Israel Baker, noted violinist, dies

January 9, 2012

As concertmaster for the orchestra that recorded the soundtrack for the movie “Psycho,” classical violinist Israel Baker helped create a piece of pop culture that is regarded as one of Hollywood’s most terrifying. He led the piercing attack of the violins that accompanies the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film’s chilling shower scene.

Mr. Baker “was a renowned violinist and concertmaster in the Hollywood studio system” and was heard on dozens of movie scores, said Jon Burlingame, a film and music historian. He was also “one of the great violinists of the 20th century,” Jim Svejda, an expert in classical music, said during a tribute on Los Angeles radio station KUSC-FM last week.

Mr. Baker died Dec. 25 at his home in Los Angeles after a stroke, his daughter Hilary said. He was 92.

The musician had “one of the most brilliantly facile techniques of any violinist of his time,” Svejda said before playing a “benchmark recording” from Igor Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat” (“The Soldier’s Tale”), conducted by the composer and featuring Mr. Baker.

He was “one of the most sought-after violinists in the country,” Keith Clark, then conductor of the Orange County Pacific Symphony, told the Los Angeles Times in 1981 when Mr. Baker was its concertmaster.

As his career unfolded, largely in California, Mr. Baker earned a reputation as a chamber musician, orchestral leader and soloist. He had particular success with Arnold Schoenberg’s “Phantasy” and Alban Berg’s “Chamber Concerto,” combining “stylistic acumen” with “Viennese Romantic tradition,” according to the Grove online music reference.

Mr. Baker also served as second violinist to legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz in a series of chamber concerts launched in Los Angeles in 1961 by Heifetz and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.

Born Feb. 11, 1919, in Chicago, Mr. Baker was the youngest of four children of immigrants from Russia. At 6, he debuted professionally in Chicago, his daughter said.

During World War II, he served in the Army Air Forces as a roving violinist who played requests from hospitalized veterans in the United States.

With his first wife, Caroline, who died in 1974, he had three children. Besides his daughter Hilary, Mr. Baker is survived by his second wife, Imelda; daughters Merrill and Abby; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Baker’s contributions to film scores spanned several decades and included “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” (1973) and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984).

Onstage, he was known for a studied nonchalance that belied his seriousness as a musician. During a cello solo in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, the violinist once leaned over to pianist Julien Musafia and shared stock market tips.

— Los Angeles Times

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