BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Isaac Stern, do you recognize that tune?
ISAAC STERN (Author, "My First 79 Years"): Oh, I do, indeed. You know, Kreisler's music, as I've written somewhere before, is in the ear of every single violinist who lives since he wrote all these wonderful Viennese arrangements.
And I met the man. He was an extraordinary--he was the most--one of the most educated, one of the most swanye, one of the most sophisticated, one of the gentlest and simplest people I ever saw anywhere. He was adorable and I was taken backstage and meet him in Philadelphia. He put a paternal arm around me, people were waiting outside the hall to--to congratulate him and applaud him, as he walked down the street. Took me to a sumptuous German dinner that was absolutely un--unmistakably his pleasure because his wife wasn't there.
So we started with turtle soup--not mock, real turtle soup--and then we had lobster and then we had steak and then we had dessert. And with each course, a wine which he discussed with the captain and knew exactly what would fit best. This was a kind of finesse in the art of living. It...
LAMB: Now where is this picture from?
STERN: It was an idea that I should look somewhat in the ti--in the period costume. I think my girth fits the costume. I've lost weight since then. I may not have looked as--as ample today as I do in there.
LAMB: How many years have you been playing the violin?
STERN: I'm 79. I started when I was eight. That's 71 years playing. And since I first played on the stage, 12--70--67 years. And 15--79--69--64 years since I turned professional.
LAMB: What's the best thing about it?
STERN: Having been married to music all my life. You know, I've talked about this, so it comes somewhat naturally, but it is absolutely true what I'm about to say. There are so many times, and especially in the last 10 years, when I've occasionally stopped and said, `Thank you for making me a musician.'
There is something in--that happens to you when you play, and a moment comes, and it's not often--but a moment comes when you, the music--you're inside--all of it disappear into a oneness, of a unity. And you feel the music going through you and coming out. And it is a--and it is a kind of personal ecstasy that only--that only performers who care desperately about music--not about the instrument, but about music--get to feel. It's what I learned from the time I was 15, to listen for in others.
And as I've--say in the book, I was very lucky when growing up in San Francisco that my teacher, Blinder, organized his own quartet in the San Francisco Symphony. And because he was the dominant violinist in town, I then be--met all the musicians, all the first-chair players. And from the time I was 12, 13, 14, I was playing chamber music with the best musicians in town. I was a new kid on the block and they treated me as a--as a colleague. Gave me hell, which was the best thing they could have done.
But it taught me to listen to chamber music as a way of joining with others, to listen, to be a part of something that was bigger than I. And that experience is, I think, what set my whole musical artistic life in motion. When I was 15, as I write in the book, I heard the Budapest String Quartet just newly arrived in this country.
And then my first all-Beethoven and Bartok cycles. And it swept over me like a--like a stream of--of golden honey to--to learn--it opened worlds for me. And all the members of the quartet became my friends, particularly the second violinist, Alexander Sch--Schneider--Sasha, as we all called him--who became my closest friend when I was 15 until he died, which was about six, seven years ago.
And from that time on, being--as--as the kid in San Francisco whom everybody knew and liked--I was lucky--I was invited to the symphony rehearsals. I was invited to come to the opera rehearsals. That's where I first heard my first ring cycle, conducted by Arthur Budonsky, a famous Wagnerian specialist at the time, with local San Francisco singers like Laritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad and Lotte Lehman and--and Katherine Misley and Traven Shaw.
And I'm talking about big, big singers. I heard Rachmaninoff play Beethoven sonatas. I heard Schnovel. I heard Kreisler. I heard Hyfitsigetti Menuen, when he was--when he was a young man. And all this music and being involved with the playing of chamber music gave me a clear picture of what I intuited and felt strongly at the time and as years later went on, I learned was the reason why--why I'm here, why I'm alive.
LAMB: Do you remember this picture and what the occasion was with John F. Kennedy and his wife?
STERN: Yes. It was the occasion of a--of--of--my friends, Eugene Istomin and--and Leonard Rose--we were the Istomin, Stern, Rose Trio, and we were invited to play at the White House. So I had been a guest at the first concert that the Kennedys had, which was Pablo Casals. And from then on, we were friends and I was at other events at the Kennedy White House. And then they asked us to play on one occasion, and Pierre Salinger, who was his press secretary, was a personal friend of mine.
His mother had briefly taught me French in San Francisco many years before. I never learned very much, but she was an indefatigable woman. And he--Pierre was away from the White House in the--for the couple of days before we came and played, so we didn't have a chance to clue the president in on the--on the niceties of trio chamber music playing.
