Janos Starker is one of the most important cellists and musicians of the twentieth century. He was a virtuoso who was equally at ease playing concertos as chamber music. He described himself as "the only cellist to freeze the air around [him]", and relished the austere way in which he was often portrayed.
Janos Starker grew up in a music-loving family and his two older brothers played the violin. At the age of six, he began learning cello and joined Adolf Schiffer's class at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. In 1932, he gave his first public concert. He joined the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra in 1945 and performed with them as Solo Cellist for two years.
In 1946, he left Hungary and moved to Paris where he gave a series of concerts and recitals. He recorded the world premiere of Zoltan Kodaly's Sonata for Solo Cello op.8, which won him the Grand Prix du Disque in 1948. The same year he left France for the United States where he first joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra – then conducted by Antal Dorati - before accepting an offer from conductor Fritz Reiner to join the Met as Principal Cellist. He remained there for four years, before moving to the Chicago Orchestra.
In 1958, he began working as a soloist once more and chose to devote himself to recording and teaching: he became a teacher at the Music School of the Indiana University Bloomington and also began conducting symphonic ensembles across the United States.
Janos Starker’s discography brings together Bach, Dvořák, Messiaen, Schumann but also Bartók and Kodaly, two composers whose music he popularised. A large number of composers, including David Baker, Antal Dorati, Bernard Heiden, Jean Martinon, Miklos Roza and Robert Starer, have dedicated a concerto to him.
He played chamber music, both as part of the Roth Quartet, collaborating with Feri Roth, Nicholas Harsanyi and Jenö Antal, and with pianists Julius Katchen and György Sebök. Janos Starker played on a 1705 Matteo Goffriller cello, known as "The Star" and a 1707 Guarnerius del Gesu.
Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Janos Starker
1948 : Made the first recording of the Sonata for Solo Cello op.89 by Kodaly, as a 78 rpm for the Pacific Records
1950 : Joined the Roth Quartet alongside Feri Roth, Nicholas Harsanyi and Jenö Antal.
1973 : Started teaching at the Lucerne Festival
1978 : Performed Variations on a Rococo Theme by Tchaikovsky with the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Albert Rosen
1981 : Was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music