Janos Starker

Starker.  Janos Starker that is.  Born in Budapest in 1924, Janos Starker is a Hungarian American cellist who emigrated to the States in 1948.  He was a child prodigy, and grew to have a career ranging the gamut of musical experience:  Orchestral principal under Fritz Reiner, soloist with the world’s greatest orchestras, teacher of masters and prolific recording artist.

His discography is as diverse as it is long.  There, you’ll find the usual suspects: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Dvorak, but you’ll also find quite a bit of music you don’t know.  (Torroba, anyone?  No?  How about Starker playing Starer?)  He was the most recorded cellist at a time when that distinction meant sounding great without digital trickery in post production, or making your fortune recording cross-over repertoire.  (Nothing against it — it’s just a different era.  It’s up to you to decide if sounding awesome on Kodaly Sonata is trickier than sounding awesome alongside Lyle Lovett.)

Starker’s mastery of the cello is unsurpassed, and perhaps most evident in his teaching.  Watching him instruct, it is impossible to escape the scope of his technique.  Here is some context for my non-musician readers.

Many of the best cellists from around the world sought Starker’s tutelage.  Inevitably these gifted musicians lug the most difficult repertoire into their lessons, repertoire that, in Starker’s hands, was light as a feather.  A Starker student bore weekly witness to his remarkable demonstration; his technique was versatile, presenting every possible combination of bowing and fingering while patiently explaining the advantages and disadvantages of each — often talking while playing the extremely difficult passage in question.  Every demonstration was flawless.  Every student left the room humbled.  Some left more humbled than others.

While there was often blood in the water, his teaching nevertheless produced generations of master cellists.  You’ll find them in the personnel of the world’s greatest orchestras, or soloing with those orchestras.  You’ll find them sitting in the world’s greatest string quartets or teaching those string quartets.  You may even find a few writing about him on their blogs, and that is why “‘S’ is for ‘Starker’.”

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