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Isaac Stern

On this day, 100 years ago, Isaac Stern was born in Kremenets, Poland (now Ukraine). At the age of 14 months, Stern and his family emigrated to the United States and settled in San Francisco. Stern made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony at the age of 15, playing the Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto №3 in B minor with the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Pierre Monteux.

Isaac Stern’s career is vast and legendary, but I’d like to point out two things before sharing some of his performances and recordings. First, he was instrumental — pardon the pun — in saving Carnegie Hall from demolition. It is hard to imagine that such an incredible New York City landmark was ever under consideration for demolition, but such was the case in 1957 when the New York Philharmonic moved to Lincoln Center. Stern gathered the world’s most famous musicians to petition and successfully convinced the city give the hall landmark status. Because of his efforts, Stern was made the first president of the Carnegie Hall Corporation in 1960 and remained its president until his death in 2001.

Second, in 1979, Stern was the first major Western artist invited to tour China after the Cultural Revolution. This extraordinary visit and concert tour was captured in the Oscar-winning documentary, From Mao to Mozart. His visit changed the lives of young Chinese musicians and helped inspire an intense devotion throughout the country in having children study music.

Isaac Stern, Life’s Virtuoso is an excellent documentary on Stern.