein used to say that if he missed one day of practice, he would notice it, two days and his wife would notice it, three days and the audience would notice it.
        The moral is: keep practicing, people!

    • fflambeau says:

      An interesting ‘story’ with factual inaccuracies.

      Plus, is it a wonder that two leading violinsts may not have liked each other? But in my own opinion, Stern did not have a huge ego; Heifetz may have had one.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Stern did not have a huge ego?
        That’s news to me and every other person who had any dealings with him whatsoever.
        You ought to study up on him, guy (or gal).

  • Has-been says:

    Without Stern’s extraordinary campagne to save Carnegie Hall we would not have the wonderful Carnegie we have today.

  • Nick2 says:

    In the 1980s Stern presented a number of chamber concerts under the title Isaac Stern and Friends. Three were part of the opening Festival at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall in 1987. Three others were part of the opening Festival of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in 1989.

    It is true that Ax and Ma were involved in those concerts. But in the upcoming celebrations where are the other featured ‘friends’ – violinists Cho Liang-lin and Young Uk-kim, or the superb violist Nobuko Imai? Where indeed is arguably the most celebrated of the later younger generation of prodigies whose careers he promoted, Sarah Chang?

    And of the older generation, no contribution from either Itzhak Perlman or Pinchas Zukerman who Stern frequently claimed he discovered and arranged with Sol Hurok that they be brought to the USA?

    With a week devoted to Stern, having no contribution from such close former associates surely seems – well – odd.

    • NYMike says:

      “And of the older generation, no contribution from either Itzhak Perlman or Pinchas Zukerman who Stern frequently claimed he discovered and arranged with Sol Hurok that they be brought to the USA?” Since I knew them both as young Juilliard students, I find it odd that Hurok would’ve been involved that early.

      • Nick2 says:

        Stern told me whilst we were on a bullet train between Osaka and Tokyo that he had ‘discovered’ both Perlman and Zukerman. Both were only around 12 or so at the time. He then went to Hurok, he told me, informed Hurok about the youngsters and said it was important they come to the USA for the best tuition. Since the families had little money, he told Hurok that he had to give the families $100 per week each so that they could live in New York. Each could be listed on Hurok’s books, but he, Stern, would exclusively decide which public performances they would play. Both young violinists became Hurok artists.

        Stern was also very much a power behind the later foundation of ICM Artists. After Hurok fired Sheldon Gold, a week later Gold emerged as the President of the newly formed ICM Artists. A number of Hurok musicians including Stern, Perlman and Zukerman joined ICM Artists.

    • freddynyc says:

      In light of certain “details” being made public in recent years perhaps his two most notable Israeli born protégés have chosen to remain lowkey…..?

  • Esther Cavett says:

    It’s a shame Aaron Rosand recently died. It would have been fun to see him play Barber concerto, the piece which Stern stole from him.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I am surprised he is only 100 years old. I first encountered him as a child in the film Fiddler on the Roof, which my parents got a special permission from school for me to go home early to see it in the cinema in Turkey. I always thought of him as older than Bernstein & obviously I was wrong.

  • Bruce says:

    Despite being a less-than-great violinist (IMO), and despite all the stories about him obstructing some people’s careers while promoting others’, he did do two things to commend him to posterity:

    1. Saved Carnegie Hall (as others have noted)
    2. The series of concerti he commissioned for his 60th birthday. He’s no Rostropovich when it comes to getting composers to write music for him, but Dutilleux’s “Arbre des Songes” has gained at least a respected, if minor, place in the repertoire.

  • JamesM says:

    Stern’s bio “My First 79 Years” was written with Chaim Potok and is a good read. A story in it about Furtwangler and conductor Paul Kletzki, who Stern played with and much respected:
    Kletzki (actually Klecki) was a Furt protégé – lived in his house, worked with him etc. When Klecki had to leave for Italy as the Nazi’s came in, he was destitute and living on four bowls of pasta per week. He implored his “friend” Furtwangler to help him (Stern quotes from the letter). Furt replies to Klecki: As a friend I would help you. As a German I cannot.

  • davidrich41 says:

    No tone unSterned then.

  • fflambeau says:

    He was a wonderful person.

    I personally met him (and had dinner with him and his Russian piano accompanist) when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and served on its Union Music Committee. I think he performed at the Wisconsin Union more than anyone in history (until Emmanuel Ax). We had a long talk and he asked tons of questions. I might add that his pianist, Alexander Zakin, was also kind and outgoing despite a language problem (he spoke very little English and I speak no Russian) and that he too was a consummate musician.

    Stern loved students, the university life, and especially, public institutions. He was not intimidating, not domineering, graceful, easy to speak with, a true Mensch. I might add that he and his pianist played for the small group of us (maybe 15 mostly students) after dinner.

  • Edgar Self says:

    It is a shock to read of his centenary. At his best,standing stock still, feet wide apart and sawing wood, he was impressive, especially with Haydn’s concerto in C. He deserves credit for saving Carnegie Hall from demolition, and the long variations movement of Tchaikovsky’s trio he recorded with Horowitz and Rostropovich is a valued souvenir of tt.