"Cellist Writes about her Mentor, a Holocause Survivor.
By Carol Osman, Publisher and Editor, NOT BORN YESTERDAY
Not Born Yesterday Newspaper Article About Joyce Geeting and her amazing biography, "Janos Starker: King of Cellists." Joyce Geeting, herself a recognized cellist, has performed concerts throughout the U.S. and Europe as both soloist and chamber musician. She spent about 10 years off and on writing János Starker: King of Cellists. She first met the subject of her biography when she was researching prominent cellists for her doctoral dissertation. Joyce writes that of the five cello artist-teachers that she observed,
Starker made the most lasting impression. He has shared his wealth of knowledge and experience with thousands of students.
He "discovered in his youth that his own understanding of music and the possibilities of the instrument grew as he helped others, a philosophy that has remained the touchstone of his career," says Joyce. Plus, he has performed in over a thousand of his own recitals, over a thousand performances with the
Metropolitan Opera and a thousand concerts with the Chicago Symphony. And he has recorded nearly all of the standard cello repertoire and premiered many new works. "No one else has done all that," says Joyce. Growing up in Budapest, Hungary, Starker was a child prodigy. He was teaching five students by age 12. He became a sensation when at age 15, still in knee pants, he flawlessly performed Kodaly's Sonata for Solo Violoncello, a piece so difficult that it asked the cellist to do things "which had been previously unknown, unheard of, even considered impossible."
That was the night that launched Starker's reputation and his career. However, Joyce reports, his career was interrupted by the ordeal of World War II. Although he was Jewish, he and his family were baptized into the Lutheran church to avoid being confined to crowded underground holes or cellars. Nevertheless, his two brothers were killed. He was held in a detention camp for four months but was set free because he had been issued a genuine Swedish passport and granted Swedish citizenship.
He had been contracted to play principal cello with the Goteborg Symphony in Sweden. However, he was unable to reach Sweden because meanwhile, the Nazis were becoming increasingly suspicious of his wife. A Catholic, she had cared for and fed people in the ghetto, smuggled many out, and helped fabricate documents so that many could get out of the labor camps. When the Russians overran Budapest, Starker and a young medical student posed as medics, broke into an abandoned pharmacy and stole all of the sulfamid as well as other drugs.
They avoided being killed by the Russian soldiers by giving the soldiers sulfa drugs (the only cure for venereal disease at the time). "Starker's wartime experiences, preceded by his being declared ‘stateless' in the country of his birth, led him to become very independent and self sufficient... During his lengthy music career, he has been unafraid of anyone because he concluded that nothing worse could possibly happen to him.
After all that he went through, his resolve was like steel," Joyce writes. Starker also has a sense of humor. When flying around the world for various performances, he always bought an airline seat for his cello to sit next to him. He said, "Sometimes I put a person asleep. People find that amusing." After the war, it was still a struggle to survive, but he gradually gained recognition in the music world and eventually was offered a contract with the Dallas Symphony—and help in obtaining an American visa.
At age 84, János Starker is still teaching at Indiana University. Joyce Geeting, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, is teaching at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. Previously, she has taught at University of Wisconsin, Cornell College and University of Redlands. She plays a 230-year-old cello that she treasures. A grandmother and mother of three sons, she has also known tragedy in her life. She had been teaching in public schools when her first husband was killed in a plane crash. Joyce says, "I heard about the crash, and thought, ‘what would I do if my husband was on that plane?'"
The answer was to go back to university for a doctorate and teach at the college level. When working on her dissertation she attended a weeklong seminar led by János Starker. Following her first performance, his comment was "This is a very high level of cello playing." She has continued to visit him through the years and refers to Starker as "my cello father." Significantly, he refers to her as a "colleague."