Childhood & Early Life
Isaac Stern belonged to a Jewish family in Krzemieniec (formerly a part of Poland but now a city of Western Ukraine). His family shifted to the United States and settled in San Francisco when he was barely fourteen months old.
His mother was a professional singer who taught him music. He started to play the piano and violin when he was very young.
In 1928, he enrolled at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where he attended classes till 1931 before taking private lessons from Louis Persinger, an American violinist and pianist. Thereafter, he returned to the San Francisco Conservatory and studied music under the guidance of Naoum Blinder for five years. During this period, he developed interest towards chamber music.
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In February 1936, he played Saint-Sa�ns' Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor under the direction of Pierre Monteux, a French conductor. In Los Angeles, he played the Tchaikovsky concerto under Otto Klemperer.
He came into the limelight for his performance at the Carnegie Hall in January 1943. This show was a huge success and he secured a significant position as a musician of that era. In the same year, he performed for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Dimitri Mitropoulos.
He also performed for the American troops in Iceland, Greenland and the South Pacific from 1943 to 1944.
In 1945, he worked for Columbia records. The next year was a turning point in his music career as he was offered to play violin for ‘Humoresque’, a Hollywood film. The film is about the life of a young violinist with whom he could relate personally and professionally as well.
His remarkable work in Humoresque earned him the golden opportunity to work with several renowned conductors like Sir Thomas Beecham, Bruno Walter and George Szell to name a few.
In 1948, he visited Europe for the first time. In the same year, he performed for the first time at the Lucerne Festival. From 1950 to 1952, he performed at Pablo Calsals’ Prades Festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Released in 1953, the film ‘Tonight We Sing’ presented him playing the role of Eugene Ysaye.
During the early period of 1960s, he took the initiative to organize a trio together with Eugene Istomin and Leonard Rose. This endeavour of Stern received huge success.
In 1956, when the cold war was going on, he made an extensive tour of the USSR. To protest against the Nazi activities in Germany, he refused to perform in Germany.
He had a close association with the state of Israel. This relationship was further strengthened with the establishment of Israelo-American cultural centres and foundations that used to encourage young musicians of Israel to get scholarship for study in America.
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He also left his mark as the music director for the National Council for the Arts. He played an active role in organizing citizens, politicians and artists to protest against the planning of the demolition of the Carnegie Hall of New York.
For his successful effort, he became the President of the Carnegie Hall Corporation in 1960 and served in this position for forty years. This hall used to serve as a music class for young musicians and the music teacher was none other than Stern.
In 1979, he visited China. In the following year, a documentary film ‘From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China’, appeared which presents him as the first American musician who formed an association with the China Central Symphony Society. This Oscar winner documentary film also depicts his rehearsals and performances with Chinese conductor Li Delun in an interesting way.
In 1987, he formed a trio with Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax and this trio worked with artists like Jaime Laredo and Cho-Liang Lin.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married ballet dancer Nora Kaye in 1948 but the marriage did not last long and they divorced the next year.
In 1951, he tied the nuptial knot for the second time with Vera Lindenblit. With Vera, he had three children - Shira Stern, David Stern and Michael Stern. This marriage lasted for 43 years before they got divorced in 1994.
His third wife was Linda Reynolds whom he married in 1997.
He died of heart failure at the age of 81.