Extravagantly talented violinist grew up among musical greats

July 15, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Last year Pamela Frank stepped in at the last moment to substitute for another violinist to play Brahms' Double Concerto with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Baltimore Symphony.

How did she feel about performing alongside the world's most famous cellist for the first time?

"Not nervous at all," says Frank, who will perform Beethoven's Two Romances for Violin and Orchestra with the BSO and music director David Zinman tomorrow. "He's known me longer than I can remember -- most people have."

The 24-year-old violinist is not exaggerating -- she has known justabout every important American instrumentalist since before she was able to walk. Part of the reason for that is the other soloist on tomorrow's program: the well-known pianist Claude Frank -- and Pamela's father -- who will play Beethoven's B-flat Rondo. The other part is Pamela's mother, the equally admired pianist Lillian Kallir.

If anyone can be said to have been born into musical royalty, it is Pamela Frank. But while being the child of two distinguished musicians may help a bit in getting initial engagements, it cannot explain the size of Frank's career. The young violinist, with her extravagant talent, now gets more prestigious engagements than either of her parents.

Violin aficionados have been talking about her since she was in her early teens. Pamela Frank never had to enter a competition when she was a student at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute: Most conductors and other string players had already heard about how good she was.

"I don't think I ever made a conscious decision to become a

musician -- it was just something that evolved," Frank says. "One thing led to another and pretty soon I was doing it full time. I had parents who were never career-oriented and who did not raise me to have unrealistic expectations. I'm very lucky."

But -- with two piano-playing parents -- why the violin?

Frank laughs.

"I'm told that when I was 3 years old, friends of my parents gave me a toy violin just to see what I'd do. I left the room and marched back a moment later with a disgusted look on my face and said, 'I want a real one!' It's a cute story, and -- even if it's not true -- one thing is sure: There were quite enough people in my house who played the piano!"

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