When I woke up this morning, my phone was filled with emails and text messages about one thing: János Starker died today. Shocked at the sad news, my first thoughts were that I am honored to have met him, and that I am glad I had the opportunity to dedicate my performance on Friday night to the cello master. I want to offer a few thoughts and experiences I had with the legendary performer and teacher.
“János Starker” is a name that I have revered since I was a young boy. My first cello teacher, Richard Worcester, once gave me a cassette tape for me to study of Starker playing the Saint-Saëns cello concerto. I still remember how impressed I was with his technical clarity and precision. Since that day, I always go to János Starker’s recordings for my first study of a piece.
In 2005, “János Starker” became more than a name to me. I was privileged enough to play for Mr. Starker at Indiana University, where he taught for several years. I was there auditioning for the school of music for my undergraduate degree. When I walked into his office for my audition, I don’t remember him ever saying a word to me – maybe just “hello” or “let’s begin”. I was honored, terrified, and excited all at the same time. I performed Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations as well as the gavottes from Bach suite 4. Then I left! That was it! Really, there was hardly any interaction between us at all. But I remember looking up at him while I was performing, and he was staring at me with “those eyes.” I had always heard about his powerful gaze. People said that when he looks at you, you listen. His eyes almost put you in a trance. So I had to see for myself during my audition. And the rumors were true. His eyes were truly intense and powerful! But I must say as well, although his gaze was intense, I didn’t let it get to me; I had also been reassured that he was a kind, gentle man. And that he was.
Another thought I have is about my concert this past Friday night. I performed a solo recital at Arizona State University, where I played the Kodály solo sonata. This piece was deemed by many as unplayable, until Starker performed the difficult piece when he was still young. With Starker’s incredible performance of this previously “impossible” sonata, the child prodigy set a new standard of cello playing. On Friday, I didn’t perform the piece anywhere near his caliber; but I am deeply honored I was able to spend an entire evening revering the master with my close friends, family, and appreciative artists and musicians.
Today I am truly in awe over János Starker, just as I was that day listening to him on my cassette tape. I am so glad to have met him. And although I am saddened for the loss of a legend, I am happy to be able to commemorate him, and I will the rest of my life. He taught and performed worldwide, and as one of the greatest cellists who has ever lived, I will be revere and honor him forever.
by Zack Clark