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Francis Akos

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family notes with sorrow the passing of Francis Akos, a member of the violin section from 1955 until 2003. He died earlier today in Minneapolis following a brief illness at the age of 93.

Akos was hired by Fritz Reiner in 1955 as assistant principal second violin and moved to principal second in 1956. In 1959, he became assistant concertmaster and remained in that chair until 1997, when he was named assistant concertmaster emeritus, a title he retained until his retirement in 2003.

A native of Budapest, Hungary, Akos, studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music with Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, Leó Weiner, Imre Waldbauer, and Ede Zathureczky. He received his artist’s diploma in performance as well as a teacher’s diploma. As best of his class, Akos won both the Jenő Hubay prize and the Reményi Prize (a violin made especially for the winner of the competition) in the same year. Just before World War II, he formed a trio with cellist János Starker and pianist György Sebök (forty years later in December 1980, the three performed a reunion concert in Chicago).

After surviving the Holocaust (a brief interview from 1990 in which he describes his immediate postwar months is available here), Akos served as concertmaster of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and later of the Hungarian Royal Opera and Philharmonic orchestras, the youngest person ever to hold these posts. After leaving Hungary, he was concertmaster of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in Sweden and then of the Städtishce Oper (now the Deutsche Oper Berlin).

In 1954, Akos immigrated to the United States, where he performed at the Aspen Music Festival and with the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra) under Antal Doráti before joining the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1955. He appeared as soloist with the Orchestra on numerous occasions, under music directors Reiner, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim, as well as with Carlo Maria Giulini, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, and János Ferencsik, among others.

Francis Akos in 2003 (Gregory Morton photo)

Francis Akos in 2003 (Gregory Morton photo)

Akos founded and led the Chicago Strings, a chamber ensemble comprised of CSO musicians; was leader of the Old Town Chamber Music Series; served as music director of the Fox River Valley Symphony in Aurora; and was conductor of the Chicago Heights Symphony Orchestra. As founding music director of the Highland Park Strings, he led that ensemble for twenty-eight years.

Akos is survived by two daughters, Kate Akos (Harry Jacobs) of San Francisco, California, and Judy Akos Berkowitz (Dennis Berkowitz) of Edina, Minnesota, and beloved grandchildren Justin and Melissa. Services will be private and plans for a public memorial will be announced at a later date. The family asks that any gifts of remembrance be made to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Highland Park Strings, or the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

At the time of his retirement in 2003, Akos reflected on his years with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: “For more than half my life, I have lived in Chicago as a member of the world’s greatest orchestra. The music, the composers, the conductors, and the soloists have inspired me. I am especially grateful to have been blessed with the inspiration I have received from my CSO colleagues during my professional life.”

An obituary was posted by the Chicago Tribune on January 29, 2016.

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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra notes with sorrow the passing of violinist Jacques Israelievitch, who served the Orchestra as assistant concertmaster from 1972 until 1978. He died on September 5, 2015, at the age of 67.

Jacques Israelievitch 1972

A graduate of Indiana University where he was a student of Josef Gingold, twenty-three-year-old Israelievitch was hired by Sir Georg Solti in June 1972, to succeed Samuel Magad, who recently had assumed the position of co-concertmaster.

Born in Cannes, France, Israelievitch received first prize at the Conservatory of Le Mans at the age of eleven. Admitted to the Paris Conservatory when he was thirteen, he graduated three years later with first prizes in violin, chamber music, and solfège, and the following year he received a license of concert from the École Normale de Musique in Paris.

After winning one of the top awards in the Paganini Competition in Genoa, Italy (where he was the youngest contestant) he was advised by his sponsor Henryk Szeryng to attend Indiana University as a student of Gingold. During his time in Indiana, Israelievitch also studied chamber music with William Primrose and János Starker.

