János Starker Remembrance Week: A Tribute To János Starker

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By Maria Kliegel

A moment of tense, expectant silence – to me it seemed to be an eternity. A couple of silent smoky clouds floating in the teaching room.  Janos Starker looked at me in his typical manner, a gaze so full of intensity that I could feel it under my skin, followed by a shattering comment, uttered with a cool slowness and a stony, unchangeable look on his face:  “if you ever play as inaccurately as you just did, I will deny ever having been your teacher.“ And again, an eternal moment of silence, this time I sat horrified in my chair, not being able to breathe or move. Silent smoky clouds.

One of my lessons in Bloomington ended this way – the Haydn D major concerto.

I was 19 and more than eager to learn from Janos Starker, whom I adored and respected endlessly, and of course I was full of pride and happiness to be part of a group of chosen students. It is easy to imagine with how much force his words struck me.

Of course he knew that and used his brilliant pedagogical skills in order to safely put me on the road, not to hurt me or cut me down.

Janos Starker was an extremely intelligent teacher who not only passed on excellent cello technique, but also had an extraordinarily caring way of guiding young people, including all psychological means and tricks. His aims were extremely high and almost impossible to reach. There always was struggle, but at the same time satisfaction as well from trying to reach the top and please the master. He set me on fire, burning with inspiration to reach his goals, to fulfill his demands.

This came to be one of my golden rules of life: “ If you want to become a musician who is characterized by individuality and true expressiveness, you have to train yourself, your muscles, your brain, your imagination, your ears, your taste on the highest level and in all dimensions of self-criticism and experience, so to eventually let your soul shine through. Music exists to touch and deeply move, not simply to show off or try to be everybody’s darling. Don’t get lost in being an actor on stage, showing how exciting and fantastic you are; create excitement for the audience but stay behind modestly with a cool and controlled mind.”

Janos Starker was an elegant human being and musician, full of honesty, dignity, responsibility, famous for his unforgettably subtle humor, loving, caring, guiding, demanding. His purity of tone and phrasing overwhelmed. He taught me love and respect for mankind and music. He woke up my senses, planted seeds for my entire life. He helped me organize and discipline myself, taught me to analyze and enjoy, to find my own frame looking for solutions and making decisions.

I feel endlessly privileged to have received the most precious of gifts – to know him, to have crossed his path, learned from him. Logically, it is now my turn and responsibility to carry his unique heritage to the next generation.

Maria Kliegel

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Born into a Polish émigré family of professional musicians, Maria Kliegel was given a cello at the age of ten, her father intending to form a string quartet within the family. After winning first prize twice in the German Jugend Musiziert (Young Musician) competition she went to the Frankfurt Conservatory and then to Canada for masterclasses with János Starker. Starker took her as a pupil at Bloomington, bringing discipline and technique to her otherwise instinctive musicianship. Intensive artistic instruction then came from Rostropovich’s month-long classes in Basle: he spent two weeks guiding students through concertos with the piano before allowing them to perform with an orchestra. Kliegel’s subsequent success at the Rostropovich Competition in Paris led immediately to an international profile, which she has maintained despite a sabbatical period to raise a family. Recording highlights include her Dvořák and Elgar Concertos and Schnittke’s Cello Concerto No. 1, described by the composer as ‘definitive’.

In cello pedagogy Kliegel’s activities include a professorship at the Cologne Musikhochschule and a multi-media publication, Cello Master Class Using Technique and Imagination to Achieve Artistic Expression (originally in German).

Kliegel’s playing is characterised by a warmth and sensitivity which complements established works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as core twentieth-century works. Her playing is notably refined and beautiful, with a fastidious approach and (often the case with more recent players) the ability to adapt a mainstream style to suit a variety of repertory.

