Mary Hoffman Archive: Isaac Stern

Mar 8, 2017

Mary Rousculp Hoffman became program director of WOSU-FM in 1966.

By the time she retired over 20 years later, Mary had interviewed many of the 20th century's finest musicians. Elsewhere on this blog you'll find Mary's interviews with Vladimir Horowitz, Maria Callas and Thomas Schippers.

Mary downsized into a new home a few years ago, and she donated boxes of her interviews on reel-to-reel tapes to WOSU. A recent rare and welcome burst of housecleaning by some of us here at WOSU has yielded more tape treasures. Dave Gelfer, a retired WOSU recording engineer, has digitized many of these interviews.

Thus, The Mary Hoffman Archive was born! The archive features conversations with acclaimed musicians, taped by a sharp and charming broadcaster who knew her stuff, all in Columbus, Ohio.

Here is Mary's conversation with violinist Isaac Stern (1920-2001). It's March 1970. The setting is the Ohio Theater. The Columbus Symphony Orchestra is onstage rehearsing Mahler, conducted by Evan Whallon.

At the time of this interview, efforts to preserve and restore the Ohio Theatre were underway, along with development of the State Street corridor downtown.

Since Stern had saved Carnegie Hall from demolition in 1960, asking him about the beauty and the fate of the Ohio was natural.

Born in Ukraine, Stern was brought to this country at the age of 18 months. He was raised in San Francisco. Naum Binder was his principal teacher. Stern made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony at the age of 15, playing Camille Saint-Saens' Violin Concerto, conducted by Pierre Monteux.

Credit Flickr

From then until his death in 2001, Stern was rehearsing, recording and performing at the highest international levels. He championed young musicians Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, among others. 

Stern was the most "well connected" artist of his time. He was comfortable with all levels of celebrity, be they power broker or movie star.

Nor was he a stranger to Hollywood. Stern played a violinist of an earlier time, Eugene Ysaye, in the 1953 biopic of impresario Sol Hurok, Tonight We Sing.

​​You see John Garfield and Joan Crawford in the 1946 film Humoresque, but that's Stern playing the fiddle. And who else would be the title character in the film version of Fiddler on the Roof?

Stern was a violinist, artist, musician, teacher, humanitarian and power broker. In March 1970, he got to talk with Mary Hoffman in the Ohio Theatre. Nearly 50 years later, Mary retains all her glamor, Stern is fiddling in heaven and, thanks to this archive, we can hear from an expert about the life of a musician and artist.