by EMILIO COLÓN (Jacobs School of Music):
The concepts that Starker instilled upon me indelibly mark every cellist who studied with him. These concepts include, but are not limited, to the following underlying rules of string playing. When a player reaches a certain level in utilizing the bow and an understanding of the geography of the fingerboard, countless possibilities become available to perform a passage. The decisions, therefore, are directed by musical considerations, which are subjective, and mechanical issues which are definable.
There are a number of rules that come from the teachings of Janos Starker concerning the left hand, most of them having to do with position changes: avoid unnecessary motions; change at smaller distances; avoid contrary motions in succession; in distant connections use higher fingers to lower fingers or the same finger, so as to allow the rotation of the forearm, and to continue to touch the strings at an identical angle. This aspect has been the foundation of his approach, so as to discern centered intonation and controlled vibrato. The decision to use anticipated or delayed shifts is a musical one. It requires the knowledge of timing, finger choice, and bowing. Each player is different; differences in body, size, and stretching abilities necessitate diverse solutions.
In conversation with Colon, Starker shared further thoughts on his teaching:
- “My interest in Urtexts was minimal; I consider it publishing sales gimmicks. I strove to understand the intentions of the composers based on familiarity of their output, not just on their contributions to the cello, but most of their other works. But, preceding the musical aspect became imperative to obtain complete control of the instrument, and the ability to have choices. There are many ways to play a given piece, many different bowings, dynamics, fingerings, and choice of strings. The choices depend on the mind and physical attributes of the player, and often the quality of the instrument.”
- “As I was performing as a soloist and ensemble player, the musical aspects of the literature came fore, in the decades to follow my search for answers, as to the role of the body, muscles, breathing, etc. bore fruit. In the eyes of many, I became a sort of doctor who could detect and solve problems. As my soloist activities reached the hundred per annum on stage, my core beliefs in making music were purity of sound, taste, simplicity and balance to recreate real and also lesser masterpieces.”
- “Considering that in almost 80 years of teaching, starting with a six year old when I was only eight, I should therefore ought to be able to summarize my beliefs. That start at the age of eight with today’s eyes, I would not consider teaching; I would consider it coaching. As I gradually realized what I was doing, the approach to the increasing number of students changed. I began to explain what to do with the bow and left hand, not just imitate what I was doing.”
- “As a teacher, I first assess the strength and/or weakness of the individual, then I focus on the weaknesses. In rare instances, if the strengths are dominant, I may choose repertory for them so as to let them “shine” and be different form my views. Many occasions, when lack of familiarity of the cello by a composer caused less than pleasing sounds, I made changes, though I did not insist on following my solutions by my pupils.”
- “I repeat: I want my disciples to have choices, listening to others, broadening their ability to make decisions. I never wanted to raise carbon copies of me, but let them fulfill their potential, whether soloists, ensemble players, or teachers. My dream of popularizing my instrument has been well nigh attained, and friendship among the practitioners has risen as well. At the end of my life I fell satisfaction and pride about my contributions to the cello and music.”