Cover image for My first 79 years
My first 79 years
Stern, Isaac, 1920-2001.
Personal Author:
First trade edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1999.
Physical Description:
317 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
ML418.S75 A3 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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For sixty-four years, Isaac Stern has been a great--and greatly loved--performing artist, famous for his profound music-making, his gusto for life, his passionate dedication to sharing his knowledge and wisdom with younger musicians, and his determination in a good cause (Stern is, after all, The Man Who Saved Carnegie Hall). Indeed, there is no more revered musician in the world than Isaac Stern, revered not only as a great violinist but as a warm and generous personality and as a crucial figure and spokesperson in the world of the arts. Brought to America from Russia when he was ten months old, Stern grew up in San Francisco and was quickly recognized as an extraordinary talent. He began performing publicly while still very young, and was soon touring across the country and around the world. His fame escalated when he led the fight to save Carnegie Hall, and again when he was the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary filmFrom Mao to Mozart. In this book he shares with us both his personal and his artistic experiences: the story of his rise to eminence; his feelings about music and the violin; his rich emotional life; his great friendships and collaborations with colleagues such as Leonard Bernstein and Pablo Casals; his background as an ardent supporter of Israel; his ideas and beliefs about art, life, love, and the world we live in. At seventy-nine, Stern's mind, his wit, and his spirit are as strong as ever, and they are conveyed to us in the most sympathetic and articulate way by Chaim Potok. The two men spent a year talking and sharing their perceptions, and the result is a book in which Stern's voice comes through with complete conviction and persuasiveness. The man on the page is the musician and humanitarian we have loved and admired for so long. Here is the most readable and revealing musical autobiography of the decade.

Author Notes

Chaim Potok was born in New York City in 1929. He graduated summa cum laude (with highest honors) from Yeshiva University in 1950, and received an advanced degree from Jewish Theological Seminary in 1954, when he also became an ordained Conservative rabbi. After two years of military service as a chaplain in Korea, Potok married Adena Sarah Mosevitsky in 1958. The couple had three children. Eventually Potok returned to school and received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965.

Potok has held a variety of positions within the Jewish community, including directing a camp in Los Angeles, teaching at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles at a Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and working as an editor on various religious publications,

Potok's first novel, The Chosen, was published in 1967, and he quickly won acclaim for this best-selling book about tensions within the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities. This and later books have been both critically and popularly successful. Many of them explore the meaning of Judaism in the modern era, focusing on the conflict between traditional teachings and the pressures of modern life. The Chosen was nominated for a National Book Award in 1967 and made into a successful film in 1982. Its sequel, The Promise (1969) was the winner of an Athenaeum Award.

Potok is also the author of a nonfiction volume, Wanderings: Chaim Potok's History of the Jews (1978), as well as several short stories and articles that have been published in both religious and secular magazines.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Born in Russia but an immigrant almost immediately thereafter, Stern is arguably the greatest American-bred violinist. He grew up in San Francisco, which he recalls as culturally rich in the '20s and '30s, though when your violin teacher is concertmaster of the city's orchestra, and you play chamber music with him and his orchestral cronies, of course it is. After a less-than-earthshaking New York Town Hall debut at 17, Stern went home and trained his "hands and fingers to recognize what they were doing and what they were supposed to feel like while they were doing it." His second Town Hall appearance two years later launched his career. He has been around the world, seemingly constantly, since, playing in every major and most minor venues, except in Germany and Austria, which he crossed off his list after the Holocaust was exposed. Although raised in a religiously nonobservant family, he became a champion of Israel and thereafter a busy cultural ambassador, touring the Soviet Union early in the cold war era and China as it was opening up to the U.S. Meanwhile, he spearheaded the 1970s campaign to save Carnegie Hall. All those experiences and the encounters with the panoply of famous people they entailed seem to be noticed in an as-told-to autobiography that benefits immensely from having esteemed novelist Potok as its transcriber. Like many a star performer's memoir, Stern's turns into a choppy recital of concerts and other appearances after the first few chapters. But Potok makes it flow beautifully, in a voice that is vital and exciting as well as excited, never more so than when it is talking about music performance and performers. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

As one might expect, the more engaging elements in this autobiography occur when Stern, world-renowned violinist (or as he would have it, "fiddler") and music education activist, discusses playingÄand not just his own. Stern seems most excited when discussing performances by others (mainly classical musicians and conductors), including Naoum Blinder, Pierre Monteux and Leonard Bernstein. The virtuoso also details his childhood and formal training: Stern, it seems, had very little of either. Born and raised by middle-class Russian-Ukrainian immigrant parents in San Francisco, Stern credits his interest in the violin to a childhood friend: "My friend Nathan Koblick was playing the violin; therefore, I wanted to play the violin." Rather than bloat his talent or sense of destiny, Stern is given to frank statements such as, "It seems I may have been the first American violinist to do a tour of the major Soviet cities." Coauthor Potok's (The Promise) narrative touch is clear; instead of technical jargon, classical pieces are described through setting and emotion. Occasionally, lifeless passages diminish substanceÄe.g., long transcriptions of personal tapes Stern sent his family while out on the road; and there are windy clich‚s: on meeting President Kennedy, Stern writes, "I felt as though I were inside a golden coach drawn by four pure-bred white horses into the glitter of mythic Camelot." But after three marriages, four kids and a 60-plus-year career that spans playing in Carnegie Hall to saving it from demolition, to touring the world dozens of times over, a man is entitled to a few clich‚s. Photos. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Stern has packed several lifetimes of accomplishments into his first 79 years, and they make for fascinating reading. With his beloved Guarnerius safely in hand, he delighted audiences around the world, performing before heads of state, regular concert audiences, and patients in Israeli hospitals. The stories of these experiences range from humorous to deeply moving and reveal Stern to be a generous, talented, and comfortingly human personality. His colleagues over the years read like a musical Who's WhoÄLeonard Bernstein, Pablo Caasals, and a host of others too numerous to mention. Warm reminiscences of friendships and professional associations with impresario Sol Hurok and accompanist Alexander Zakin are woven throughout, alongside stories about Carnegie Hall. (Stern didn't just perform there throughout his careerÄhe was also a pivotal figure in saving it from the wrecker's ball.) His story flows engagingly with an approach that is candid yet gracious. Written with award-winning novelist Potok, this is a sensitive and engrossing history of a man and an era. Recommended for all libraries, especially those with strong music and art collections.ÄCarol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Isaac Stern has been one of the world's leading violinists for a half-century. However, his activities have strayed far from the concert stage. He has fought for arts funding in the US and has been a champion for the state of Israel. He was one of the first US artists to play in both the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War. He has been mentor and colleague to countless young musicians. He led the effort to preserve Carnegie Hall. Although his memoir includes the mandatory lists of concert venues ("Fort Worth, Laredo, Columbus, Cedar Falls, Stamford," etc.), Stern's other lives are reflected as well. Most valuable for musicians, perhaps, are his thoughts on violin study and on playing chamber music. Doubtless novelist Potok worked hard on this material, because he has produced one of the most interesting musical memoirs since Artur Rubinstein's two-volume biography My Young Years (CH, Sep'73) and My Many Years (CH, Jul'80). (Is it coincidence that both Stern and Rubinstein have been criticized perpetually for not practicing enough?) Recommended, especially to undergraduate string players. B. J. Murray; University of Alabama