Isaac Stern (July 21, 1920 – September 22, 2001) was an American violinist.[1]

Stern at his 60th birthday concert at Lincoln Center, 1980

Born in Ukraine, Stern moved to the US when he was 14 months old. Stern performed both nationally and internationally, notably touring the Soviet Union and China, and performing extensively in Israel, a country to which he had close ties since shortly after its founding.

Stern received extensive recognition for his work, including winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom and six Grammy Awards, and being named to the French Legion of Honour. The Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall bears his name, due to his role in saving the venue from demolition in the 1960s.


Isaac Stern in 1975

The son of Solomon and Clara Stern,[2] Isaac Stern was born in Kremenets, Poland (now Ukraine), into a Jewish family. He was 14 months old when his family moved to San Francisco in 1921. Both his parents were musical, and his mother, who had studied at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, began teaching him the piano when he was six, before switching to the violin when he was eight. In 1928, Stern’s parents enrolled him at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he studied until 1931 before going on to study briefly in New York with Louis Persinger.[3] He returned to the San Francisco Conservatory to study for five years with Naoum Blinder, the concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony, to whom he said he owed the most.[4] At his public début on February 18, 1936, aged 15, he played Saint-Saëns' Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor with the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Pierre Monteux. Reflecting on his background, Stern once memorably quipped that cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Soviet Russia drew from the same city:

"They send us their Jews from Odessa, and we send them our Jews from Odessa."[5]

During World War II, Stern was rejected from military service due to flat feet. He then joined the United Service Organizations and performed for US troops. During one such performance on Guadalcanal, a Japanese soldier, mesmerized by his playing, sneaked into the audience of US personnel listening to his performance before sneaking back out.[6][7]

Stern toured the Soviet Union in 1951, the first American violinist to do so. In 1967, Stern stated his refusal to return to the USSR until the Soviet regime allowed artists to enter and leave the country freely. His only visit to Germany was in 1999, for a series of master classes, but he never performed publicly in Germany.[2]

Stern was married three times. His first marriage, in 1948 to ballerina Nora Kaye, ended in divorce after 18 months, but the two of them remained friends.[8] On August 17, 1951, he married Vera Lindenblit (1927–2015). They had three children together, including conductors Michael and David Stern and also Rabbi Shira Stern, one of the first female rabbis in the USA. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1994 after 43 years. In 1996, Stern married his third wife, Linda Reynolds. His third wife, his three children, and his five grandchildren survived him.[2]

Stern died September 22, 2001, of heart failure in a Manhattan, New York, hospital after an extended stay.[2]

Music career


In 1940, Stern began performing with Russian-born pianist Alexander Zakin, collaborating until 1977.[9] Within musical circles, Stern became renowned both for his recordings and for championing certain younger players. Among his discoveries were cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Jian Wang, and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman.

In the 1960s, he played a major role in saving New York City's Carnegie Hall from demolition, by organising the Citizens' Committee to Save Carnegie Hall. Following the purchase of Carnegie Hall by New York City, the Carnegie Hall Corporation was formed, and Stern was chosen as its first president, a title he held until his death.[2] Carnegie Hall later named its main auditorium in his honor.[10]

Among Stern's many recordings are concertos by Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, and Vivaldi and modern works by Barber, Bartók, Stravinsky, Bernstein, Rochberg, and Dutilleux. The Dutilleux concerto, entitled L'arbre des songes ["The Tree of Dreams"] was a 1985 commission by Stern himself. He also dubbed actors' violin-playing in several films, such as Fiddler on the Roof.

Stern served as musical advisor for the 1946 film, Humoresque, about a rising violin star and his patron, played respectively by John Garfield and Joan Crawford. He was also the featured violin soloist on the soundtrack for the 1971 film of Fiddler on the Roof.[11] In 1999, he appeared in the film Music of the Heart, along with Itzhak Perlman and several other famed violinists, with a youth orchestra led by Meryl Streep (the film was based on the true story of a gifted violin teacher in Harlem who eventually took her musicians to play a concert in Carnegie Hall).

