Remembering Janos Starker, The Cellist 'Born To Be A Teacher' : Deceptive Cadence Although renowned as a soloist and Grammy winner, the famed cellist devoted much of his life to teaching students at Indiana University. Starker died Sunday at age 88.

Remembering Janos Starker, The Cellist 'Born To Be A Teacher'

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The renowned cellist Janos Starker died yesterday at the age of 88. His career began in Hungary, his first lessons by the age of 6. Starker dedicated his life to performing and teaching. Sara Wittmeyer of member station WFIU has this remembrance.

SARA WITTMEYER, BYLINE: Janos Starker began playing cello in the early 1930s. Both of his brothers played the violin, so the thinking was he should study something different. His teachers recognized his talent immediately. And when he was 14, Starker made his professional debut.

JANOS STARKER: My teacher called and said, would you like to play Dvorak concerto? Said, when? This afternoon. I said may I use the music? She said sure.

WITTMEYER: He recorded it several times later on.


WITTMEYER: Starker's big break came in 1939 when he performed the Kodaly "Sonata for Solo Cello," a piece some said was unplayable.


WITTMEYER: Starker was born to Jewish parents, and he and they survived a Nazi labor camp during World War II. His two older brothers did not. Janos Starker immigrated to the United States in 1948. He played with the Dallas Symphony, then the Metropolitan Opera and the Chicago Symphony. But at a 2011 interview, Starker said teaching was his calling.

STARKER: People questioned, of course, the validity of it because I played all those three, four, 5,000 concerts in my life. But I think I was put to this Earth basically to be a teacher.

WITTMEYER: Starker joined the faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in 1958 where he remained for the rest of his life.

STARKER: Lift up your arm. Do you see what you're doing?

GWYN RICHARDS: He was someone you didn't want to disappoint.

WITTMEYER: Music school dean Gwyn Richards says Starker had a reputation for being tough on his students.

RICHARDS: You always wanted him to think well of what you were doing. There was always a blend of the technical and the musical, and you wanted to succeed on both fronts.


WITTMEYER: After learning of Starker's death, world-renowned pianist Menahem Pressler spent the day yesterday in his studio making music. Both men survived the Nazis, both played in Dallas and Chicago and reconnected as faculty members at Indiana University.

MENAHEM PRESSLER: He knew the pieces well, and his standard was very, very high. So during a performance, he was very much concerned with perfection. And he was perfect.


WITTMEYER: Starker pursued a solo career while teaching, but his declining health took him off the concert stage in 2005. He continued to teach until this past winter, often inviting students to his house for a lesson. Starker often said teaching was why he was alive.

STARKER: I had very little chance to survive World War II. And when I survived it, then I said that I should make it justifiable that why I stayed alive.

WITTMEYER: Janos Starker's legacy can be heard not only in his own recordings but in the hundreds of students he inspired. For NPR News, I'm Sara Wittmeyer in Bloomington, Indiana.



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