Steven Staryk | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Steven Staryk

At six Steven Staryk began violin studies with John Moskalyk, continuing 1942-56 with Elie Spivak, Chris Dafeff, John Dembeck and Albert Pratz; and in New York with Mischa Mischakoff, Oscar Shumsky, and Alexander Schneider.

Steven Staryk

 Steven (Sam) Staryk. Violinist, teacher, of Ukrainian descent, b Toronto 28 Apr 1932; honorary D LITT (York University) 1980, honorary FRCT (Royal Conservatory of Music) 2008.

Background and Early Career

At six Steven Staryk began violin studies with John Moskalyk, continuing 1942-56 with Elie Spivak, Chris Dafeff, John Dembeck and Albert Pratz; and in New York with Mischa Mischakoff, Oscar Shumsky, and Alexander Schneider. At 14 he made his recital debut for CBC radio; at 17 he performed Paganini's Concerto No. 1 with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra in Massey Hall 3 May 1949. As a teenager Staryk also played in the Promenade Symphony Concerts. Staryk was a member 1950-2 of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (which terminated him and five other musicians who were refused entry to the US because of unfounded suspicions of being Communist sympathizers), and 1952-6 of the CBC Symphony Orchestra. During these years he led an active and diverse freelance career; he played as a studio musician and as a member and concertmaster of the Hart House Orchestra and various chamber groups.

International Violin Competitions

In 1956 Staryk was runner-up to Salvatore Accardo (no first prize was awarded) in the International Competition for Musical Performers in Geneva; he was runner-up again at the Carl Flesch International Competition in London (one prize only is awarded).

Eminent Concertmaster

As a result of the Flesch competition he accepted Sir Thomas Beecham's invitation to join the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as concertmaster - the youngest in its history. In that role he appeared often as soloist with the orchestra in London and on tour. In 1960 he was concertmaster of the CBC Symphony Orchestra in its recordings of works by Stravinsky conducted by the composer. Also in 1960 he became concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra on the recommendation of Rafael Kubelík, and of the Amsterdam Chamber Orchestra, appearing frequently as soloist, and began three years of teaching at the Amsterdam Conservatory.

On the recommendation of George Szell and Henryk Szeryng, Steven Staryk became concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1963 - the first Canadian to hold the position - and on several occasions he appeared with that orchestra as soloist. He retained the position until 1967. While in Chicago he taught at Northwestern University and at the American Conservatory. During this period he also made recordings and TV and radio broadcasts in Europe and the USA.

Canadian and Contemporary Music

An early instance of his championing of Canadian music was his Montreal appearance in 1965 for the Society of Canadian Music, his program comprising Jean Papineau-Couture'sSuite for solo violin, Murray Adaskin's Divertimento No. 1, (with Staryk's wife, Ida Elizabeth Busch, and Lise Boucher), and Harry Somers'Sonata No. 2 (with Boucher). Staryk received Canada Council grants in 1967 and 1975.

After performing 1967-8 in Europe, as soloist with various orchestras and in recital, Staryk taught 1968-72 at the Oberlin College Conservatory in Ohio and played in the Oberlin String Quartet. During these years he concentrated on teaching and performing chamber music, and making solo appearances in Europe, Canada, and the USA. In his first solo appearance with the Toronto Symphony, under Karel Ančerl 13 Apr 1971, Staryk premiered Lothar Klein'sPaganini Collage, which was dedicated to him. Among the many other conductors he has worked with are Bernard Haitink, John Avison, Mario Bernardi and Sir Andrew Davis..