The Bach Cello Suites (2003) are given an uncontroversial reading, Kliegel displaying accomplishment and careful consideration. There is clarity and resonance to her playing, relying upon fundamental tone production rather than too much glossy and historically anachronistic vibrato. A similarly thoughtful approach characterises Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 with the Cologne Chamber Orchestra (2000): there is a lightness and elegance to the sound that suits the established mid-twentieth-century understanding of classical style. More exciting is Beethoven’s Op. 102 No. 1 Sonata (2003), with an energetic mood in the opening Allegro vivace, for example, albeit with a slightly exaggerated approach to Beethoven’s famous accents. This said, there is a somewhat saccharine understanding of slower passages, but the performance is well balanced and delivered with a beautiful bel canto. Richer tones are explored in Brahms’s Op. 99 Sonata (1992), with a committed outlook in the first movement. This reading is perhaps marred by a stereotypical ‘Brahms sound’: that is to say, the twentieth-century misconception that such music necessitates thick textures, steady tempi and heavily-applied vibrato.

Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 (1995) is equally worthy. This is an attractive recording, though lacking the committed fire (and flaws!) of Rostropovich’s performances of this powerful work.

In many ways Kliegel’s recordings are excellent, with evidence of an adaptable and sensitive aesthetic within an apparent conformity to recent notions of good taste.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

 

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János Starker Remembrance Week: Reminiscences from the Starker Studio

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Cello-playing aside, Starker’s intelligence, force of personality, and personal discipline were intimidating to most people, and downright frightening to students.  Our culture generally allows our geniuses and high achievers to be self-indulgent and immature outside of their field of endeavor, but Starker lived out his ideals and principles at all times (that we could see).  This discipline made him virtually bullet-proof as a cellist.

During my two years in Bloomington, I carried a relatively light course load, as I wanted to observe as many lessons as possible.  I was in MA 155 many mornings when he came in, looking tired and/or hungover, needing coffee, and not wanting to hear anything too loud.  The student would play for awhile, and Starker would listen as long as he could before had to stop him/her, get out his cello, and teach. Continue reading

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CelloBello János Starker Remembrance Week: Janos Starker, Who Is, Was, and Always Will Be My Master

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Starker with pianist Gyorgy Sebok – life-long friend and musical partner of Starker.

By Michael Haber

Many years ago, I was on a family trip to Israel. In a hotel in Beersheva, I was surprised to find Mr. Starker standing in the lobby together with the conductor of the Israel Sinfonietta. I greeted Mr. Starker………”Janos Starker, who is, was, and always will be my master.”

What has remained with me since my final lesson with Mr. Starker in August 1966 is his personal brilliance as a man and his deep patience and kindness. His way of being kind, which often meant an uncompromising honesty, was perhaps not for everyone. But what is more kind, in a teacher/student relationship, than taking a student seriously enough to share with them what you truly think, in the hope that these insights will help them move forward in their work? Continue reading

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CelloBello János Starker Remembrance Week: Life as a Student of János Starker

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János Starker “S” Bridge

János Starker’s incomparable achievements as a performer and recording artist are well-documented. However, when I first appeared at his door as a new graduate student, my awareness of him mostly stemmed from hearing others speak about him, and from only one of his recordings: that of Zoltan Kodaly’s Sonata, Op. 8. I had developed a mental image of Mr. Starker as an austere, intimidating presence.

Paul Katz, with whom I had been studying at Eastman, enjoyed a longstanding friendship with Mr. Starker, and in those years Paul would often send a graduating senior to Bloomington for further education. Continue reading

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CelloBello János Starker Remembrance Week April 22-28

CelloBello Remembers János Starker

Please join us for a full week of events and video releases,
to remember and honor this great figure of the cello world.
Preview of upcoming events:

New Videos of Never-Before Seen Interviews

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Newly released interview videos of János Starker in conversation with Paul Katz in 2010. 

April 22: Growing as a Performer
April 23Releasing Tension
April 24Rhythmic Freedom
April 25Vibrato
April 26His Performance Anxiety
April 27His Difficult, Early Years

Please visit our János Starker CelloLegacy section 
on CelloBello.com each day to view the newest video.

