Israel Baker, renowned violinist, dies at 92

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.

He “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.

Yet Baker was also “one of the great violinists of the 20th century,” classical music expert Jim Svejda said during a tribute on KUSC-FM (91.5) last week.

Baker died Dec. 25 at his Studio City home several days after having a stroke, said his daughter Hilary. 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, conducted by the composer and featuring 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 Times in 1981 when Baker was its concertmaster.

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

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, 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 at 54 in 1974, he had three children. Besides his daughter Hilary, Baker is survived by his second wife, Imelda; daughters Merrill and Abby; and five grandchildren.

When Baker performed at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles in 1950 with pianist Yaltah Menuhin, The Times praised their approach as fresh and called each “an excellent musician.”

Hilary recalled sitting in Jack Benny’s home as her father gave the entertainer a violin lesson. 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 concert pianist Julien Musafia and shared stock market tips.