Sometimes we are caught unawares just how much someone meant to us over the years. While I intended to use a recent opportunity to offer tribute to the great Janos Starker after a performance with the Detroit Symphony this last weekend, it was during the 43 minutes of playing the Dvořák concerto that I began to gradually realize what the moment was. It was not about the live streaming over the internet (an unthinkable notion in 1896 when Dvořák composed it), instead, it was how it has always been an encapsulation of a life’s journey.
Starting out youthful, majestic, and powerful then maturing into a calm regal beneficence and culminating in the final blaring moments of anger and frustration at fate and how it has robbed us of those things that are most dear: a life, a person, his accomplishments, his humor, warmth, intelligence, and so much more.
So, during the performance I was able to bring to the surface my long forgotten memories of Janos Starker:
My very first cello record purchased by my father whose usual words to me in a store were “put it down son, before you break it.” But this time was different, I answered back saying “look dad, here’s a record of someone playing the Elegie of Faure which my cello teacher has just assigned me!” So my dad bought the record.
The record also had the Dvorak concerto on it and I became a fan. Of course, it was one of Janos’ recordings and dad said that he knew Mr. Starker at the Metropolitan opera where he had been principal cellist before going to Chicago to be principal cellist of that orchestra.
Over the next half dozen years I heard Mr. Starker play a few times, but avidly collected his recordings. His performances of the Bach cello suites impressed me as being so revolutionary. They were clean, pure, and without exaggeration; such a change in approach from the leading exponent of Bach playing of the time, Pablo Casals.
All this was going through my mind while I played the Dvorak in Detroit. The work itself is, for sure, about loss, disillusionment and sadness but by the time it was over and Leonard Slatkin asked me to play something in Janos’ memory, I was already quite emotional.
For me, the 6th Bach Sarabande was the most inspirational work from Janos’ many recordings of the cello suites. I started to play and I was suddenly gripped by such a feeling of warmth towards him and what he represented, that it was indeed almost impossible to perform while simultaneously contemplating his contribution to the cello, to Bach performance, to teaching, and to his family.
It will remain with me the rest of my life. Thank you Janos.