External videos
  Interview with Stern on My First 79 Years, 26 October 1999, C-SPAN
  Booknotes interview with Stern on My First 79 Years, 23 January 2000, C-SPAN

In his autobiography, co-authored with Chaim Potok, My First 79 Years, Stern cited Nathan Milstein and Arthur Grumiaux as major influences on his style of playing.

He won Grammys for his work with Eugene Istomin and Leonard Rose in their famous chamber music trio in the 1960s and '70s, while also continuing his duo work with Alexander Zakin during this time. Stern recorded a series of piano quartets in the 1980s and 1990s with Emanuel Ax, Jaime Laredo and Yo-Yo Ma, including those of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Fauré, winning another Grammy in 1992 for the Brahms quartets Opp. 25 and 26.

In 1979, seven years after Richard Nixon made the first official visit by a US president to the country, the People's Republic of China offered Stern and pianist David Golub an unprecedented invitation to tour the country. While there, he collaborated with the China Central Symphony Society (now China National Symphony) under the direction of conductor Li Delun. Their visit was filmed and resulted in the Oscar-winning documentary, From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China.

Ties to Israel


Stern maintained close ties with Israel. Stern began performing in the country in 1949.[1] In 1973, he performed for wounded Israeli soldiers during the Yom Kippur War. During the 1991 Gulf War and Iraq's Scud missile attacks on Israel, he had been playing in the Jerusalem Theater. During his performance, an air raid siren sounded, causing the audience to panic. Stern then stepped onto the stage and began playing a movement of Bach. The audience then calmed down, donned gas masks, and sat throughout the rest of his performance.[12] Stern was a supporter of several educational projects in Israel, among them the America-Israel Foundation and the Jerusalem Music Center.[1]


Isaac Stern playing with one hand in 1979

Stern's favorite instrument was the Ysaÿe Guarnerius, one of the violins produced by the Cremonese luthier Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù.[13] It had previously been played by the violin virtuoso and composer Eugène Ysaÿe.

Among other instruments, Stern played the "Kruse-Vormbaum" Stradivarius (1728), the "ex-Stern" Bergonzi (1733), the "Panette" Guarneri del Gesù (1737), a Michele Angelo Bergonzi (1739–1757), the "Arma Senkrah" Guadagnini (1750), a Giovanni Guadagnini (1754), a J. B. Vuillaume copy of the "Panette" Guarneri del Gesu of 1737 (c.1850), and the "ex-Nicolas I" J.B. Vuillaume (1840). He also owned two contemporary instruments by Samuel Zygmuntowicz and modern Italian Jago Peternella Violins.

In May 2003, Stern's collection of instruments, bows and musical ephemera was sold through Tarisio Auctions. The auction set a number of world records and was at the time the second highest grossing violin auction of all time, with total sales of over $3.3M.[14]

Awards and commemoration

Isaac Stern with the Edison in 1971

In 2012, a street in Tel Aviv was named for Stern.[1]


