Born on July 5, 1924, in Budapest, Hungary; son of Sandor and Margit Starker; married Eva Uranyi, 1944; divorced; married Rae Busch Goldsmith, 1960; two daughters; two grandchildren. Education: Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, 1961. Memberships: American Federation of Musicians; honorary member, London Royal Academy; honorary president, World Cello Congress of Baltimore, MA. Addresses: Business--School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405-2200.

Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, cellist Janos Starker displayed a talent for musical interpretation that brought him recognition as one of the finest virtuosos of his time. In 1957 connoisseurs and critics concurred that his recording of the complete Bach cello suites established a new standard of performance for those pieces. Later, in March of 1995, a semi-retired Starker put to tape his fifth separate recording of the Bach suites, an unprecedented feat for any string player. He further upheld an undying devotion to music education and brought a new modesty to the classical musician's art with his confident yet unassuming stance during performance.

Janos Starker, the son of Sandor and Margit Starker, was born on July 5, 1924. He was one of three brothers and the only one of the siblings to survive the Second World War. Cello lessons began at age six for Starker, and he performed his first public concert by the age of ten. Already by that time Starker had become engrossed not only in playing his instrument, but also in teaching others. His devotion to helping others to learn to play was a trait that he would carry throughout his lifetime.

In the earliest days of his career, Starker played with the Budapest Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra as principal cellist until 1946. That year he moved to Paris, France, where he worked as a soloist, dividing his time between concert performances and studio recording sessions until 1948. It was in Paris that he completed the world premiere recording of the unaccompanied Sonata Suite by Zoltan Kodaly. The suite, which had been attempted by a meager few cellists, came alive under Starker's bow, and his interpretation of the work earned him a Grand Prix du Disque in 1948 at age 24.

Soon afterward he left France and moved to the United States. Starker's decision to immigrate to the United States in the late 1940s was influenced largely by Antal Dorati, a fellow Hungarian and an orchestral conductor who already was in the United States. After his arrival, Starker played for a time as principal cellist with the Dallas Symphony. Fritz Reiner, then conductor of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, convinced Starker to move to New York City. He joined Reiner's orchestra, again as principal cellist, and later moved to Illinois to join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as principal when Reiner took the helm of that organization in the 1950s. Starker took the oath of United States citizenship in 1953.

In 1958 Starker abandoned the orchestral community to resume work as a soloist. He toured internationally, appearing in an estimated 110 concerts per year during the peak of his career. He spent time also in the recording studio and produced an estimated 150 releases over the span of four decades. Most importantly, Starker joined the faculty of the school of music at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and devoted himself to teaching. His affiliation with Indiana University brought that school to the forefront of music academies and institutions by virtue of his reputation alone. Through his sincere commitment to teaching, he nurtured his students, and many came to prominence in the music world.

In 1951, while sitting as principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Starker spent the early hours of many mornings moonlighting at the Old Period Studio. The studio, a 14th Street church in actuality, set the scene for the first of his five recorded versions of the Bach suites. Starker recorded only the first, third, fourth, and sixth concertos during those early sessions, although he played the entire collection of six suites on four subsequent recordings of the suite--each for a different record label. Starker's subsequent EMI recording in 1957 included the complete collection of the six unaccompanied Bach Suites. Because of Starker's sensitivity in interpreting the suites, these works became his signature compositions; record executives worldwide clamored for versions of the unaccompanied Bach by Starker. With Starker's fourth iteration of the suite recordings on the Sefel label in 1984, the works were digitally mastered for the first time. With his fifth Bach Suites recording, on the RCA Victor label in 1995, Starker by his own admission arrived at a penetrating new comprehension of the inherent drama of the suites.

In June of 1990 Starker signed an exclusive contract with BMG Classics/RCA Victor's Red Seal label. Among his recordings during the final decade of the twentieth century was his initial foray into English music on an album featuring selections from Elgar, Walton, and Delius. David W. Moore in American Record Guidecalled Starker's Elgar, "grim but poetic," and said of the Walton concerto, "even more remarkable: fearlessly assured." In conclusion, Moore adjudged the Delius Caprice and Elegy"a fine encore." His 1990 tribute to cellist and composer David Popper, recorded on Delos, received a Grammy Award nomination from the National Academy for the Recording Arts and Sciences. Also during the 1990s, Starker celebrated his seventieth birthday with the release of a Brahms and Schumann recording featuring Rudolf Buchbinder. Likewise for RCA, Starker recorded Strauss' Don Quixote.

Starker, who established an annual celebration at Indiana University to recognize deserving members of the cello community, was himself honored at that event in 1999 on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday. In his honor the school hosted an unforgettable gala whereby students and colleagues spared no joy in sharing the moment with a beloved professor. The celebration featured a concert with cellist Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the Indiana University Philharmonic Orchestra, plus a "mass cello ensemble" of virtually the entire school under the direction of Emilio Colón. Rostropovich and Starker, arguably the two greatest cellists of the late twentieth century, highlighted the event with a memorable performance marking the first time ever that these two masters shared the same stage.

