Remembering Janos

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.
JSStarting 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.

8 thoughts on “Remembering Janos”

  1. I watched and listened (via computer) as you played, and truly felt your sorrow. I was a beginning cello student when I played for him in the mid-60’s and so terrified I could hardly play–the d minor prelude–but he took my cello and played it for me! It remains one of my most vivid memories. He touched so many people.

  2. Thank you for this most eloquent and moving tribute. Coming from you it is very meaningful. I have had the good fortune to study with him and have been playing with the Indianapolis symphony.

  3. Pingback: Such A Touching Tribute | Adaptistration
  4. I have recently rediscovered some of Mr. Starker’s recordings. I love his last movement of the Saint Saens concerto with Dorati and the LSO. Separate bows and so clean!

  5. What a thrill it was to hear and see your performance with the DSO! So many folks who love you got to share the beautiful music.
    Hope to see you in Palm Springs soon… with love, Joan

  6. Your Memorial to Janos Starker is shared by ALL!!
    Especially this one little Violinist who played the Kodaly Duo for
    him, with one of his grad cello students! He MADE the Kodaly Duo
    come to life and it brought much joy to him! Playing in his
    Masterclass, in front of all his magnificent students was a
    highlight of my college career. It earned a Performers’ Certificate
    for us, as well! Thanks!


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