American violinist Israel Baker was born in Chicago on 11 February 1919, the youngest of four children of Russian immigrants. He gave his first public concert at the age of six in his native state of Illinois, and by his early teens had won several competititons. A pupil of Adolph Pick, Louis Persinger, Jacques Gordon and Bronisław Huberman, at the age of 22 he was concertmaster of Leopold Stokowski’s All-American Youth Orchestra and later became a member of Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra. During WWII he served with the US Army Air Force, stationed in New Jersey, and continued playing, entertaining wounded comrades.
After the war, Baker became a highly paid session musician and gravitated to the West Coast, where he was concertmaster of the Paramount Pictures Studio Orchestra, working with composers Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, John Barry, Franz Waxman, André Previn and Lalo Schifrin. He appeared on many film scores, including Psycho (he led Herrmann’s screaming violin effects accompanying the stabbing of Janet Leigh in the shower scene) and Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.
Baker collaborated with Heifetz and Piatigorsky in their celebrated series of concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Pilgrimage Theater in Los Angeles. Highlights of his recording career include Stravinsky’s l’Histoire du Soldat with the composer conducting, Schoenberg’s Phantasy for Violin & Piano with Glenn Gould, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, with conductor Erich Leinsdorf.
In 1949, after meeting socially at the home of the writer Thomas Mann, Israel and Yaltah decided to form a sonata team, making a joint New York debut in 1951. The Baker-Menuhin Duo went on to premiere – in performance and recording – works by Eric Zeisl, George Antheil, Ernst Krenek, Frank Martin, Louis Gruenberg, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Walter Piston.
In addition to teaching at Scripps College in California, Baker also served on the adjudication panel for the Satori Strings Contest.
Israel Baker died aged 92 at his home in Studio City, California, on 25 December 2011.