Following his years in Chicago, Israelievitch served as concertmaster of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra for ten years and then as concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for twenty years. He taught at the Chautauqua Institution and was on the faculties of the University of Toronto and York University. Music director of the Koffler Chamber Orchestra from 2005, Israelievitch also appeared as guest conductor with several orchestras in the United States and Canada. He was violinist for the New Arts Trio; and he performed chamber music with Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, and Yo-Yo Ma. His discography comprises more than 100 albums, including the first complete recording of Rodolphe Kreutzer’s Forty-two Studies or Caprices for the Violin.

Edgar and Nancy Muenzer, Israelievitch, and Samuel and Miriam Magad at the June 3, 2011, CSO Alumni Association reunion (Dan Rest photo)

Edgar and Nancy Muenzer, Israelievitch, and Samuel and Miriam Magad at the June 3, 2011, CSO Alumni Association reunion (Dan Rest photo)

In 2004 the French government named Israelievitch an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters. He also was the recipient of a lifetime achievement award for his distinguished contribution to the performing arts in Canada, and recently in August he was presented the Insignia of the Order of Canada in a private ceremony at his home.

Services have been held. Israelievitch is survived by his wife, Gabrielle; three sons, David (of Seattle), Michael (of San Francisco) and Joshua (of Northern California); and two grandchildren. His son Michael had just been named acting principal timpanist of the San Francisco Symphony.

Ray Still - 1950s

Orchestral and chamber musician, soloist with countless ensembles, and lifelong teacher and coach Ray Still—a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s oboe section for forty years, serving as principal for thirty-nine years—died peacefully on March 12, 2014, surrounded by family in Woodstock, Vermont. He was 94.

Born on March 12, 1920, in Elwood, Indiana, Still began playing clarinet as a teenager. During the Great Depression, his family moved to California, where he was able to regularly hear performances of the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a volunteer usher. After hearing the masterful technique and elegant phrasing of Henri de Busscher—principal oboe in Los Angeles from 1920 until 1948—Still switched to the oboe.

Still graduated from Los Angeles High School and at the age of nineteen joined the Kansas City Philharmonic as second oboe in 1939, where he was a member until 1941 (and also where he met and married Mary Powell Brock in 1940). For the next two years, he studied electrical engineering, served in the reserve US Army Signal Corps, and worked nights at the Douglas Aircraft factory. During the height of World War II, Still joined the US Army in September 1943 and served until June of 1946.

Immediately following his honorable discharge from the Army, Still enrolled at the Juilliard School where he studied with Robert Bloom. The following year in 1947, he began a two-year tenure as principal oboe with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of William Steinberg. Beginning in 1949, Still was principal oboe of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for four years.

Fritz Reiner and the newest members of the Orchestra in the fall of 1953. From left to right: Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; Ray Still, oboe; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; and János Starker, cello.

Fritz Reiner and the newest members of the Orchestra in the fall of 1953. From left to right: Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Ray Still, oboe; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; and János Starker, cello.

In the fall of 1953, Still auditioned for Fritz Reiner, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s recently named music director. Reiner invited him to be the Orchestra’s second-chair oboe and the following year promoted him to the principal position. Still would serve the Orchestra in that capacity—under music directors Reiner, Jean Martinon, Sir Georg Solti, and Daniel Barenboim—until his retirement in 1993.

Still appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as soloist on countless occasions, including the Orchestra’s first performances of works for solo oboe by Albinoni, Bach, Barber, Mozart, Richard Strauss, and Telemann. His extensive discography includes Bach’s Wedding Cantata on RCA with Kathleen Battle as soloist and James Levine conducting, and Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C minor on Deutsche Grammophon with Claudio Abbado conducting.

Still performed with numerous other ensembles including the Juilliard, Vermeer, and Fine Arts string quartets; he recorded with Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, and Lynn Harrell; and regularly appeared at many music festivals, including those at Aspen, Stratford, and Marlboro, among others.

