Ethel Stark

Ethel (Gertrude) Stark. Violinist, conductor, teacher, born Montreal 25 Aug 1910, died there 16 Feb 2012; lauréat (AMQ) 1927, diploma (Curtis) 1934, fellow (Royal Society of Arts) 1980, honorary LL D (Concordia) 1980. Her Austrian-born parents were Adolph and Laura Stark. Adolph was president of the Montreal Immigrant Aid Society and the Ladies Immigrant Aid Society. Ethel's brother Jules played the piano and her sister Doretta (d 1983) later served as her personal manager and as manager of the Montreal Women's Symphony Orchestra.


Ethel Stark took her first violin lessons from Alfred De Sève and then worked with Saul Brant at the McGill Conservatory as a winner of the MacDonald scholarship. When Stark was 13 years old violinist Erika Morini took her to New York to audition for her father Oscar Morini, who offered to take Stark as his protégée to Europe. Laura Stark felt her daughter was too young for touring and Ethel remained in Montreal. She became the first Canadian citizen to win a major scholarship at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia where she studied 1928-34 with Lea Luboshutz (violin), Louis Bailly (chamber music), and Artur Rodzinski. She later studied violin with Carl Flesch.


In 1934 Stark became the first Canadian woman to perform as soloist in a program broadcast across the USA, playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner, also becoming the first female soloist to play under his baton. She performed with the Montreal Orchestra (Bach's Concerto in A minor and Lalo's Symphonie espagnole, 1933), Les Concerts symphoniques de Montréal (Tchaikovsky's Concerto, 1936), the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the CBC Montreal orchestra (Mendelssohn's Concerto), and other orchestras. She premiered two works on CBC radio in 1946: Violet Archer's Sonata for Violin and Pianoforte (which is dedicated to Stark) with the composer at the piano; and Hugh Poynter Bell's Sonata with John Newmark at the piano.


In 1940 Ethel Stark founded the Montreal Women's Symphony Orchestra, the first Canadian orchestra composed exclusively of women, becoming the first female artistic director of a Canadian symphony orchestra; she conducted it until 1965. She was also the founding director of the New York Women's Chamber Orchestra (1938-40), the Ethel Stark Symphonietta (1954-68), and the Montreal Women's Symphony Strings (1954-65). She was the first woman to appear as a guest conductor with the Toronto Symphony in 1946. She also conducted the Quebec Symphony Orchestra in 1950, the Miami Symphony Orchestra in 1957, 1958, and 1962 and was the first Canadian and first woman to conduct the Kol-Israel of Jerusalem in 1952 and 1962. Stark conducted the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in 1959 and 1968, the Tokyo Asahi and Nippon Hoso Kyokai in 1960, as well as the CBC Montreal orchestra on several occasions. She created the Ethel Stark Symphony Orchestra in May 1969 to mark the 65th anniversary of the John Howard Society of Quebec. On a Canada Council grant she went to Europe in 1962 to research violin methodology. As violinist or conductor Ethel Stark took part in an estimated 300 or more radio programs in Canada, the USA, and Europe.

Teaching, awards and archives

Stark taught in 1951 at the Catholic University of Washington, 1952-63 at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal, and 1974-5 at Concordia University. In 1976 she received the award given each year by the Concert Society of the Jewish People's Schools and Peretz Schools to an outstanding Canadian artistic personality. She was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1979 and of the Order of Quebec in 2003, and received the Canada 125 medal in 1992. Stark's archives are held at the Library and Archives Canada and the Montreal Jewish Archive.