And we played some Schubert, I think, and the president got up to s--at the end of the performance, as he always does, to thank us and said, `And I thank Isaac Stern and his two accompanists.' I was ready to drop through the floor. That wasn't the right thing to say, but he realized very quickly he'd made a--a serious gaff. And turning on full charm, invited us to his private quarters after the reception and charmed both of my friends right out of their clothes. He was wonderful.
LAMB: Do you remember this meeting in the Oval Office?
STERN: It--the one with Johnson.
LAMB: Lyndon Johnson.
STERN: That was a discussion that I was having with him about establishing the National Endowment on the Arts. I had begun this discussion with Kennedy, and after his assassination, I kept it up to some degree with Salinger and then I had a very close friend who was a--at one time my--my attorney, Abe Fortas, who became Supreme Court justice and was the closest adviser to President Johnson.
Abe was an extraordinary man. A Tennessean with this gallantry--Southern gallantry and a--and a slight, wonderful, little, smooth slur to his--to his accent, who was probably one of the greatest minds--legal minds that this country has ever had. I learned a great deal about the history of law from him--not law, the history of law.
And he was Johnson's closest adviser and Johnson insisted on putting him on the court. And through Abe, I continued the discussions with Johnson as to the necessity of having the National Endowment come into being. We flew back in 1965, it was. I went from Geneva to Washin--to--to London via Washington for the creation of the--of the endowment. And I remember at that conversation Johnson saying to me, `I've talked with Abe about this.' He says, `I don't know much about music or the arts,' he said, `but I promise you one thing, I'm going to keep my cotton pickin' hands off of it. You take care of it.'
So, you know, having that kind of launching was very important at that time. We came in with the enormous budget, I think, of $2 1/2 million or $3 million, which was a laughable amount to people at the Ford Foundation, who were giving 10 times that much. But, slowly, the whole of the NEA grew until it became one of the most important assets to the intellectual and civilized life of this country.
The attacks on it are neither fair, intelligent or educated. And I have no hesitancy in saying all those things about those who have attacked it in the Congress. I pity them because they don't know--they don't realize to what degree they don't know. And they don't recognize the fact that the legacy that the United States will leave as a civilized nation is directly connected with how it--how it--what kind of a civilization its everyday life is.
And a civilized life does not exist without the arts. It has nothing to do with economic position. It has nothing to do with social position. It has to do with having young children, having everybody realize what a wonderment there is in the creativity of men's minds. What beauty can be in life if you know music, if you can see a painting, you can watch--and see a sculpture, watch a ballet, listen to a song, read a book. All the things that make us non-animal, that make us human. The quality of thought. It is the greatest gift that we were given as a species. It is the greatest responsibility, I feel, today that we have towards our young people.
The greatest wealth that this country has is the minds of its children. They're the future, not we. The kind of America that will be--will be the way we teach them; the way we inform them; the way we teach them to become curious, to ask questions, to see the unseeable, to sense, to intuit what can really be. You know, there are--there are--the word `education' today is a mantra. Everybody says, `Yes, we must do everything for education.'
What and how is another story. And I'm sometimes reminded of what my--when there was a Russia and there were Russian violinists and pianists and cellists and conductors and composers, all of whom were friends and who said to me, `We're never afraid of the minister of culture, only the culture of the minister.' To a very great degree, I feel that way about those responsible for education today. Because of states' rights, it's--it's--it's a compl--completely controlled by each state and today--not only each state, but each county and then each city, each village and then each s--each section of the city and boar--and boards of all kinds.
And I wondered how much education anybody who is involved with the educational system should have. It would be different, I think. We wouldn't have a vote in Kansas that says that evolution doesn't exist. The government could say nothing about it. Now I believe very deeply in our responsibility to the future generations and the responsibility of every single person listening to their children or their grandchildren, their nephews, their nieces, the people around them.
And it's not enough that so many of us who feel the same was saying, `Isn't it terrible that'--that's not good enough. Get up and do something about it. Talk to your local school board. Get involved. You're putting your child's mind in the hands of teachers. See to it that the quality of the teachers is first rate. And maybe--there are so many pockets of supreme excellence all around the country that have grown like wild mushrooms. It'd be wonderful if we can put them together.
