János Starker, widely regarded to be one of the greatest cellists ever, passed away yesterday. He was 89.
János Starker was born in 1924 and was instantly recognized as a child prodigy, giving his first public performances at age 6. In his professional career he served as the principal cellist of a few orchestras, such as the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under Antal Doráti, and most notably the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner whom he had met earlier when Reiner was the director of the Metropolitan Opera. In his late years, he taught at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he held the title of Distinguished Professor.
His tone was widely regarded as concentrated and solid–Starker himself described his sound as “centered” and “focused.” An unsentimental performer, strict in his music-making, his playing was nevertheless natural, eloquent, reserved and yet passionate.
Starker’s recording legacy was immense, and he made over 160 recordings, of which his 5 (!) traversals of the Bach Cello Suites and his Dvorák Cello Concerto (a work he was asked to play at the age of 14 only three hours before the performance) are justly famous. His last recording of the Bach suites, recorded in 1992, won him a Grammy award.
Starker is survived by his wife, Rae, whom he married in 1960, as well as two daughters and three grandchildren.