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Isaac Stern is possibly the most well-known violinist of the 20th century. In over sixty years as a professional musician, Stern has worked with many great composers, and acted as a mentor for many younger musicians including Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Yo-Yo Ma. With more than one hundred classical recordings, Isaac Stern is the most recorded musical artist of our time.

Stern was born on July 21, 1920 in Kremnets, Russia (now Ukraine). When Isaac was ten months old, his parents moved to San Francisco to flee from the Russian Revolution. Isaac was first trained in music (piano) by his mother at age seven and began taking violin lessons at the age of eight. He later studied violin with Robert Pollack, Louis Persinger, and the influential Nahum Blinder. He was a true child prodigy, having his first violin recital at age thirteen and his first orchestral debut at sixteen (a national broadcast of the Brahms Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony).

In 1937, Stern made his New York-debut in Carnegie Hall. The famous concert hall would be his musical home for many years, and without Isaac Stern, the building would not exist today. In the late 1950s, a construction company was planning to tear down Carnegie Hall and build Lincoln Center on its grounds. Isaac Stern strongly opposed to the destruction. His rally secured legislation to save the monument, and he raised over $5 million dollars for the city of New York to buy the building.

Stern's musical legacy is diverse: his interpretations of the classical works are critically acclaimed, but he also recorded many works for violin by twentieth century composers such as Leonard Bernstein, Maxwell Davies, William Schuman and Krzysztof Penderecki. His open-mindedness also expanded to other media such as cinema and television. In 1945, he was the music advisor to the movie Humoresque (doubling the violin parts for the actor John Garfield). He played violinist Eugene Ysaye in the movie Tonight we Sing (1953). The 1980 documentary "From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China" won an Academy award for best documentary. He appeared on TV programs such as 60 minutes, Good Morning America, the Today Show and Sesame Street. During his most productive years, Stern performed around the world, in over 150 concerts per year. In the last years of his life, Stern toured and recorded with a chamber orchestra that consisted of Emanuel Ax, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma and himself.

Stern has been a mentor and teacher to many younger musicians. He worked with individuals and ensembles in what he called "encounter sessions"; in these training sessions (that sometimes lasted up to two weeks), he further developed the artist's musical skills that he believed were not taught at conservatories: I teach them how to listen to themselves and be honest, so they can become independent and go as far as their talent can take them, which is usually farther than they've gone at the time they come to me. The main direction is teaching them not how you play but why. Why do you want to be a musician?"

Isaac Stern received numerous awards, such as the (first) Albert Schweitzer Music Award, the Kennedy Center Honors Award, the Gold Baton of the American Symphony Orchestra League, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1992, President Bush awarded him the highest civil honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1997, he received Japan's highest award, The Order of the Rising Sun. Isaac Stern holds honorary doctorates from many universities around the world.

One final anecdote to characterize this legendary violinist: In 1991, during the Gulf War, Stern performed in Jerusalem when the sirens rang for a potential bomb strike. But Isaac Stern refused to cancel his performance. Instead, the audience donned their gas masks, while Stern returned to stage to finish his Bach solo...

Isaac Stern died on Saturday September 22, 2001 in New York at the age of 81.

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