Carnegie Hall--we're doing a lot for education. We're spending $2 million a year on it because we--we're trying to fill up gaps that the--that the city didn't have up until now. The mayor and the commissioner have done a great deal in trying to get it back in the schools, in all thousand of them. But what a wonderment it would be if this country would suddenly decide to have a--a road map for the quality of teaching in their primary to--from pre-kindergarten through the first eight grades.
And the quality of teachers should be carefully judged and have a--and have a--a kind of plan of how that should be. And then that all teachers should be amongst the most highly paid and respected professions in the country. It's a dream. I'm--I have always been a dreamer. But imagine the kind of civilized life this country would have in the decades to follow. We could have the golden century or centuries of American civilization.
LAMB: Do you remember this night with Ronald Reagan?
STERN: Yeah. That was the time that he--again, a White House evening, at which I was performing. And a very nice conversation that--and I said a few things that interest me about the arts and so forth, but it was--it was a--it was a good moment and he and Nancy were very friendly. They were very good at being very friendly. They were. And I think they--they meant it.
LAMB: George Bush?
STERN: That photo was, I think, taken when I received the national--the--the--the...
LAMB: Medal of Freedom?
STERN: Medal of Freedom. There was another time when I met--when I saw him in Moscow when I--when he went to meet with Khrushchev and I--I was--I played at the embassy.
LAMB: Bill Clinton?
STERN: With Clinton, he--he--I've been often at the White House when--someone I'm--I'm very fond of. I have great respect for what he tries to do, despite all of his problems. I think, basically, he is an astonishingly gifted man. And I would wish him well in these last months of his presidency. And I hope that some of the things he's trying to--to do to finish off his presidency would, indeed, come to pass.
LAMB: Where's this picture?
STERN: Which one?
LAMB: The one with the mask.
STERN: That was in Jerusalem. It was just towards the last few days before the ground war began in Iraq. A missile--I had been hoping to go because everything in Israel had stopped because of the occasional missiles that were landing in Israel. And all public assembly was--was stopped. And I was in the Azores playing concerts and I had called Zubin Mehta and said, `Look, if--is there any way--can I come and help and play?' He said, `Well, we don't have--we don't--we don't--we're not allowed to be in the big halls because it's hard to get the people out of there quickly, but we're playing in some small theaters. Let me see. Maybe in a couple of days it'll be possible.' And I said, `OK. I'm--I'll--well, I can go tomorrow to Madrid and find a plane and--and come in.'
I went to play a concert in the early afternoon and I got a message. `Please call Zubin.' He said, `It's off. We--a Scud just landed and all the--all the--all the bands are still on. No public assembly.' So I said, `All right. Let me know.' So I went back to New York and, of course, within 24 hours of getting back to New York, he calls. `OK, we can start playing in two days.' I said, `I'll come.' So I came and we couldn't play in any of the major halls. We played in little theaters and--all around the perimeter of Tel Aviv. And the last concert was to be in Jerusalem. While in Tel Aviv, there was a--a--a Scud warning and I was in a hotel with some friends and we took--we took refuge in--in the assigned quarters.
So I learned a little bit about what the timing was and--and what happened when a Scud was detected. I knew there was five or six minutes--seven minutes at the most--from the time they noticed it till it landed somewhere. They couldn't always track it but they could tell a Scud was approaching Israel. It's a tiny country. It's a spit of land. And when I went to Jerusalem for the last concert, it was a Sunday and it was in the Jeru--Jerusalem Theatre, where their concert hall is. And it was the first concert--the first time in more than a month that the people in the audience in the hall, included quite a few people from the government, had been al--had been together in one room.
And I was playing Mozart G Major Concerto with Zubin conducting with members of the Israel Philharmonic, and I'm playing away and Zubin suddenly reaches over and stops me. `I think we have to stop.' So I looked up. I sai--and sure enough a man came out of the wings and announced in Hebrew, English and Arabic that a Scud had been detected on the way and would everybody please put on gas masks. Not--they didn't have to leave but put gas masks on because the theater was fairly well built and--and they considered it fairly safe.
Of course, members of the government immediately quietly--you saw them all scuttle out and disappear and go to their offices. And the or--orchestra members scattered backstage to call their families and everything. `We're all right. Don't worry. We're--we have our masks. We'll take care of ourselves.' And I heard--and I felt this discomfort in the audience and they were reaching down and putting on these masks. And--and I thought, you know, `What am I here for? I'm here to be, you know, useful and then--I think I'm needed.'