Bezalel Schatz painting a portrait of Isaac Stern
  • 1944
Brahms: String Sextet No. 1 (with Alexander Schneider, Milton Katims, Milton Thomas, Pablo Casals and Madeleine Foley)
  • 1944
Brahms: Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello No. 1 in B Major, op. 8 (with Myra Hess and Pablo Casals)
  • 1946
Violin selections from the movie Humoresque (1946 film) with Oscar Levant on the piano, Columbia Masterworks Records set MM-657
  • 1951
Brahms: Violin Concerto in D Major (with Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), Columbia Records
  • 1952
Bach: Partita in E Minor & G Minor for Violin and Piano, Sonata No.3 in E Major for Violin and Piano (with Alexander Zakin)
  • 1953
Prokofiev: Violin Sonatas (with Alexander Zakin)
  • 1957
Wieniawski: Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, op. 22 (with Philadelphia Orchestra; conductor: Eugene Ormandy)
  • 1958
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major op. 35 (with Philadelphia Orchestra; conductor: Eugene Ormandy)
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in e minor op. 64 (with Philadelphia Orchestra; conductor: Eugene Ormandy)
  • 1959
Saint-Saens: Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso op. 28 (with Philadelphia Orchestra; conductor: Eugene Ormandy)
Beethoven Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 (with New York Philharmonic; conductor: Leonard Bernstein) Fontana 699 049 CL CFL 1051.
  • 1964
Hindemith: Violin Concerto (1939) (with New York Philharmonic; conductor: Leonard Bernstein)
  • 1978
Penderecki: Violin Concerto No. 1 (1976)(with Minnesota Orchestra; conductor: Stanislaw Skrowaczewski)
  • 1983
Bach, Vivaldi: Concertos for 2 Violins
Isaac Stern: 60th Anniversary Celebration
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; Beethoven: Romances in G & F Major
Haydn: London Trios
  • 1984
Barber Violin Concerto
  • 1985
An Isaac Stern Vivaldi Gala
  • 1986
Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos
  • 1987
Dutilleux: L'Arbre des Songes (Concerto pour Violin et Orchestre)
Maxwell Davies: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Bach: Double Concerto; Violin Concertos Nos.1 & 2
Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Mozart: The Flute Quartets
Bach: Concertos for Violin, BWV 1041–43 & 1060
  • 1988
Shostakovich: Piano Trio No.2; Cello Sonata
Brahms: Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in A Minor, Op. 102 & Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 60
Prokofiev: Violin Concertos No. 1 & 2
Brahms: Violin Concerto
  • 1989
The Japanese Album
Music, My Love
Prokofiev: Concertos No. 1 & 2 for Violin and Orchestra
Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos.4 & 5
  • 1990
Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schubert: Trios
Brahms: The Piano Quartets
Rameau: Pieces de clavecin en concerts
Lalo, Bruch, Wenianski, others: Violin Concertos
Bach, Mozart, Brahms, others: Violin Concertos
Mozart, Telemann, J.C. Bach, Reicha: Trios, Quartets
Schubert: Violin Sonatas
Humoresque: Favorite Violin Encores
  • 1991
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.5 "Emperor"; Triple Concerto
Beethoven: Complete Trios
Concert of the Century: Celebrating the 85th Anniversary of Carnegie Hall
Dvorák: Cello Concerto; Violin Concerto
Webern: Complete Works, Op. 1 – Op. 31
  • 1992
Brahms: Sextets; more
Beethoven & Schumann Piano Quartets (with Emanuel Ax, Jaime Loredo, & Yo-Yo Ma)
  • 1993
Tchaikovsky: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra & Serenade for Strings
Fauré: Piano Quartets
  • 1994
Greatest Hits: Violin
The House of Magical Sounds
Greatest Hits: Schubert
Greatest Hits: Brahms
Beethoven, Schumann: Piano Quartets
Mozart: Sonatas for Violin and Piano, K. 454, 296 & 526
Beethoven: Piano Trios "Ghost" & "Archduke"
Bach: Violin Concerto, BWV 1041; Piano Concerto, BWV 1056; Brandenburg Concerto No.5; more
Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante; Violin Concerto No.5
Brahms: Sextet in B-flat major, Op. 18 & Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8
Schubert: Quintet in C major, D956 & Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, D485
  • 1995
Isaac Stern Presents Encores with Orchestra
Telemann, Bach Family: Trio Sonatas
Mendelssohn: Piano Trios 1 & 2
Brahms: Piano Trios, Piano Quartets
A Life in Music, Vol.3: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, more
Beethoven: Piano Trios "Ghost" & "Archduke"; Variations
Schubert, Haydn: Piano Trios; Mozart: Piano Quartet
Bartók: Violin Concertos
Bernstein/Dutilleux: Violin Concertos
Berg: Violin Concerto; Kammerkonzert
Prokofiev/Bartók: Violin Concertos; Rhapsody No.1
Stravinsky/Rochberg: Violin Concertos
Barber/Maxwell Davies: Violin Concertos
Hindemith/Penderecki: Violin Concertos
Berg: Piano Sonata; Krenek: Piano Sonata No.3; Webern: Piano Variations; Debussy, Ravel: works
A Life in Music, Vol.1: Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Sibelius, more
Mozart: Haffner Serenade
Mozart: Sonatas for Violin and Piano, Vol. II
Beethoven, Brahms: Violin Concertos
Tchaikovsky/Sibelius: Violin Concertos
Bach: Violin Concertos; Double Concerto; more
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Concertos
Mozart: Violin Concertos Nos.1–5; Sinfonia concertante; more
Wieniawski/Bruch/Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos
Mendelssohn/Dvorák: Violin Concertos
Saint-Saëns: Violin concerto n°3, Lalo: Symphonie Espagnole, Chausson: Poème, Fauré: Berceuse, Ravel: Tzigane
  • 1996
More Mozart's Greatest Hits
Mozart: Violin Sonatas, Vol. III
Schubert and Boccherini String Quintets
A Life in Music, Vol.4: Bach, Bartók, Beethoven, Copland, Schubert, more
Prokofiev: Violin Sonatas
Bartók: Violin Sonatas; Webern: Four Pieces for Violin and Piano
Beethoven: Violin Sonatas
J.S. & C.P.E. Bach, Handel, Tartini: Violin Sonatas
Hindemith/Bloch/Copland: Violin Sonatas
Schubert: Sonatinas Nos.1–3; Rondeau Brillant; Grand Duo Sonata
Franck/Debussy/Enesco: Violin Sonatas
Brahms: Violin Sonatas No. 1-3
Isaac Stern Presents Encores with Violin & Piano
  • 1997
Barber: Adagio for Strings / Schuman – In Praise of Shahn etc.
Bartók Sonatas for Violin and Piano
Mozart: The Piano Quartets
  • 1998
Isaac Stern Plays Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D
Bernstein: The Age of Anxiety; Foss: Serenade
Bach, Vivaldi: Concertos
Caprice Viennois: Music of Kreisler
  • 1999
My First 79 Years
Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos
  • 2000
Dvorák: Piano Quartet No.2, Sonatina in G, Romantic Pieces
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Concertos for Two Violins


