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Teresa Sterne (Piano)

Born: March 29, 1927 - Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died: December 10, 2000 - New York City, New York, USA

The American pianist and recording producer, Teresa Sterne, worn into a musical family. Her mother, a professional cellist, abandoned her career to devote herself to her daughter’s artistic development, and her uncle, a distinguished violinist, helped guide Sterne to fully realize her natural talents. At the tender age of four Teresa Sterne declared that Bach was her "sweetheart" and showed such signs of musical awareness and skill that she was given piano lessons. At the age of 12, she made a most auspicious performance debut, appearing with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (the two major orchestras in New York at that time) in her first two public appearances.

When she became an adult, however, Teresa Sterne decided not to pursue the strenuous and uncertain life of a professional piano soloist. She later said she "lacked the sophistication about how to build a career," and was afraid that for the time it took her to built a career she would "be a parasite." Instead, she took secretarial courses and attended a modeling school. Her first job was as a secretary and part-time model for a knitwear company. The pivotal job in her career was a position in the offices of the great classical music impressario Sol Hurok, which put her back into contact with the music world and began educating her in the business side of the art. Then she joined the enterprising independent label Vanguard Records, where she became personal secretary to its director.

Teresa Sterne was hired to run Nonesuch Records in 1965 by Jac Holzman, the founder of the label and head of the then-parent company, Elektra Records, where she was known as "Tracey" to her colleagues. When she took over Nonesuch she combined a fierce commitment to new and adventurous repertoire with the instincts of a performing musician, and began to make her mark on the record business. Over the course of the fifteen years that followed Tracey had the conviction to record music as diverse as the first three string quartets of Elliott Carter and works by Edgard Varèse; the music of George Crumb and George Rochberg and the work of other lesser-known composers as William Bolcom, John Harbison, Charles Wuorinen, John Cage, and Morton Subotnick. Sterne's interest in earlier American music led to her production of the recording of the piano rags of Scott Joplin, performed by Joshua Rifkin, creating such a sensation that two additional releases followed, and a Joplin revival had begun (including the use of The Entertainer in the film The Sting).

All the while Sterne maintained a commitment to such diverse repertoire as the music of Stephen Foster, turn-of-the-century American songwriters, Civil War songs and show music from the 1920s and '30s. She also sought out top-notch performers who were not necessarily household names, and built lifelong professional and personal relationships with such performers as Jan DeGaetani, Gilbert Kalish and Paul Jacobs. In 1966 she initiated the Explorer Series imprint, issuing some of the first recordings to document both ceremonial and secular ethnic music from six continents and numerous islands, released to the public for the first time. The Explorer Series, a catalog that now boasts nearly a hundred titles, set the stage for what became a new genre in the record business, so-called "world music."

When Warner Communications acquired the company in 1980, they closed down its new recording operations and sacked Teresa Sterne; she retired from the business and, only a few years later, was stricken with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. By the late 1990’s, she was virtually confined to her New York apartment. However, she saw Nonesuch revived as a leading force in American classical music under Robert Hurwitz. In 2000, her old label honored her by releasing a two-disc tribute album, “Teresa Sterne: A Portrait”, which included her old teen-age recordings and excerpts from several of her great production efforts. Disc one of this two-CD set contains recordings of Teresa Sterne’s performances made from 1938 to 1951, of repertoire ranging from J.S. Bach’s Italian Concerto (BWV 971), to the piano concertos of Mozart and Sergei Rachmaninov (the latter recorded with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra), and the Piano Sonata of Dutch-born conductor and composer David Broekman, a long-time mentor and friend. The second disc highlights Sterne’s favorite recordings from her tenure at Nonesuch Records, including performances by Paul Jacobs, Joshua Rifkin, Jan DeGaetani, Gilbert Kalish, Joan Morris, and William Bolcom, plus selections from the Explorer series.

Source: All Music Guide (Author: Joseph Stevenson); Nonesuch Records Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2011)

Teresa Sterne: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

Teresa Sterne - A Portrait (Nonesuch)
Teresa Sterne (Jewish Women’s Archive)

Teresa Sterne Biography (AMG)
Obituary in NY Times

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
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