Those are the two things you get very rarely in your life, to be in a place where you're needed and useful. So I walked back on stage. Not--not I--I didn't wear the mask. I had it right offstage. But the audience--they were putt--they were all sitting with masks on. And if you know, the mask at that time--the--the photo you showed is a f--is--is a proper--is a proper copy of it. You see these in--a Jewish face, these porcine faces, the snout. It looked so odd and so out of place. So I decided to play some Bach and I knew approximately that five or six minutes from the time I was going to start to play would be about the time it would take the missile to arrive.
So I chose to play some music, a saraband from the "Sonata for Violin" alone in D minor. And slowly I could feel the audience starting to relax and listen and sit back, even with the masks on. And I came to the end and sure enough the guard came on stage and said, `It's OK. It dropped about 15 kilometers away. No one was hurt, it--in an uninhabited area.' So that got the attention. There was a television crew backstage, a French television crew, that happened to take some--some mo--seconds of it.
And it's received a lot of publicity. For all the years I've played in Israel, I don't think anything got the attention of the people--as a matter of fact, around the world--as much as that moment. And it was not something particularly valorous or grand. I was doing what I was there for. It was a little bit like the juggler in "Dede Mopasun" juggling in front of--in front of the s--the statue of Mary. But that's what he did. I play the violin for people. It makes them f--to--and I'm there to make them feel better. So that was what I was doing.
LAMB: How old are you in this picture?
STERN: Not--not too young to be--already be pretty self-confident, obviously. I had a good ego already at that time. I would say I was probably nine or 10, num--no more.
LAMB: Where did you live then?
STERN: San Francisco.
LAMB: Where were you born?
STERN: I was born in a small town in--in what they called the Pale of Russia. The de--the week that I was born it happened to be Polish territory. My parents were Russian, their family was Russian, all the--the--my wife's--my mother's family, all of them, were Russian back two, three generations. They all lived there. That's my mother. And my father's fa--my father came from Kiev nearby and there's a little town called Krementsin the province of Wolin right near the Polish border.
But every week there were the white Russians, the red Russians, the pink Russians, the blue Russians, the--the Cosacks, the Poles. Everybody was sort of running back and forth. And I think I tell it in the book that my bed had had to be moved because depending on the--where the shooting was that--to get away from the window just to make sure that bullets didn't come in over my crib. And probably is part of my parapetetic tendencies to this day. At least I happen to think so.
We left there when I was 10 months old and came to San Francisco. That's my father in Yosemite Valley actually. Beautiful place. We went on a hike there once. And that's my sister in the picture above playing with me. You know, you're showing me pictures that remind me of things that I hadn't really s--looked at much since I wrote the book and I must read it one of these days and see how--how--what it's like. I don't remember everything that's in it.
LAMB: Who is the fella that helped you write the book?
STERN: That's a--that's a great man and a--and a wonderful artist, Chaim Potok, who is deservedly one of the best novelists of our time and recognized as such. When--I'd been asked to write a book many times by many publishers and I didn't really want to do it because I didn't feel that I had anything particularly original, important or world shaking to say. I'll get back to that in a moment. And I didn't think there was anything that was necessarily valid for other people to read. And I must say that I had read too many--How shall I be polite?--somewhat insipidly self-congratulatory biography--musical biographies before and I simply didn't want to add to that unnecessary catalog of books.
But Bob Gottlieb, an editor at Knopf, came to me and said--he had done some careful homework--said, `You know, you're the only major person today playing alive who over the last two-thirds of the 20th century knew and met practically every important performer, conductors, some composers, writers, people in general, and you've been teaching. You're trying to tell young people about your life and what--and what formed you and to give them a link with the past. So why don't you write a book and show them the links that you had and--and how it formed you?'
And I thought it was a good idea, but knowing that I was not, quote-unquote, a "writer"--talk I can, but write, I wouldn't--I wouldn't kid myself, so it was obviously--it was obvious that I'd need a--a helper. And he suggested Chaim Potok, whose works I had--I'd read previously, not as many as I was about to. So he sent me some other books of--of--of Chaim's and I saw to what extraordinary lengths the talent this man had to put into the mouths of his characters the inside, the gut, the sound, the syntax, the cadence of their voices, not only about the Jewish life that he wrote about and New York life--a great deal of which was very familiar to me--but, for example, when he wrote about a--a--an elderly couple fleeing from North Vietnam to South Vietnam--he'd been in the w--in the war there, in the--in the--in the hospital group. And I recognized with what clarity he could get in the--in the a--in the inside, the psyche, of these characters. And we met. And about 20 minutes, we were friends for 20 years. And we started to talk. We had five, six, seven meetings with a tape machine. We would get the whole thing down on tape and then he would take the tapes back and he organized the material.
