Violinist Israel Baker has died, aged 92

James Jolly
Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The violinist Israel Baker has died at his home in Los Angeles aged 92. As the leader of the orchestra that recorded the soundtrack for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho, Baker’s playing would have been heard by millions in one of the scariest and most original pieces of film scoring: in the blood-chilling shower scene. Alongside his work playing for Hollywood movies, Baker also maintained an active concert life: he was a noted exponent of the Violin Concerto by another LA resident, Arnold Schoenberg and the Chamber Concerto by Schoenberg’s disciple, Alban Berg. 

Born in Chicago to Russian immigrants, Baker played the violin from an early age making his debut at the age of six. Baker’s first concertmaster job was with the Dayton Philharmonic in Ohio and he then led the All-American Youth Orchestra at the invitation of Leopold Stokowski. His war-time service in the Army Air Forces saw him playing requests to injured soldiers in hospital. After the war he worked in New York, later moving to California where he often played with the Hollywood studio orchestras.

In LA, Baker worked often, as a duo, with the pianist Yaltah Menuhin (Yehudi’s sister) and he also led the Los Angeles Chamber SO and the Orange County Pacific Symphony. And among the conductors he worked under were Bruno Walter and Erich Leinsdorf.

He recorded many of Stravinsky's scores for CBS with the composer himself conducting. In last December's Gramophone, the producer John McClure recalled the sessions: 'Israel Baker was the concertmaster for all those sessions. He also played on The Soldier's Tale and, although I knew he wasn't, I could swear to God he was sight-reading. He wasn't fazed by Stravinsky at all and chewed gum all through the sessions.'

In 1961, he joined Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky in their celebrate chamber-music series; among the recordings that emerged were Dvorák’s Piano Quintet, Mendelssohn’s Octet, Mozart’s G minor String Quintet and Spohr’s Double Quartet. Baker’s discography also includes Korngold’s Piano Trio, Stravinsky’s Double Canon for String Quartet, Schoenberg’s Phantasy (with Glenn Gould) and his Violin Concerto (with Robert Craft conducting).

In this YouTube clip from 1979, Israel Baker recalls some of his most important musical collaborations.

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