János Starker has died

Legendary cellist and teacher renowned for his focused playing and aristocratic style passes at the age of 88.

Born in Budapest in 1924, János Starker was given a cello at the age of five and soon proved to be a child prodigy making his first appearances at the age of seven. He trained under Adolf Schiffer at the Franz Liszt Academy where his teachers included Leo Weiner, Kodály, Bartók and Dohnányi. By the age of 12 he had five pupils of his own.

His professional debut was made at the age of 14, standing in at three hours notice for a soloist playing the Dvořák concerto. He spent the war in Budapest and as a Jew was forced to spend three months in an internment camp, narrowly escaping the fate of his brothers who were murdered by the Nazis.

After the war Starker became principal cellist of the Budapest Philharmonic but chose to leave in 1946 when the Soviet Union occupied the country. In 1947 he won the Grand Prix du Disque for his recording of the Kodály Cello Sonata and his subsequent fame enabled him to emigrate to the USA in 1948. An initial stint as principal cellist of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under Doráti was followed by a move to New York where he became principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera under Fritz Reiner, following the conductor to Chicago in 1952 to become principal cellist of the CSO.

From 1958 Starker resumed his successful solo career, playing and recording up until 2001. During a long career he made over 160 recordings including five different recordings of the Bach cello suites. Among his most acclaimed discs are the Bach cello suites and the Dvořák concerto, both recorded for Mercury Living Presence, and the 1992 Grammy Award winning recording of the Bach suites for RCA.

As a player, Starker was known for his intense style and enormous technical resources delivered with modest vibrato. He himself has described his sound as “centred” and “focused.” He was a famously restrained stage presence whose maxim was “Create excitement. Don't get excited.”

He was a highly prolific teacher whose studies and exercises appeared in essay form as “An Organized Method of String Playing” as well as in many other publications. His autobiography, The World of Music According to Starker, was published in 2004.

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János Starker has died
János Starker: A true aristocrat of the cello
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