Then he had to get back to Philadelphia to do some more work. And I had to go on tour. So I took a tape machine with me. And I'd dictate streams of consciousness or--and I'd send them to my office and the girls would transcribe them, send them to him. He wouldn't make order out of this chaotic stream that was coming at him, but always kept the cant and the sound of my voice. And that was--that's an extraordinary quality.
As he read, it reminded him to ask questions, which then, again, brings some memory in for me. Fortunately, I'm lucky that--in--in the office, we have--we have an enormous archival library and we had someone working on that for a couple of years because I want to give a great bulk of it to the Library of Congress and they've already looked at it and are anxious to have it. So I began reading things I'd forgotten to remember. You know, I'm--I envy people who say, `Oh, yes, I remember when I was four exactly and this is what I said,' or, `This is what I ate,' or, `This is what I saw,' or, `This is what I did.' I don't remember that. I remember remembering. But I don't remember precisely in the way that--a friend of mine, Sir Isaiah Berlin who remembered exactly the programs and what was played when he was five years old when he went. He had the most extraordinary memory of any man I ever knew.
But I didn't have that kind of a memory. But then letters would come out that I'd forgotten that I'd written, letters I'd forgotten had been sent to me. And one thing led to another and one thing started another stream of thought. That--I was starting my career--I would say that was when--probably around--probably 19--late '40s, early '50s.
LAMB: Is it true you have no high school, no college?
STERN: I went to sch--I think I went to school for a week when I was a child, and then was decided that because of practicing, I should have, quote, "tutors," unquote. I had some people who sort of tried to teach me the rudiments of mathematics and other things. I learned pre--mostly, I found it was very good to argue with older people. And because of the violin, and I had a certain talent on the violin, w--I--older people gravitated around me. And I would start conversations and vy--and if I questioned them and--and--and--and thought--and suggested they might be wrong, then they would explode and explain carefully to me why I--why I was foolish to think that they were wrong and they would te--and I learned from that. I learned that any time somebody deeply fe--felt very strongly about something, you could learn from it. You may not agree with it, but you could learn what somebody who had a passion for something in life, and that was the way I--I--I started. I met a lot of--lot of friends, older friends.
I read a good deal. And I remember reading John Thespasis at that time, the early books on the--on the American scene. I remember reading s--s--the books--s--one always forgets when one wants to remember--"Call of the Wild," the man who learned the English language and wrote so beautifully in it. I'll think of it in a moment. Many--many, many other books that influenced my early thoughts. One was a book called "Man the Unknown," that I read when I was about 12 or 13 by a nan--man named Alexis Carrell--Joseph Conrad was the man I couldn't think of--Alexis Carrell, who wrote this book about mental phenomena. He later became a rather very right-wing adviser to the Lindberghs, but he was a do--he was a doctor and--and I think a specialist in--in psychiatry and psychoanalysis. But he described the phenomena of a man lifting a 4,000-pound car when he wasn't strong enough because his daughter was pinned under it, and he had to. Or the phenomena of twins being 500 or thousands of miles apart, and one feeling the pain when the other one was in an accident. Or stigmata, some--some very--very, very deep believers have at Easter, women come up with these stigmata on their hands and the--all of the ef--the enormous power of the brain to do things that are unexplainable, but we know that they happen.
And I must say since that time, I believe that if we could learn to use a little more than 10 percent or 15 percent of the brain, which I think is about the amount we have today, we could do a lot for ourselves that medicine or psychiatry or self-interest doesn't let us do today.
LAMB: How many recordings have you made in your life?
STERN: Sony would know that. I've been with one company in all its permutations for over 50 years. I signed with Columbia Records in 1945 with Goddard Lieberson, God bless his memory. One of the great giants in--in--in producti--producing records, musical records, a composer and a man knowledgeable about music, and of enormous charm, intelligence and education. And then Columbia Records became CBS Records, became CBS Classical, became CBS-Sony, and now it's Sony and Sony Classical. And through all those permutations, I've stayed with the company. So--I don't know, probably--I don't know how many records. Discs? I don't know. Perhaps 100, 150, maybe more. I don't--I don't know the num--I don't keep count that way.
LAMB: Can you buy all of Isaac Stern somewhere?
