Her lucky star

Violinist Pamela Frank contemplates her life as a classical music-maker

When concert violinist Pamela Frank returns home to Philadelphia after a hectic touring schedule, she has time to relax and water her cactuses. Her other house plants couldn’t survive her lifestyle. She’s often gone for long stretches of time, giving recitals, soloing with internationally renowned orchestras or performing with chamber ensembles. For Frank, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I mean, when your hobby becomes your profession,” she says, “you’re just basically the luckiest person in the world.”

Frank has the unusual distinction of being the daughter of noted pianists Claude Frank and Lillian Kallir. The three frequently perform chamber music both in the living room and on stage. Growing up with such powerful musical influences affected Frank positively and brought her into a dynamic circle of activity.

Pamela Frank plays Friday at Orchestra Hall. 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. $15.50-$54. Rush tickets available. 371-5656.

“It took me a long time to realize that that’s actually what their job was, because I thought that’s what they did for fun,” Frank says. “So, I don’t know if it’s by example or genetic, but that sort of attitude toward music has definitely been passed down to me.”

That attitude was comprised of a great affection for the music they played, a sense of musical integrity and respect for composers’ intentions. Her parents stressed that the musician should act as a middleman between the composer and the audience, thereby instilling in Frank a sense of humility. And they never pressured her into a concert career.

“They wanted me to just love it. They would have been perfectly happy if I had just been an avid concert-goer and a great audience member,” Frank says, “so they never pushed at all. They never forced me to practice and I never expected to be a musician.”

Unlike many successful classical musicians, Frank didn’t use the route of competitions as a means for recognition. She began her violin studies at age five with Shirley Givens, and after 11 years, continued her musical education with Szymon Goldberg and Jaime Laredo. In 1988, at the age of 21 she won the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant and graduated the following year from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

“The theme of this is that I was born under a lucky star,” she says.

Performing as a soloist at Tanglewood, touring Germany with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and performing a series of family concerts in Japan with Yo-Yo Ma could be due to luck, or maybe it’s due to her years of passionate dedication. Regardless, Frank seems unflustered and unfettered by such scope.

“Every day is a completely different schedule…if I said I had to have my nap at 4 p.m. every day and have to have this kind of meal a certain time every day, it would be ridiculous.”

“I always encourage people to come backstage so I can talk to them and I can’t believe how often I get the reaction: `My God, you’re so normal,'” she says. “It’s a little disturbing.”

Although practicing the violin in hotel rooms and hearing the flight safety instructions during takeoff one too many times may not be ideal for everyone, Frank wholeheartedly accepts the terms of her lifestyle. And unlike the career of say, a concert pianist, Frank’s life never becomes too solitary. If she does a recital tour, her pianist joins her. And after trotting the globe a few times, Frank has friends scattered across the world.

“It works out really well for me because there is time alone, and that time is usually welcome,” Frank says. “I need the balance of the social and the quiet time. I need the time to regroup and get to know myself again. Because when you’re out on stage, you’re sort of exposing yourself and sharing your inner life with thousands of people. You need that time when you’re alone to sort of refocus. So it works out perfectly for me. I’m never lonely.”

Frank grants that the life of a concert violinist wouldn’t work too well for control freaks. She’s learned to value adaptability and flexibility in order to cope with ever-changing circumstances.

“Every day is a completely different schedule,” she explains. “You’re at the mercy of airplane schedules and orchestra schedules, concert hall schedules. You cannot have any kind of routine or any kind of neurosis, actually. If I said I had to have my nap at 4 p.m. every day and I have to have this kind of meal a certain time every day, it would be ridiculous.”

Frank’s schedule for this week includes a return to the Twin Cities to play the Bruch Violin Concerto ##1 with the Minnesota Orchestra. She made her debut with the Minnesota Orchestra at the 1992 Viennese Sommerfest performing this same piece and has returned several times since then. One of the favorite solo works for violin, written in 1867, the Bruch concerto carries all the drama, lyricism and passion anyone could expect from the Romantic era.

“This is one of the most appealing, accessible works in the repertoire,” Frank says. “What appeals to me, and I think to listeners, is that there’s this sense of wearing your heart on your sleeve all the time.

“It’s a challenge, to be so involved and so vulnerable and so unself-conscious so as to expose your soul and, sort of, to get emotionally naked. That’s how to get other people to feel.”

With her positive attitude and enthusiastic demeanor, Frank shatters the notion that classical musicians have to be the serious and dark, mysterious twisted souls that they are so often cracked up to be.

“I do hope that classical music can become a little bit more deformalized and not so daunting to younger generations,” Frank says. “There’s a certain formality that I think scares them away. I think it’s important to go to schools and to show that this is actually a really fun thing to be involved in. And even if you’re not involved in it that it can also be fun to listen to, that it can be not just for older people.”

All in all, Frank takes a position that de-emphasizes her centrality, and prefers to think of music-making as a collective process.

“The most important thing about solo playing is to know what those 100 people behind you are doing all the time,” Frank says. “There’s no point in a soloist giving you their rendition of the piece because it won’t sound like a totality.

“Plus, not everything in the solo part is so interesting to listen to. A lot of times the solo part defers to a more interesting instrument. … Basically whoever has the tune, rules.

“I don’t want to just stand up there and take the spotlight,” Frank says. “I want to involve as many people in the music-making process as possible.”