  1. ^ a b c d Noam Ben Zeev (1 November 2012), "New Tel Aviv street to honor Isaac Stern." Haaretz Daily. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e Allan Kozinn (September 23, 2001). "Violinist Isaac Stern Dies at 81; Led Efforts to Save Carnegie Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  3. ^ K Robert Schwarz (September 24, 2001). "Isaac Stern". The Guardian. London. Retrieved January 30, 2018.
  4. ^ "Isaac Stern 1920–2001". The Musical Times. Archived from the original on 29 September 2006.
  5. ^ Michael Specter (April 11, 1994). "In Musical Odessa, Playing On for the Love of It". The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  6. ^ "Legendary Violinist Isaac Stern's Legacy Lives On After 100 Years". Retrieved August 29, 2021.
  7. ^ April 12, CHRIS PASLES; Pt, 2000 12 Am (April 12, 2000). "'Stern' Goes Beyond the Usual Musical Profile". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 29, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Kristin McMurran (February 20, 1978). "Director Herb Ross and Ex-Ballerina Nora Kaye Know What a Turning Point Is". People. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  9. ^ "Alexander Zakin, 87, A Piano Accompanist". The New York Times. October 16, 2011. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
  10. ^ "Violinist Isaac Stern dies". BBC News. September 23, 2001. Retrieved July 21, 2007.
  11. ^ Glaister, Dan (December 9, 2004). "Children in court battle over Isaac Stern's estate". The Guardian. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  12. ^ Woo, Elaine (September 23, 2001). "Isaac Stern, Violinist and Musical Envoy, Dies". Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ Jeff Bradley (December 5, 1999). "Stern, Shostakovich, Gedda stories on shelves". The Denver Post. Retrieved July 21, 2007.
  14. ^ Keough, James. "Stern's Stars." Strings. August/September 2003, No. 112.
  15. ^ Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts Archived 4 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ George Bush Presidential Library & Museum
  17. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved December 20, 2021.

Further reading