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Stern Considered 'Dean of US Violinists' - 2001-09-23

Ukraine-born American violinist Isaac Stern is dead at the age of 81. A Carnegie Hall spokeswoman says he died of heart failure at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center. Mr. Stern was known as the dean of American violinists.

Throughout most of his illustrious career, Isaac Stern was recognized as a virtuoso of the violin, an international cultural ambassador, and a promoter of the arts.

For more than half a century, this small, rotund, bedimpled artist energetically and faithfully pursued musical excellence. In so doing, he inspired students and hypnotized audiences throughout the world with live concerts and recordings.

Mr. Stern was born in Kremenets, Ukraine in 1920. His parents brought him to the United States when he was 10 months old, settling in San Francisco. He was taught piano by his mother, and at age eight he took up a playmate's "fiddle". Within six years he was performing with the San Francisco symphony.

His big break came in 1939, when he impressed music critics in an appearance in concert in New York, he was then 19 years old. In his 1999 memoir he recalled he said, "I played almost defiantly, to demonstrate my skills, to show them all what I was capable of doing with the fiddle."

Within five years, a New York music critic was praising the young artist with these words: "Isaac Stern is no exhibitionist; in fact, he seems unconscious of his own remarkable virtuosity. He takes his place among the great violinists because he is overwhelmingly concerned about one thing: the music he performs."

During World War II, Mr. Stern played for thousands of American soldiers. For many of them, it was their first exposure to classical music. Yet every troop audience received the musician with respect and adulation.

Such reverence for Mr. Stern and his music continued undiminished in a career that subsequently spanned the globe. He was the first American to perform in the Soviet Union after World War II. He also performed in South America, Europe, and Israel.

In 1979, Mr. Stern visited China to teach classical Western music and violin. His tour was filmed and became an academy award-winning documentary titled From Mao to Mozart.

He made guest appearances with almost every major orchestra, played at almost every festival of note, and became one of the most recorded musicians in history, making well over 100 recordings.

He loved to play music by all kinds of composers, from Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Mozart to Sibelius, Barber, and Bartok.

Mr. Stern received the Kennedy Center Honors award in 1984 for his contributions to American culture through the performing arts. "The passion of his playing extends to everything he does," said fellow violinist Itzhak Perlman at the awards ceremony.

In 1960, Carnegie Hall was marked for demolition. Ignoring the pessimists, he waged an almost single-handed fight to save this great building. Today, the concert hall thrives. Mr. Stern was its president. He gave hours and hours to young musicians wherever he found them, as teacher, as friend, as example.

Isaac Stern was one of the most honored musicians in the world. He has left aspiring musicians and music lovers a legacy of talent, dedication, perseverance, and, most of all, music.