Music is Life. Life is Music. This is one way of expressing violinist Isaac Stern’s lifetime credo, a credo that has resounded with unflagging strength throughout a long career, all the way from a sensational début in San Francisco during the 1930s to the beginning of the new millennium, which finds Isaac Stern as indefatigable as ever in the cause of international music. He himself has said: “Our responsibility is to continue the search for beauty and humanity. That is what survives.” Music, for Isaac Stern, is a gift to mankind. It has been so from the dawn of history and must forever remain so. This is the artist’s duty, or, as Stern has put it in this age of machinery and computers: “To perform, any machine can play better than a human. But only a human being can look at somebody and say, ‘I love you’.”
Isaac Stern is awarded the 2000 Polar Music Prize for a unique and consummate artistry distinguished by a personal musicianship without compare for over half a century, for his pioneering achievement on behalf of young people the world over, for his patient and energetic commitment to preserving and developing places where music is played, and for his uncompromising attitude concerning the humanistic power of music.
Through concerts in practical every venue of significance, or through gramophone recordings, Isaac Stern has enabled millions of listerners all over the world to experience his creative interpretations of the classics and also his première performances of works by such contemporary composers as Penderecki, Dutilleux, Rochberg, William Schuman and Peter Maxwell Davies. His extensive activity as a soloist has been matched by chamber music performances together with such eminent musicians as Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma, Yefim Bronfman and Jaime Laredo.
No less important than his own musicianship is Stern’s inspiring educational achievement on behalf of young people the world over. He sees an obvious duty in transmitting to the young generation, not only the skills he possesses, but also the joy and dedication with which music inspires him. And he has found it no less natural to guide and assist young musicians at the beginning of their careers, as for example with violinists Schlomo Mintz, Ithzak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. It was also Stern’s personal involvement and sense of responsibility for the young generation that led him to take part in a seminar in Cologne. As a Jew he had once vowed, out of respect for the Jews killed in the Holocaust, never to set foot in Germany. But he changed his mind on that score, feeling that it was time for him to see the country of Bach, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. He also wanted to see and hear how young German musicians are absorbing their musical heritage, as well as passing on his own experience by teaching 28 students o a nine-day seminar.
The most palpable proof, and the crowning success, of his untiring endeavour to sustain, renew and develop venues for music is the Carnegie Hall, which but for his personal intervention, would have been razed to the ground in the 1960s. The battle to save the Carnegie Hall, and Stern’s personal experience of it, have been and remain a source of inspiration for promoters, managers and cultural policymakers the world over. For more than 35 years now, Isaac Stern has been President of the Carnegie Hall, in which capacity he has helped to make it one of the world’s foremost concert venues.
Past, present and future are always embodied by Isaac Stern as artist and human being. To him, Music is timeless, Music is Life, and Life is Music.