Even in semi-retirement Starker maintains a meritorious pace, including concert performances and professorial responsibilities. His performance agenda continues at approximately one-half the pace of his earlier career, including an appearance in 2000 with the St. Louis Symphony. Most impressively that year--his seventy-sixth--he set off on a tour of Europe and Asia. During the course of the trip, the full extent of Starker's repertoire was clearly evident. His performances featured concertos from Elgar, Vivaldi, Brahms, Saint-Saens, Dvorak, Haydn, Boccherini, as well as the Konzertstück of Dohnanyi.

Starker, in his devotion to fine music, designed the Starker bridge for cellos. The bridge is distinguished from the standard bridge by the swirled shape of the cutout, which improves the tone by means of cone-shaped holes in the feet of the bridge. The Starker bridge, according to its inventor, makes it easier to achieve a fine tone. Because of his devotion to instruction, he designed a series of music lessons for teaching stringed instruments, which he published in two versions: for cellos and for double bass. The system, called An Organized Method for String Playing, is helpful in particular because it teaches styles and techniques that have served to make Starker's own performances not only unique but also exceptional. His instinctive need to teach and share the benefits of both his talent and his experience resulted in published editions of his own ligatures of the Bach Suites and the Dvorak Concerto. Also he recorded the études of Popper, Grützmacher, and Piatti in a package called "Road to Cello Playing" to present a quasi-ideal for students to strive after in order to better appreciate the full potential of the seemingly rote practice compositions.

According to Starker, there are 70 muscles of the body that must coordinate to realize the optimum sound of the cello, to the exclusion of superfluous gyration. As a result his performances are characterized by a stoic mien with limited physical display--his face remains devoid of expression. With an impeccably controlled, narrow vibrato, his playing generates animated discussion among critics who compare the cellist to the late violinist Jascha Heifetz, not only for the unflinching stance and the absence of pomp and drama in performance, but also for the purity of tone and for the fluid quality of sound. In an article for Internet Cello Society, Robert Battey made note of Starker's virtuosity: "He shows us how to sculpt the sound.... The tone is clean and focused, the interpretations commanding and inevitable, and the technique untouchable."

In an interview with Tim Finholt for Internet Cello Society, Starker in turn defined the purpose of his musical stance, "My goal is to convey a true masterpiece in whatever I play," and commented further, "I am not interested in selling myself, I am selling the piece ... [and would] hope that [emotion] would already be in the piece. I'm not an actor." In testament to Starker's distinguished talent, concertos created expressly for Starker's interpretation have been issued continually by contemporary composers such as Bernard Heiden and by the jazz world's David Baker. Starker performed the debut presentation of a Chou Wen-chung concerto at Carnegie Hall, with Dennis Russell Davies conducting the American Composers Orchestra, and performed the premiere presentations of numerous other pieces as well. Far from an elitist, Starker performs humbly on stages of every ilk, including Broadway and pop. Indeed for Starker, no stage is insignificant nor is any too small. Community orchestra participation is his habit, and he schedules performances with each new season accordingly.

Starker plays an eighteenth-century (Bach era) Gofriller cello. He has contributed articles to assorted publications worldwide and is a member of the American Federation of Musicians. He is an honorary member of the London Royal Academy, honorary President of the World Cello Congress in Baltimore, and a former host of the American Cello Congress.

by Gloria Cooksey

Janos Starker's Career

Principal cellist, Budapest Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra, 1946; soloist, Paris, 1946-48; principal cellist, Dallas Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, 1948-58; international touring, 1958--; Distinguished Professor, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, 1958--; signed with BMG Classics/RCA Victor's Red Seal label, 1990--.

Janos Starker's Awards

Grand Prix du Disque, 1948; George Washington Award, 1972; Herzl Award, 1978; Educational Press Award, 1983; Kodaly Commemorative Medal, 1983; Tracy Sonneborn Award, Indiana University, 1986; Arturo Toscanini Award, 1986; Pro Cultura Hungarica Award, 1992; Governor's Award, State of Indiana, 1995; Sanford Fellow, 1974; Grammy Award, Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (Without Orchestra) for Bach: Suites For Solo Cello Nos. 1-6, 1997; honorary doctorate of music degrees: Chicago Conservatory, Cornell College, East-West University, Williams College, Lawrence University.

Famous Works

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almost 8 years ago

In my opinion, Starker's Bach suites recorded by Sefel when he was around 60 years old, is his finest. Comparing to the Period or Mercury versions, the Sefel playing is more mature. Comparing to the later RCA version, the Sefel is more energetic (RCA was recorded more than a decade later). Of course, Sefel version has decent digital sound. It's TOO BAD sefel version is no longer available!