Ethel Stark, 1910-2012

Ethel Stark and Ernest Bloch in Geneva.

Ethel Stark, violinist, conductor, musical pioneer and teacher, passed away on February 16, 2012.  Stark was born in Montreal on August 25, 1910. She was a laureat of the Quebec Academy of Music, recipient of the Curtis diploma, fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and the recipient of an honourary degree (LLD) from Concordia University, Montreal.  In 1934 Ethel Stark became the first Canadian woman to perform as soloist in a broadcasted program across the USA.  In 1940 she founded the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra, which she conducted until the late 1960s.  She was also founding director of the New York women’s Chamber Orchestra, the Ethel Stark Symphonietta, and the Montreal Women’s Symphony Strings.  She was guest conductor with symphonies in Canada and abroad including Israel and Tokyo, Japan. Ethel Stark was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1980.

Ethel Stark frequently received positive attention from the print media for her conducting, the large part she played in forming the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra, and her skills as a violinist. Edward W. Wodson’s column, Music Notes Yenmita, bore a headline that read; “Woman’s Hand Works Marvel for Orchestra: Ethel Stark Leads Toronto Symphony to New Heights – Players Seem Under Spell – Vocalists Excel”.

Winifred E. Wilson writes, “Equally at ease with baton or violin, this truly remarkable Canadian has risen to a height from which she could (if she would) look down on many an aspiring man. But that is not in her nature…” (Canadian Home Journal March 1946)

Olin Downes of the New York Times, writing about Ethel Stark and her orchestra’s first performance in New York, says “They play vigorously, rythmically [sic], and with a large measure of communicative fire.”

In an interview with Lou Seligson for the Canadian Jewish News, Stark had many insights on her accomplishments and her love for Canada. On conducting the first Canadian orchestra to perform at Carnegie Hall, she said, “We had a great success. Now I can’t believe our nerve,” acknowledging the challenges that she and other women faced in gaining access to the world of professional classical music.  Later in the interview, she states “I’m a thorough Montrealer. I was born here. I came back and stayed here. I helped develop Canadian talent…”

The JPL Archives has preserved a small collection of Ethel Stark’s photographs and documents, a description available through the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network.

One Comment to “Ethel Stark, 1910-2012”

  1. ruth rosen says:

    hi there, was there an biography written about her? am very interested in discovering more about this fascinating woman. please advise

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