Isaac Stern


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Isaac Stern (Ukrainian: Стерн Ісаак; July 21, 1920 – September 22, 2001) was a Ukrainian-born violin virtuoso. He was renowned for his recordings and for discovering new musical talent.




Isaac Stern was born into a Jewish family in Kremenetz, Ukraine. He was fourteen months old when his family moved to San Francisco. He received his first music lessons from his mother before enrolling at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1928 where he studied until 1931 before going on to study privately with Louis Persinger.[1] He returned to the San Francisco Conservatory to study with Naoum Blinder for five years. He said he owed the most to Blinder.[2] At his public début on February 18, 1936, aged 15, he played the Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor of Camille Saint-Saëns with the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Pierre Monteux. Reflecting on his background Stern once memorably quipped that cultural exchanges between the US and Soviet Russia were simple affairs: "They send us their Jews from Odessa, and we send them our Jews from Odessa."[3]

Within musical circles, Stern became renowned both for his recordings and for championing certain younger players. Among his discoveries were cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Jian Wang, and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. He also played a major role in saving New York City's Carnegie Hall from demolition in 1960, which later had its main auditorium named in his honor.[4]

Among his many recordings, Stern recorded concertos by Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, and Vivaldi and modern works by Barber, Bartók, Stravinsky, Bernstein and Dutilleux. The Dutilleux concerto, entitled L'Arbre des Songes ['The Tree of Dreams'] was a 1985 commission by Stern himself. He also dubbed actors' violin-playing in several films, one of which was Fiddler on the Roof.

Stern served as musical advisor for the 1946 film, Humoresque, about a rising violin star and his patron, played respectively by John Garfield and Joan Crawford.

In his autobiography written with Chaim Potok, My First 79 Years, he cites Nathan Milstein and Arthur Grumiaux as major influences on his style of playing.

He won Grammys for his work with Eugene Istomin and Leonard Rose in their famous chamber music trio.

In 1979, eight years after Richard Nixon made the first official visit by a US President to the country, the People's Republic of China offered Stern and pianist David Golub an unprecedented invitation to tour the country. While there, he collaborated with the China Central Symphony Society (now China National Symphony) under the direction of Chinese Conductor Li Delun. Their visit was filmed and resulted in the Oscar-winning documentary, From Mao to Mozart.

In 1987, Stern received the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

His November 1948 marriage to ballerina Nora Kaye ended in divorce in 1949. On August 17, 1951, Stern married Vera Lindenblit. They had three children together. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1994 after 43 years of marriage. On January 23, 1997, Stern married his third wife, Linda Reynolds, who survived him.

Isaac Stern died in New York City, New York on September 22, 2001 of congestive heart failure at 81.


Stern's favorite instrument was the Ysaÿe Guarneri del Gesù, one of the violins produced by the Cremonese luthier Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù.[5]

Amongst other instruments, Stern played the 'Kruse-Vormbaum' Stradivarius (1728), the 'ex-Stern' Bergonzi (1733), the 'Stern-Alard' Guarneri del Gesù (1737), a Michele Angelo Bergonzi (1739-1757), the 'Arma Senkrah' Guadagnini (1750), a Giovanni Guadagnini (1754), a J. B. Vuillaume copy of the "Panette" Guarneri del Gesu of 1737 (c.1850), and the 'ex-Nicolas I' J.B. Vuillaume (1840). He also owned two contemporary instruments by Samuel Zygmuntowicz.