A tireless educator, Still taught at the Peabody Institute from 1949 until 1953, Roosevelt University from 1954 until 1957, and at Northwestern University for forty-three years until 2003. Throughout his tenure with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he coached members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. At the invitation of Seiji Ozawa, he spent the summers of 1968 and 1970 as a visiting member of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in Tokyo, where he held coaching sessions for the wind section, conducted chamber music classes, and lectured at Toho University.

Ray Still - 1970s

Following his retirement from Northwestern, he moved to Annapolis, Maryland—where he continued to give master classes and lessons—with his beloved wife Mary and son James to live near his daughter Susan. In 2013, he moved to Saxtons River and later Woodstock, Vermont, where he lived near Susan, his granddaughter Madeline, and her two daughters.

Still is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Mimi and Kent Dixon of Springfield, Ohio; his son and daughter-in-law, Tom and Sally Still of Big Timber, Montana; his daughter and son-in-law, Susan Still and Peter Bergstrom of Saxtons River, Vermont; six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death in 2012 by his wife of almost 72 years, Mary Brock Still, and his son James Still.

Services will be private and details for a memorial in Chicago are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Institute for Learning, Access, and Training at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

When interviewed for an article in the Chicago Tribune in 1988, Still was asked why he thought the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was the world’s greatest. His reply: “It’s like a great baseball team. We have a blend of youth and experience, and they work very well together. A lot of orchestras have this. The thing that makes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra very unusual is the tremendous—I hate to use the word—discipline. There is a certain pride, and I think it goes back to the days of Theodore Thomas, the founder. There is something about the tradition of this Orchestra and the level the main body of musicians has come to expect of itself. There’s just a longer line of tradition.”

More information can be found at www.raystill.com.

János Starker

Legendary cellist and teacher János Starker, principal cello (1953–1958) and frequent soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, died on April 28, 2013, in Bloomington, Indiana. He was 88.

János Starker was born in Budapest, Hungary to Russian émigré parents. He began cello studies at age six, taught his first lesson at age eight, and gave his first public performance at age ten. He studied at the Franz Liszt Royal Academy, where faculty included Béla Bartók, Zoltan Kodály, Ernst von Dohnányi, and Leo Weiner. It was also at the Liszt Academy where he met his lifelong friend and future CSO concertmaster, Victor Aitay.

After imprisonment in a internment camp (on Csepel Island, in the Danube next to Budapest) during World War II, Starker became principal cello of the Budapest Opera and Philharmonic orchestras. With Aitay, he left Hungary in 1946 for Vienna, performing as soloist and in Aitay’s string quartet. Starker immigrated to the United States in 1948 and joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as principal cello at the invitation of Antal Doráti. The next year, he occupied the same position in New York City’s Metropolitan Opera under the direction of fellow Hungarian Fritz Reiner. With Reiner, Starker came to Chicago and became principal cello of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1953. He became an American citizen in 1954.

The maestro joined the newest members of the Orchestra for an informal photo in 1953. The new musicians are (left to right): Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; Ray Still, oboe; and János Starker, cello.

Fritz Reiner and the newest members of the Orchestra in 1953: Nathan Snader, violin; Juan Cuneo, violin; Joseph Golan, violin; Alan Fuchs, horn; Sheppard Lehnhoff, viola; Ray Still, oboe; and Starker.

In 1958, Starker left Chicago and resumed his career as an international soloist and for the next five decades, he appeared in recitals and as soloist with the world’s leading orchestras. In addition to performing all the major works from the cello repertoire, he performed concertos written for him by David Baker, Doráti, Bernhard Heiden, Jean Martinon, Miklós Rózsa, Robert Starer, and Chou Wen-chung. Starker was the subject of countless news articles, magazine profiles, and television documentaries, and his performances have been broadcast on radio and television around the world.

Starker’s discography includes more than 270 recordings of over 180 pieces, many of which have become landmark records of cello literature. He made an unprecedented five recordings of J.S. Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello; the final album received the 1997 Grammy Award for best instrumental soloist performance (without orchestra). Starker’s first recording of Kodály’s Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello received France’s Grand prix du disque in 1948.

