Who Is Steven Staryk?
Steven Staryk, a Toronto-born Ukrainian Canadian, survived the early loss of his father and the infamous McCarthy blacklists to become a legend to violinists, teachers and professional critics worldwide. His legacy? A magnificent set of incomparable recordings.
During the Ukraine famine of 1929, Marynka Staryk immigrated to Toronto, married and had a son: Stefan (the original spelling of his name). In 1933, his father committed suicide. Marynka re-married and watched her boy’s interest in music blossom. Although he was enamoured of the accordion, she brought home a tin violin from the local Woolworth’s store. The sounds young Steven coaxed out of this toy were so striking that his parents saved up money to buy their son a real violin. So began an international career.
Few professional violinists reach the stage where they can successfully perform the major compositions of Niccolò Paganini. The first time the general public heard a 16-year-old Staryk perform one of the most difficult of the Paganini concertos, the Toronto Star’s music critic reported, “The feat could be roughly compared to executing a ballet dance on a tightrope…the audience applauded wildly.”
Staryk became the youngest member of the Toronto Symphony, but in 1951, during the McCarthy era, he and five colleagues were denied admission into the United States for the orchestra’s first-ever foreign concert. Handed a lemon, Staryk made lemonade by playing any and all jobs available in Toronto—symphonic, chamber, jazz, pop, ethnic—all while completing his academics at night school. In 1956, a friend asked him, “Why don’t you just get out of here?”
He did precisely that. Arriving in London, England, he attracted the attention of Sir Thomas Beecham, who appointed him concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic. Rave critical reviews led the most prestigious musical journal in the violinist world, The Strad, to name him the “King of Concertmasters.” Music and Musicians commented, “Much of the credit for the enormous improvement in this orchestra must go to its vital leader, Steven Staryk.”
Staryk soon moved on to one of continental Europe’s finest orchestras—Holland’s Royal Concertgebouw. According to Musical Opinion, the orchestra was “playing more brilliantly than ever…under the new leadership of Steven Staryk.”
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