STERN: Yes. There's a "Life of Isaac Stern" in five--five boxes. I think there are 40 or 45 CDs, which go from the very first records in 1945 to the--those that were produced up until--we're in '99--up until about '97. There are some that haven't--haven't come out yet that have been--that were--that were made in the last couple of years--some chamber music records. They're coming out--they're coming out in the spring, I think.
LAMB: Which artist would be the most that you have on that?
STERN: Which composers, do you mean?
LAMB: Which composer? Yeah. Would be the most. Do you know?
STERN: It covers everything. It goes from Bach to Bartok. They're all the--there's a whole string of contemporary--contemporary scores--contemporary in many ways. They're contemporary by Schumann and--and--and Prokofiev and--and Hindemath and sc--the concerto of the music that was written for me by Henri Dutiere or William--just a moment. Henri Dutiere, Rochberg--George Rochberg, Peter Maxwell Davies, a wonderful concerto by the Polish Krzysztof Penderecki.
LAMB: How much of this can you remember by--I mean, if you--of all the music you've played, how much of it can be remembered without looking at a sheet of music?
STERN: I would say about 80 percent, 85 percent. There were times when I was traveling and playing--when I was playing really a lot of concerts all the time, 80, 90 a year, and travel--sometimes over 100.
LAMB: How many hours would you rehearse before you'd play a number for the first time?
STERN: In learning something?
STERN: That would depend on the complexity of the piece. Something that was in the classical vein that one had n--known by ear or is--has an instant relation to, would be perhaps a week or two of very careful study.
LAMB: Every day?
STERN: Oh, very constantly. But then--and then--and then more. Then you would try it out. Then you would--then the gestation period takes a long time. Then you begin to try and play it a little more until y--until it becomes a part of you. Then you'd take it out and play it in public, hopefully not in too large a public the first time, and that's the first--the first settling in that--that happens.
There have been times--because I was a quick learner--when I had to learn music that was completely--completely different from anything I'd known. The Bartoch violin concerto, for example. The big one, the first--the second violin concerto. The first one--there's another story later on. But the second one is the great one, and very complicated. It has a technique all its own, and fiendishly difficult passages. But the logic is classical, but the language was new to me. I didn't know Bartoch's language personally. I knew it from hearing s--hearing some orchestral work, some quartets, but I did not know it in playing it myself.
LAMB: How many violins have you owned in your life?
STERN: Big violins, ..the Strad at one time I was playing--owned or played?
LAMB: Either one. And...
STERN: I was given a Guadagnini. It's a wonderful--the second line of the--of violin makers in--in--in Italy, in the late to the second half of the seven--of the 18th century. When I was 17--16 or 17, Ms. Lutie Goldstein, whom there's a picture of in the book, was a s--was a--a patroness from my early years, and was a maiden lady, that's--that is she. And who had great faith in me. And, more or less, adopted me and took care of my education and first needs and travel and so on. And she bought me the violin for, I think, the princely sum at that time was enormous, $6,500. And--and gave it to me when she--and I--and I was--I was given title when she bought the violin. I kept that violin and played my first nine or 10 years of concerts on it. That means that I was playing it until I was 20--24, 25. Until I felt that I needed something a little bigger and a--and another man lent me a Strad. Later on, I gathered up my courage and bought a--the first of my Warnaries, Warnary DelJaso. And...
LAMB: How much?
STERN: How much? At that time, it was a complicated deal that someone lent me money and I paid--paid it back. I think the price was around $35,000 or $40,000.
LAMB: When we see you on the stage today and there's a violin on your shoulder, what's that violin worth?
STERN: More. More.
LAMB: A lot more?
STERN: More. A lot more. In the several millions, several...
LAMB: A million dollars?
LAMB: And what are you p--how many do you own today?
STERN: Well, I own one. I did own two. I sold one a few years ago because under the--under tax and other laws of finally in figuring out, the government would have taken 80 percent to 85 percent of the value of the--whatever price I could get for it, and I--my children couldn't afford that. So I sold it and put it into a trust, which pays me a little, but which goes to charity when I'm dead.
LAMB: You still carry it in your lap on the airlines and I know you...
STERN: The second one, the one I play now, yes. Not in my lap. Now they built these--these--these compartments above just about exactly the right size for a violin case. I thought that was very thoughtful. Before they had them, I had a problem because there was no place to put them and you had to carry them on your lap, and I had to go to the airlines and get special letters from the head of the airlines in allowing me to carry the violin with me on the plane. Even today, for chelly--for cellists, it is a problem. They have to buy a seat and they have to--they have to strap it in very carefully and--some friends of mine do this. For instance, Gregor Piatigorsky, the famous cellist who used to buy a--a--a--a--a seat for himself, Gregor Piatigorsky, and for Miss Gorsky next to him. And that was where he put his cello. But other--my cellist colleagues tell me the problems they have today with airlines at times in having the cello on board and safely stowed so they won't be--they won't be mishandled.
