Hungarian-American cellist János Starker was born in Budapest on 5 July 1924 into a Ukrainian-Polish Jewish family. His two older brothers (who both later died at the hands of the Nazis) were violinists, and János received a cello before he was six, and began to make public performances soon afterwards. He studied with Adolf Schiffer at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest and, by the age of twelve, had five students of his own.
During the war he spent three months in a Nazi internment camp, afterwards beginning his professional career as principal cellist with the Budapest Opera Orchestra and the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, but soon had to leave the country because of visa problems, never having gained Hungarian citizenship.
He performed successfully in Vienna, but then lost the Geneva Cello Competition to his student Eva Janzer. Demoralised, he then spent a year analysing and rebuilding his playing technique, eventually rebuilding his confidence and publishing the cello method An Organized Method of String Playing. During a year in Paris, his recording of the Kodály Sonata won him the Grand Prix du Disque and put him firmly on the map.
In 1948 he moved to the USA to become principal cellist in Antal Doráti's Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and the following year he moved to New York as principal cellist for Fritz Reiner with the Metropolitan Opera, during which time he made his recordings of the Bach Cello Suites.
In 1952 he followed Fritz Reiner to Illinois, becoming principal cellist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and then he finally settled in Bloomington, Indiana in 1958, where he continued with his career as a soloist and became a professor at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he continued to teach until his death on 28 April 2013, aged eighty-eight.
A selection of M&V articles about János Starker
Ask Alice - Reminiscences of János Starker, from classical music agony aunt Alice McVeigh
CD Spotlight. Sensitive Understanding - Music by Kodály and Dohnányi, heard by Robert Anderson. '... the orchestra captures with apparent ease the seductive idiom of this music.'
CD Spotlight. Unrivalled - János Starker plays Bartók, Boccherini, Kodály, Mozart and Leo Weiner, reviewed by Howard Smith. '... instrumental artistry at its finest.'
Ask Alice - On musicals, publishers and Starker, with classical music agony aunt Alice McVeigh