Starker was equally renowned as a teacher. He joined the faculty of Indiana University in 1958 and was named a distinguished professor in 1962. He taught at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada for seventeen years and at the Hochschule für Musik in Essen, Germany for five years, and many of his students (including the CSO’s own Brant Taylor) have won prestigious awards and occupy prominent positions in chamber ensembles and major orchestras. Starker published and recorded a series of studies entitled An Organized Method of String Playing which remains an important piece of cello instruction. He published or edited numerous musical scores and articles, and developed the Starker Bridge designed to enhance the acoustics of stringed instruments. His autobiography, The World of Music According to Starker, was published by Indiana University Press in 2004.

Starker received five honorary degrees and numerous awards including the Kodály Commemorative Medallion from the Government of Hungary in 1983 and the Chevalier de l’Order des Arts et des Lettres from the French Republic in 1997. He played the Lord Aylesford Stradivarius cello between 1950 and 1964, and he also played a 1705 Matteo Goffriller cello throughout his career.

For the United States premiere of Martinon’s Cello Concerto on July 31, 1965, former principal cello János Starker returned as soloist at the Ravinia Festival. Shown here during a rehearsal are the composer, soloist, and conductor, Ravinia music director Seiji Ozawa.

Starker was soloist in the United States premiere of Martinon’s Cello Concerto at the Ravinia Festival on July 31, 1965. Seiji Ozawa, the Festival’s music director, conducted.

A complete list of János Starker’s solo appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are below (subscription concerts at Orchestra Hall, unless otherwise noted):

November 19 and 20, 1953
DVOŘÁK Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104
Fritz Reiner, conductor

November 24, 1953
SCHUBERT/Cassadó Cello Concerto in A Minor
Fritz Reiner, conductor

February 4 and 5, 1954
BEETHOVEN Triple Concerto in C Major, Op. 56
Bruno Walter, conductor
George Schick, piano
John Weicher, violin

January 6 and 7, 1955
BRAHMS Double Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102
Bruno Walter, conductor
John Weicher, violin

April 14 and 15, 1955
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 58
Fritz Reiner, conductor

October 6, 7, and 11, 1955
STRAUSS Don Quixote, Op. 35
Fritz Reiner, conductor
John Weicher, violin
Milton Preves, viola

January 5 and 6, 1956
SCHUMANN Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 129
Fritz Reiner, conductor

February 28, March 1, and 12, 1957
BRAHMS Double Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102
Fritz Reiner, conductor
John Weicher, violin

March 14 and 15, 1957
SAINT-SAËNS Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 33
Fritz Reiner, conductor

June 28, 1957 (Ravinia Festival)
DVOŘÁK Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104
Igor Markevitch, conductor

December 5 and 6, 1957
HINDEMITH Cello Concerto
Fritz Reiner, conductor

March 20, 21, and 25, 1958
STRAUSS Don Quixote, Op. 35
Fritz Reiner, conductor
John Weicher, violin
Milton Preves, viola

October 19 and 20, 1961
PROKOFIEV Symphony-Concerto for Cello, Op. 125
Erich Leinsdorf, conductor

July 23, 1963 (Ravinia Festival)
DVOŘÁK Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104
Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, conductor

July 30, 1963 (Ravinia Festival)
WALTON Cello Concerto
Sir William Walton, conductor

December 3 and 4, 1964
HAYDN Cello Concerto in C Major
TCHAIKOVSKY Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
Jean Martinon, conductor

July 31, 1965 (Ravinia Festival)
MARTINON Cello Concerto, Op. 52
Seiji Ozawa, conductor

July 29, 1967 (Ravinia Festival)
LALO Cello Concerto in D Minor
Jean Martinon, conductor

May 9 and 10, 1968
HINDEMITH Cello Concerto
Jean Martinon, conductor

July 18, 1970 (Ravinia Festival)
DVOŘÁK Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104
István Kertész, conductor

