The conductor George Szell once told Isaac Stern that if he spent less time doing other things and more time practicing he could be "the greatest violinist in the world." Since those "other things" included saving Carnegie Hall from the wrecker's ball, generously sponsoring young artists like Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, and touring the world as an ambassador of American classical performance, music lovers can only be grateful that Stern settled for being one of the world's great violinists. His appealing memoir reveals a well-rounded man with a gusto for life beyond the concert hall that made his passion for music all the more fulfilling. Born on the Russian-Polish border in 1920, Stern grew up in San Francisco and by age 6 already displayed a precocious musical gift. His assessment of his abilities is refreshingly free of false modesty, while his enthusiastic appreciation for such fellow artists as Pablo Casals, Leonard Bernstein, and Rudolf Serkin keeps him from seeming like an egomaniac. Perhaps because of the contributions of coauthor Chaim Potok (author of The Chosen
and other novels), the prose here is smoother and less self-conscious than in many performers' memoirs. It limns a vigorous, busy life dedicated to the idea that music has the power to break down barriers between people and nations. --Wendy Smith
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From Publishers Weekly
As one might expect, the more engaging elements in this autobiography occur when Stern, world-renowned violinist (or as he would have it, "fiddler") and music education activist, discusses playingAand not just his own. Stern seems most excited when discussing performances by others (mainly classical musicians and conductors), including Naoum Blinder, Pierre Monteux and Leonard Bernstein. The virtuoso also details his childhood and formal training: Stern, it seems, had very little of either. Born and raised by middle-class Russian-Ukrainian immigrant parents in San Francisco, Stern credits his interest in the violin to a childhood friend: "My friend Nathan Koblick was playing the violin; therefore, I wanted to play the violin." Rather than bloat his talent or sense of destiny, Stern is given to frank statements such as, "It seems I may have been the first American violinist to do a tour of the major Soviet cities." Coauthor Potok's (The Promise) narrative touch is clear; instead of technical jargon, classical pieces are described through setting and emotion. Occasionally, lifeless passages diminish substanceAe.g., long transcriptions of personal tapes Stern sent his family while out on the road; and there are windy clich?s: on meeting President Kennedy, Stern writes, "I felt as though I were inside a golden coach drawn by four pure-bred white horses into the glitter of mythic Camelot." But after three marriages, four kids and a 60-plus-year career that spans playing in Carnegie Hall to saving it from demolition, to touring the world dozens of times over, a man is entitled to a few clich?s. Photos. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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