Janos Starker, a distinguished professor in the Jacobs School of Music, died Sunday at age 88.
Considered one of the world’s greatest cellists for his technical mastery and intensely expressive playing, Starker won a Grammy Award for best instrumental soloist performance.
“All of us at Indiana University are deeply saddened by the passing of Janos Starker, one of the greatest cellists to have ever lived and one of the University’s true artistic giants,” IU President Michael McRobbie said in a press release. “His was an extraordinary career, encompassing performances with the world’s most prestigious orchestras, solo concerts and numerous award-winning recordings, all of which were marked with a legendary virtuosity that will be analyzed and appreciated for years to come.”
Starker was born to Jewish parents in Budapest, Hungary, in 1924, giving his first cello performance at age 6. A prodigy of music, he would enroll in the Franz Liszt Academy of Music at 11and make his professional debut at 14.
“Few performers achieve the kind of technical mastery, innovation and scintillating stage presence that defined Professor Starker,” McRobbie said.
Starker’s family spent three months in a Nazi concentration camp. His parents survived, but his two brothers died. He worked as an electrician and sulfur miner before his first recording in 1947.
That first recording, a sonata by the Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály won a Grand Prix du Disque and brought him international attention.
In 1948, he immigrated to the U.S. Starker played for the Dallas Symphony, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chicago Symphony before joining the Jacobs School of Music faculty in 1958.
Starker established the Eva Janzer Memorial Cello Center at IU in 1979, creating a camaraderie of cellists on the Bloomington campus.
Before his passing, Starker performed benefit concerts at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall and received five honorary doctorates. His discography includes more than 165 works.
“Indiana University was truly fortunate to be the teaching home for this larger-than-life figure who captivated and inspired all of us, musicians and non-musicians alike, with his beautiful music, intense dedication to his craft and relentless pursuit of excellence,” McRobbie said.
His memoir, “The World of Music According to Starker,” was published in 2004 by IU Press. Starker continued to teach until close to his death.
The Jacobs School of Music has created a memorial site online for Starker at blogs.music.indiana.edu/janosstarker/.
— Jeff LaFave
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