November 4 and 5, 1971
RÓZSA Cello Concerto, Op. 32
Georg Solti, conductor

July 15, 1972 (Ravinia Festival)
HAYDN Cello Concerto in C Major
István Kertész, conductor

July 21, 1973 (Ravinia Festival)
BEETHOVEN Triple Concerto in C Major, Op. 56
BRAHMS Double Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102
Sergiu Comissiona, conductor
Rudolf Buchbinder, piano
Franco Gulli, violin

July 27, 1974 (Ravinia Festival)
SAINT-SAËNS Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 33
TCHAIKOVSKY Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33
Kazimierz Kord, conductor

August 2, 1975 (Ravinia Festival)
SHOSTAKOVICH Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 107
Lawrence Foster, conductor

October 7, 8, and 9, 1976
SAINT-SAËNS Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 33
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

November 22, 24, and 25, 1978
BOCCHERINI Cello Concerto B-flat Major
Sir Georg Solti, conductor

November 25, 27, and 28, 1987
HINDEMITH Cello Concerto
Erich Leinsdorf, conductor

We have lost a legend.

Victor Aitay, who served the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for fifty seasons as assistant concertmaster (1954–1965), associate concertmaster (1965–1967), concertmaster (1967–1986), and concertmaster emeritus (1986–2003), passed away earlier today. He was 91.

Victor Aitay was born in Budapest in 1921 and entered the Franz Liszt Royal Academy—where faculty included Béla Bartók, Zoltan Kodály, Ernst von Dohnányi, and Leo Weiner—at the age of seven. After receiving an artist’s diploma there, he became concertmaster of the Hungarian Royal Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra and organized the Aitay String Quartet. He toured extensively throughout Europe with that ensemble and also performed in recital and as soloist with major orchestras.

During World War II, Aitay was among the tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust because of the heroic efforts of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. He recounted the story to the Chicago Tribune’s John von Rhein in May 2001.

Aitay and Eva Vera Kellner were married just after the war on November 17, 1945. In 1946, they left Hungary along with their friend János Starker and other colleagues, and went to Vienna. They soon traveled to the United States, where Aitay auditioned for and was hired by Fritz Reiner, then music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. After two seasons (1946–1948) in Pittsburgh, he joined the orchestra of New York’s Metropolitan Opera beginning in 1948 and was rostered until 1955, serving as associate concertmaster from 1952 until 1955.

In 1954, again at the invitation of Fritz Reiner, he joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as assistant concertmaster. In 1965, Aitay was appointed associate concertmaster by Jean Martinon; two years later, Martinon promoted Aitay to the position of concertmaster. He served the Orchestra in that capacity until 1986, when he relinquished the chair to serve as concertmaster emeritus until his retirement in 2003.

Aitay also served as professor of violin at DePaul University, music director and conductor of the Lake Forest Symphony, and leader of the Chicago Symphony String Quartet. He was awarded an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Lake Forest College, and an article about the CSO that he wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times was published in the book 20th Century Chicago.

Aitay’s beloved wife Eva preceded him in death in November 2008, and he is survived by his daughter Ava Aitay-Murray and granddaughter Ashley Murray. Services will be this Friday, July 27, 12:00 noon, at Piser Funeral Services, 9200 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie. Interment immediately following at Memorial Park Cemetery, 9900 Gross Point Road, also in Skokie. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the DePaul University School of Music, or the Merit School of Music.

Just before his retirement in October 2003, Victor wrote: “As I begin my fiftieth season with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I find myself looking back on what I consider the most gratifying years of my life. It has given me great pride to be the concertmaster of this incredible orchestra, to play with the finest musicians, and to tour around the world several times. Making music with the world’s greatest conductors, soloists, and composers over the past half century has been a real privilege. As I move forward into new passages of my life, I will always carry with me rich and wonderful memories. These fifty years have been a beautiful symphony for me. Thank you.”

Addition: Here is a clip from a taping Victor made for the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, that includes a performance of the first movement Adagio from Bach’s Violin Sonata no. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001 (with thanks to Andrew Patner).

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