LAMB: How many children have you had?
STERN: Those are the three boys and my daughter and son-in-law.
LAMB: Your daughter...
STERN: My right is daughter Shira, rabbi, my left, my son-in-law, Rabbi Don Webber, and the three boys. The little one is eight, Don, the middle one is Ari and the oldest is Noah. They're a lot bigger and huskier now. That was taken seven years ago.
LAMB: And how about the picture up top on the other side?
STERN: That's my son Michael and his wife Jeanette. And, oh, what an extraordinary oboe player and he is a really gifted conductor. He has his own orchestra in Zarboc in--in Germany. And down below is my son David and my first two granddaughters, Sophia, who is now four, and Talia, who was born about 19 months ago. It'll be--it'll--January I think she'll be--she'll be two. Who was born while I was in Paris. My g--daughter-in-law, Kata, I found to be really thoughtful. I adore her. And she chose to have the child while I was visiting them in Paris. So I took her to the hospital to--for the maternity that night and I was--and I had little Talia in my arms when she was seven hours old. That picture you see is of my--is the wedding picture the day of the wedding day of my wife Linda. We're now married a little over three years. And she's brought a new life to me. And has given me the taste of life that I've always wanted to have around me and a kind of rejuvenation that I both treasure and relish.
LAMB: You were married earlier?
STERN: Yes. There were two wives earlier on. One was a very brief marriage to a great ballerina, Nora Kaye. You know, that's one of the things in writing this book, that was in the archives. I bri--I never knew it was there. And it was found when we were researching the book.
LAMB: How long were you married to Nora Kaye?
STERN: Oh, that was a long marriage. That lasted about five months. We were--she was an extraordinary--extraordinarily gifted woman. And that was at a time when we went on--went off on a--on a tour together. Nora was a great ballerina whom I never saw dance when I first met her and married her. She had quit the ballet for reasons of her own. And a few months into our marriage, I realized that with the kind of an artist she was, the marriage would never, never be able to--to exist if she ever blamed me for not having the career that she obviously should have had. So I said, `I'll tell you, Nora, why don't you go back to the ballet, go back to the bar, get your--get yourself in shape. Go back and start rehearsals and dancing. If you feel then that you want to stay married, let's--let's do it that way.' It proved to be impossible between the two schedules. We parted in very friendly terms. And remained friends until her death, even--even after she remarried and I remarried.
LAMB: Who's this?
STERN: And that is my wife Vera with our--with our children. Down below, if you--that's Shira holding the violin, Michael playing the violin on the right, and a--and David holding his hand up to his ear, probably in reaction to the sounds the other two kids were making.
LAMB: How many countries have you been in in the world and played your violin?
STERN: How many cities have you visited? I don't c--I don't count them. Let me--let me--I'll tell you the countries I haven't been in. I've not been in Albania. I've never played in Germany. I played once in Austria 50 years ago. That was an attempt that was r--hugely successful in its own, but I never went back. And I've never played in South Africa. In fact, I've never played in Africa. Everywhere else, pick it, I've been. So it's easier for me to say where I haven't played. It's really true, from all through Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, you name it. Greenland during the war; all of Asia, South America, Australia. The United States goes without saying.
LAMB: How many times have you been sent on an official mission by the government?
STERN: Never. Official? Never.
LAMB: How many unofficial were you--you know, you're on...
STERN: I was--well, the first time I went to the Soviet Union, 1956, it was before there was an--an exchange agreement--an artistic exchange agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States. My manager, the legendary Sol Hurok, who--you know, they don't make them like that anymore. He--I must say that he--he--he invented a statement that I have to quote. He--he was the most famous impresario in--in the--in the business, world-famous. And he was wonderful at having great successes, ballet successes--the--there he is, with Ormondi, Oistrach and Millstein. That's not a bad group.
LAMB: Which one is he in the picture? Far...
