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JANOS STARKER
A
75th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
at La Jolla Chamber Music Society
SUMMERFEST '99

For three weeks each summer, the seaside community of La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya) becomes a mecca for chamber music, drawing together musicians of fame and musicians of promise in a celebration that has come to be known as Summerfest La Jolla. In 1998 the La Jolla Chamber Music Society brought in the husband-and-wife team of cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han as Summerfest's new artistic directors, and with them a burst of youthful energy that has given the festival a new spark of life.

Summerfest La Jolla '99 was, like the one before it, a musically enriching and provocative experience for performers and audience members alike. But what set it apart from previous festivals was its special celebration of the 75th birthday of a living legend - JANOS STARKER, virtuoso cellist and master teacher.

What a wonderful way to open a music festival!

And to spend a weekend (Aug 6-8). In the intimate setting of a small concert hall on a bluff overlooking the Pacific (otherwise known as the Sherwood Auditorium in the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art). In which the star of the show each evening was the honoree himself.

Janos Starker's birthday celebration began Friday with musical fare that would make most of us feel at home: Haydn's String Quartet in D Minor, Opus 76, No. 2 ("Quinten"); Mendelssohn's Octet for Strings in E-Flat Major, Opus 20 (with strong performances by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, violinists Philip Setzer and Benny Kim, violist Cynthia Phelps and cellist Carter Brey); and the evening's highlight, Janos Starker's peerless rendition of Bach's Suite No. 3 in C Major for Unaccompanied Cello, a piece from his recent recording of Bach's Suites for Solo Cello, Nos. 1-6 - on the BMG/RCA Red Seal label - for which he received the 1997 Grammy Award for "Best Recording by a Soloist without Accompaniment."

But it was Saturday's performance that was the high point of the celebration.

It was a varied programme that juxtaposed less familiar works by 20th century composers (Zoltán Kodaly and George Enesco) with seldom heard pieces by composers of the 17th (François Couperin and Girolamo Frescobaldi). Was this programme celebratory or cerebratory? However one heard it, it worked!

The predominantly Starker evening opened with Kodaly's Duo for Violin and Cello in which the Hungarian composer has brilliantly interwoven the melody and rhythm of Eastern European folk music with his own distinctive harmonies and dissonances. The colorful music, in which the instruments alternately become soloist and accompanist to each other, and the total musical communication between the Hungarian-born Starker and his son-in-law, violinist William Preucil (also the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra and San Diego's Mainly Mozart Festival), made for a most picturesque performance and - to the uninitiated - an enjoyable introduction to Kodaly.

The impassioned Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Opus 25 by the Romanian composer George Enesco (played with equal passion by violinist Robert McDuffie and pianist Christopher O'Riley) then took the audience through the emotional highs and lows of a gypsy fiddler, shifting the focus away from the cello.

But only briefly. For soon it was time again for romancing the cello....

Imagine a string ensemble of 14 cellists with Janos Starker in the lead!


And imagine the 13 cellists to be Janos Starker's admiring students, friends and colleagues - all. That was the cast that gathered on center stage for the second half of the programme to celebrate a great man of music. Together they made music: Couperin's Pièces en concert and Frescobaldi's Toccata, both originally composed for different instrumentations but subsequently arranged for cello. And there was no mistaking the sound - of joy, admiration and affection for the man and his music.

Needless to say, everyone was touched - most especially Janos Starker who, following a brief speech acknowledging the ensemble members behind him as the reason why he continues to teach and perform, went on to hug and kiss each member of the ensemble.


Toccata
- touched! in Italian - was a most apt finale indeed.


P.S. Yes, it was a real birthday party. The celebrant was presented with a delightful piano version of "Happy Birthday" played in the style of Beethoven by Artistic Co-Director Wu Han, and a cello-shaped birthday cake.

Mr. Starker ended the weekend celebration on Sunday evening with a Boccherini Duo with cellist and former student Felix Fan
- copyright 1999 © G.Cajipe/FanFaire


Photo credits: Kendall Reeves, Promote La Jolla; Courtesy: La Jolla Chamber Music Society)

 

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A 75th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION-
LA JOLLA MUSIC SOCIETY
SUMMERFEST

ABOUT JANOS STARKER

DISCOGRAPHY



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