The Legacy of a Violin Legend
Eight years after being refused admittance to the United States, Staryk took up residence in Chicago and the Washington Post announced, “Beautiful work came from the orchestra’s great concertmaster, Steven Staryk.” In triumph, he finally returned to Canada as concertmaster for the Toronto Symphony. The Globe and Mail reported that he “inspired the violin section to some of the most exciting playing heard from it this season.” And Irving Kolodin—king of the American music critics—commented that Staryk was “the only contemporary ‘virtuoso-concertmaster’ to be a star soloist.”
Complementing Staryk’s journey as a concertmaster and soloist was his professional teaching career. Among other achievements, he created a recording of the basic study sequence required for anyone seriously interested in a professional career, titled Every Violinist’s Guide: 36 Traditional Caprices, Etudes and Studies. Russian master David Oistrakh took note and relayed his sentiments to Staryk: “Congratulations for this valuable idea.”
From his earliest days as a musician, Staryk strived towards two closely linked objectives: maintaining an active solo career and playing a violin that satisfied his quest for instrumental perfection. In the decades after his introduction to the “Woolworth’s tin special,” he worked through six of the most exquisitely beautiful and valuable violins in the world, ultimately arriving at the sound he wanted with the 1727 Ex “Barrere” Stradivarius. During this process, he became an expert in the murky jungle of violin pedigrees.
In the late 1990s, Staryk and Thane Lewis published Fiddling With Life, a career eye-opener. A decade later, another project appeared—The Staryk Anthology. This 30-CD romp through Staryk’s performances from 1956 to 2003 provided an exceptional overview of his classical violin repertoire, chamber music, jazz stylings, gypsy fiddling and his Every Violinist’s Guide. “In my opinion,” stated University of Michigan Professor of Violin Stephen Shipps, “your anthology is one of the most important recorded documents in violin history.”
In 2012, a recording company began re-issuing selected recordings from the anthology under the title Steven Staryk, A Retrospective. Dave Saemann of Fanfare, which reviews all recorded music, captured the essence of this Canadian violin legend: “These CDs rank among the greatest violin recordings in existence. … In a nutshell, Steven Staryk is a phenomenon.”
Fifty years ago (1968), The American String Teacher commented: “Why it took so long for the Planet Staryk to reach Earth will always remain a mystery.” Three years ago, Fanfare’s David K. Nelson talked to Staryk about this: “In fact, more than a few of your reviews compare you directly with [Jascha] Heifetz. … It is a bit awkward for those of us whose business it is to know the great violinists by name and reputation to find ourselves experiencing ‘the shock of the new’ from performances recorded decades ago by a long-retired artist.”
So here we are in 2018. Lionized by international critics, and an officer of the Order of Canada recipient, Staryk remains largely unknown to the Canadian public. He is now 85, living in Toronto—and he’s one of ours. It’s time for all of us to celebrate this Canadian violin legend and his legacy.