STERN: He's al--man all the way on the right, smiling with the bald head and the glasses. Ormondi to his right, I in the middle, Oistrach to my right and Millstein to the right of Oistrach. He was--he brought ballet to the United States. He had huge stars like Arthur Rubenstein, Marion Anderson, Roberta Peters, Jan Pierce. And he l--he was very careful. He was very successful. He made and lost fortunes, but he was known as a man who had magic at the box office. And somebody once asked him, `Tell me, where--what is this magic that you have about--how do you know what will be successful? What is this touch you have in having box office successes?' He says, `I don't know.' He says, `I don't know what--what the touch is. There's one thing I know,' he says, `if people don't want to come, nothing will stop them.' Very, very profound remark.
So he tried to find out what would make people want to come. And he was a part of--a whole part of my--he was a very important person in my formative years. He taught me many lessons. We were very close friends, despite the fact that he was my manager. Well, I used to call him Papa. He--he--he liked me personally very, very much. And we were close. But he taught me to always let the local manager make a buck. Don't push to--to--to carve out, to force the last dollar at the cost of somebody else. There were times when he agreed to concerts with friends of his, Russian friends and others, and they went--they went broke. They couldn't pay. He made--he--he would pay their bills. He would sometimes pay my fees if they couldn't. And sometimes he and I just simply waited. And I learned to have patience.
LAMB: You say in your book `The struggle to save Carnegie Hall was a watershed event in my life.' What year did you save Carnegie Hall?
STERN: 1960. The first meeting of the committee that eventually became the first board of Carnegie Hall was in my apartment on Central Park West in New York City on January 10th, 1960. I had spent some of the months before--October, November, December--trying to go to people to get them to--to not allow the hall to be destroyed. That included people from Dean Acheson, who was head of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund at the time, to--to the Rockefellers wh--were involved with--with Lincoln Center and the development over there. Eventually, all of that proved to be unsuccessful. And I decided to form a committee and--and--and do it, because I could not conceive that this could be allowed to happen.
You know, Carnegie is not--Carnegie's not a hall. It's a necessary mythology. There are other good halls, there's some good ones, all over the world: Chata Cologne in Argentina, the Great Hall and Conservatory in Moscow, the Concerto Bao in Amsterdam, some halls in Japan, some symphony hall in Boston. There are fine halls. Only Carnegie--the only one in the world, where every orchestra, every conductor, since 1891, when Tchaikovsky opened the hall, there hasn't been a single major conductor, orchestra, pianist, cellist, singer, violinist who has not appeared at Carnegie Hall. The only hall who can say that. It's the center of the musical world.
LAMB: In your book you say, `I'm beginning to wonder how long I should go on.'
STERN: Yeah, I reached a watershed last June, very end of May, actually. I was playing in--in--in Japan. And I lost control of the bow and I ended up not being able to hold it and just grabbing on it like a claw. And I decided I--I'd played enough in my life and I didn't want to have performances like that continue. I came back to New York and saw a friend, a doctor--Dr. Weiland--Andrew Weiland at the Hospital for Special Surgery, just describing what this--went on, and he said, `Let me take a look.' And they tested me out with some new--well, it was like pins and needles with electric shocks going through, and that's the way they saw what the nerve situations were and how things were working, what the blockage was. And he looked and he says, `Idiot, you've got carpal tunnel syndrome. I can operate. You'll be--give me--give six, seven months for it to--to do and you'll be back.'
So there it is. I played in Beijing two weeks ago, same concerto that I played 20 years before in Mao to Mozart. It was the 20th anniversary of Mao to Mozart. The return there was made the f--the end of the festival in Beijing. That's been filmed. That'll be seen in the fall of 2000 on--on public television. And my hand is working very nicely, thank you. And I look forward to playing with my colleagues, with Yo-Yo Ma, Manny Ax, Jaime Laredo, in chamber music in February in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Carnegie Hall. And I will continue to play music that I love with whom--with friends whom I love and to be on the stage, which I love. And to continue to have an active musical life for as long as I can be reasonably satisfied with the quality of what I'm doing.
LAMB: As--as we end this, because I know the audience always wants to know these things, it's--the album is "Caprice Viennois," that...
LAMB: We're going to--we're going to play another little bit at the ending of--and you have to pronounce the correct--the correct pronunciation is "Schon"...
STERN: "Schon Rosmarin," b--pretty Rosemary. These are part of 19 or 20 works by Kreisler on that album that w--that was recorded with the Franz Listz Chamber Orchestra, with special orchestrations by Mr. Wolf, who did it for the--for the orchestra. And it's delicious music. That the most thing I can say, it is honest.
Our guest has been Isaac Stern, "My First 79 Years." And here's a little bit of his music.
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