Isaac Stern (July 21, 1920 – September 22, 2001) was an American violinist.
Born in Poland, Stern came 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.
"They send us their Jews from
Odessa, and we send them our Jews from Odessa."
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.
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.
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. On August 17, 1951, he married Vera Lindenblit (1927–2015). They had three children together, including conductors
David Stern. 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.
Stern died September 22, 2001 of heart failure in a Manhattan, New York, hospital after an extended stay.
In 1940, Stern began performing with Russian-born pianist
Alexander Zakin, collaborating until 1977. 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
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. Carnegie Hall later named its main auditorium in his honor.
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. 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).
Stern maintained close ties with
Israel. Stern began performing in the country in 1949. 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. Stern was a supporter of several educational projects in Israel, among them the America-Israel Foundation and the
Jerusalem Music Center.
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 2001, Stern's collection of instruments, bows and musical ephemera was sold through
Tarisio Auctions. The May 2003 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.