Chamber Musician and Teacher

In 1969 with a fellow faculty member, the US pianist John Perry, he formed the Staryk-Perry Duo, which gave recitals in many of the major cities of the USA and Canada. The duo premiered Harry Freedman's Encounter (also dedicated to Staryk) 8 Aug 1975 at the Courtenay Youth Music Centre, where Staryk gave summer classes 1972-6, having returned to Canada to serve as head, 1972-5, of the string department at the Community Music School of Greater Vancouver (Vancouver Academy of Music). Staryk also gave classes in 1972 at the Shawnigan Summer School of the Arts. The duo recorded Papineau-Couture's Sonata in G, and many standard works, including the complete Beethoven violin sonatas and performed at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC 15 Mar 1990.

Steven Staryk was visiting professor 1973-4 at the University of Victoria and 1975-6 at the University of Ottawa where he gave numerous recitals, including one of Canadian works. He taught 1977-9 at the University of Western Ontario, during which time Quartet Canada, of which he was the founding violin and a member 1976-81, was quartet-in-residence. He taught at the Royal Conservatory of Music 1975-87 (and was a visiting professor thereafter) and at the University of Toronto 1978-87. His pupils hold positions in major orchestras and chamber groups and teach in Canada, the USA, England, Holland, and Norway, among them are Gwen Hoebig and Roger Chase.

In 1982 Staryk was an adjudicator for the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, the first Canadian so invited. He joined the Toronto Symphony as concertmaster in 1982, and after an injury and a year's leave of absence 1986-7 he resigned to teach at the University of Washington, Seattle 1987-97. There, as head of the string division, he introduced an orchestral training program for string players to prepare them for orchestral careers. He retired to Scottsdale, Arizona, and later returned to Toronto.

Praise and Honours

Sometimes called a musician's musician and generally regarded as the leading Canadian-born violinist of his generation, Staryk won the respect of his peers and of the critics for his virtuosity and orchestral leadership. His technique - brilliant, versatile, and widely regarded as one of the most assured of the 20th century - favoured a lean, vigorous tone and was his own synthesis of many influences and not a product of any one school. His style was often compared with that of Heifetz. His concerto repertoire included some 40 works, and he has appeared as soloist with all of Canada's major orchestras.

In his four-fold career - as teacher and orchestral, solo, and chamber player - Staryk regarded orchestral playing as crucial to his musical development. He voiced the necessity of teaching orchestral skills and was praised for his musicianship, which extended beyond the limits of his instrument. He wrote the chapter 'Violin Performance' for Careers in Music (Oakville 1986) and appeared in the two-hour 1987 CBC documentary film Vivaldi, directed by Richard Bocking.

Staryk was held in high favour by Canadian composers. The violin concertos of George Fiala (1973, premiered 11 Oct 1974 with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra), Talivaldis Kenins (1974, premiered 31 Aug 1974 with the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra), Srul Irving Glick (1976, premiered 24 Oct 1976 with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra), and Paul Hoffert (1976, premiered July 1976 at the Blue Mountain School of Music, near Collingwood, Ont, where Staryk spent the summers of 1976 and 1977 as artist-in-residence) were dedicated to him, as were the above mentioned Encounter by Freedman and Paganini Collage by Lothar Klein.

Additional Awards

Staryk received the Shevchenko Medal from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (1974), the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of Washington (1995), the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal. He was made an officer in the Order of Canada in 2007.


Over fifty years (1952-2003) of Staryk's performances have been condensed in the Staryk Anthology, a collection of 30 CDs that include chamber music collaborations (keyboard, wind and strings), orchestral appearances, and works for solo violin from live performances, commercial recordings and unreleased material. Staryk plays on some of the world's finest violins including 4 Guarneri Del Gésus and 5 Strads. Included are performances of traditional gypsy music recorded in 1958 and 1968 under his pseudonym Primas Stefan, and released for the first time on CD as "Primas Stefan and his Royal Tziganes. "

Staryk's extensive discography also includes releases on Naxos, Angel, Phillips, CBC and others.

His recordings as concertmaster with the Amsterdam Chamb O, the Royal Phil O, the Capitol SO, the Chicago SO, the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, and others, are listed in Discopaedia of the Violin 1889-1971.

Further Reading