Isaac Stern is awarded the 2000 Polar Music Prize for a unique and consummate artistry distinguished by a personal musicianship without compare for 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.
Education in San Francisco
Isaac Stern was born in Ukraine in 1920. At the age of one, his family moved to the United States and settled in San Francisco. He started music lessons at a very early age with his mother, a professional singer, and began studying the violin in 1928 at the San Francisco Conservatory.
He made his debut at the San Francisco Symphony at the age of 16. Stern quickly became one of America’s leading violinist after performances in San Francisco and New York, and particularly noticed for his young age. His first solo performance at the Carnegie Hall in NYC in 1943 was widely successful. Between 1943 and 1948 he toured in Australia and Europe several times.
The Istomin-Rose-Stern Trio
His extensive activity as a soloist has been matched by chamber music performances together with such eminent musicians as Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman and Jaime Laredo. In 1960 he formed a durable trio with pianist Eugene Istomin and cellist Leonard Rose; the group played the complete trio literature by Beethoven in bicentennial celebrations of the composer’s birth.
Classic meets contemporary
Isaac Stern’s repertoire extended at least from Vivaldi to Dutilleux. 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.
At the movies
Isaac Stern also broadened his career to the movie theaters and appeared now and then as an actor or dubbing actors playing the violin, like in Humoresque from 1946 that includes close-ups of his hands playing the violin and where he also served as a musical advisor.
In Tonight we sing from 1953 he played the role of Eugene Ysaye, a violin player. In Music of the heart starring Meryl Streep in 1999, Stern appeared as himself together with other famous violinists such as Karen Briggs, Diane Monroe and Itzhak Perlman.
The battle for Carnegie Hall
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.
After the building of the Lincoln center in 1956, Carnegie Hall was threatened by demolition to make place for a new business skyscraper, the venue being considered less useful now that the New York Philharmonic would move to the new centre for music and arts. Isaac Stern acted quickly and mobilized a committee whose campaign, together with the signatures of dozens of famous musicians and politicians, eventually would convince the City of New York and Mayor Wagner to buy the concert hall.
Isaac Stern had a vision of the Carnegie Hall from now on being used as a national center for teaching music and the development of young artists, and was the President of the concert venue for over 35 years.
A role model
No less important than his own musicianship was Stern’s inspiring educational achievement on behalf of young people the world over. He saw an obvious duty in transmitting to the young generation, not only his own the skills, but also the joy and dedication with which music inspired him.
He found it no less natural to guide and assist young musicians at the beginning of their careers, as for example with violinists Shlomo Mintz, Ithzak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Polar Music Prize Laureate Yo-Yo Ma.
Stockholm, May 2000
The Polar Music Prize Ceremony is held at the prestigious Berwaldhallen. Bob Dylan, the other Laureate of 2000, attends the ceremony but no one knows if he will show up at the banquet until the last minute, and he finally didn’t. Isaac Stern however attended the entire event, and even performed “Liebeslied” by Fritz Kreisler at the banquet at Grand Hôtel.