Daily Blogs 
A new blog each day at CelloBlog by former Starker students and family including
Robert BatteyPaul KatzMaria KliegelAlexandra Preucil (Starker’s granddaughter),
Brant Taylor and Jeffrey Zeigler.

CelloChats
Your chance to ask questions about Starker’s cello teachings and hear personal anecdotes and stories of the master! 3 special CelloChats with former students of Starker

Reminiscing: What I Learned From János Starker
all chats at 8:30 pm EDT at www.cellobello.com/chat

  April 22Brant Taylor, Chicago Symphony
            April 26Jeffrey Zeigler, formerly of Kronos Quartet, now at Mannes School of Music
            April 28Paul Katz, formerly of Cleveland Quartet, now at New England Conservatory  Continue reading

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The Feldenkrais Method Helps Cellists!

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A blog on the Feldenkrais Method and a call to apply for the Your Body is your Strad summer program by March 31. Written by Uri Vardi

The Feldenkrais Method is a modality used to improve body awareness that has proven to be highly effective in alleviating pain, anxiety, and movement difficulties. The Method involves the use of movement, touch and imagery as tools for learning new ways of functioning. The heightened awareness that develops through the use of this method leads to Continue reading

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Air Travel w/ Musical Instruments – Final Ruling!

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Photo and article from BMI News http://www.bmi.com/news/entry/final_ruling_for_air_travel_with_musical_instruments

As of March 6, 2015, it’s official and no longer at the discretion of the various airlines. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, musicians who board planes must be allowed to carry on their instruments provided they fit in the overhead bin. If this space isn’t large enough, the musician is also permitted to purchase a second seat in which to stow their musical companion. One caveat: the airlines don’t have to prioritize musical instruments ahead of any other carry-on luggage, so if the bins are full, you’ll still have to check your instrument at the gate. To remedy this, the DoT suggests that musicians may want to pay the airline’s fee for priority boarding to ensure that there will be room for their gear.

Read the final ruling here, and for additional information, Continue reading

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What if We All Did That?

OK, not to blog-rant (is that a thing?) but I’m often surprised by basic behaviors I see in music students (and professionals) and it reminds me of a saying we have in our cello section: “What if we all did that?” Here are my top 3:

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Martha Baldwin – Cleveland Orchestra

1. STAY!!!!!! seriously, just stay to the end people. I realize that many student recitals seem endless but leaving as soon as you’re done playing is, simply put, rude. I’ve seen entire rows of extended family get up and leave noisily after the first performer (their kid) is finished and I’m shocked. Really? No one else matters? Your child is so special that this entire recital is there just for his/her 4 minutes of glory? People notice these things. As a side benefit – there is no performance you can listen to and not learn something. So come one, stay to the end. Support your Continue reading

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Beneath the Surface of Brahms

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Brahms’ 3rd Symphony Cello Excerpt

A successful audition performance involves showing many different sides of yourself, musically, in a condensed period of time. Therefore, it is useful if not imperative to conceive each excerpt on a list in its own distinct world of character and color. Despite being works from the same composer, the well-known cello audition excerpt from Brahms’ Second Symphony, which we previously discussed, and the cello audition excerpt from Brahms’ Third Symphony, which is the subject of this post, present quite different opportunities. While these suggestions are not the only solutions to the challenges presented by this excerpt, they are a starting point for practice and discussion and illustrate some of the details that must be carefully considered in any successful performance. Continue reading

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Setting Goals

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photo: Meb Keflezighi. In 2014, he became the first American to win Boston Marathon since 1982

“The well-prepared marathoner looks after every detail of proper physical and mental training, nutrition, hydration, clothing, and equipment.”
– Amby Burfoot (running guru and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon)

This attention to a wide range of details occurs over months of training, all with the ultimate goal of running 26.2 miles. Musicians should train for performance the same way runners train for marathons: with great organization and structure. Marathon training plans are highly detailed, with specific goals for each day. All facets of daily life become focused around achieving a personalized and realistic goal. This goal is set for one race, and is based on previous experience and current fitness. Both running and music are daily Continue reading

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