Sinfonia Concertante: Student and teacher share Mozart’s love duet

Pamela Frank
The Barre Montpelier TImes Argus

By Jim Lowe 

The great American violinist Pamela Frank was 18 when she played the Sinfonia Concertante, Mozart’s concerto for violin, viola and orchestra, for the first time. It was in a concerto competition at the Music Academy of the West, and the violist was her best friend at the time. And they won.

“I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” Frank says. “That was the highlight of my then-short life. I thought then that one could only play this piece with people that one feels very close to. And I’ve only played it for people I’ve had very close relationships with — because you are really divulging your soul.”

Frank will be doing just that when she performs the work six times in Vermont, Sept. 20 to 26, as part of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s annual “Made in Vermont” statewide tour. Performing as viola soloist will be Frank’s childhood inspiration, later teacher, mentor and friend, Jaime Laredo.

“So the idea of playing that with somebody who is not my peer, but who is somebody I love and respect and admire — I’m going to finally be able to tell Jaime how much I love him through the Sinfonia Concertante — thanking him for everything he has done for me, and who he is actually,” Frank says.

On the tour, Laredo, the VSO’s music director, will also conduct “Dance of the Furies” from Gluck’s “Orfeo”; “Simple Symphony” by Benjamin Britten; and the world premiere of “Breath” by Brattleboro composer Paul Dedell, as well as soloing and conducting Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat, K. 364.

Frank grew up in New York City, but immediately came under the spell of Vermont. Her parents, concert pianists Claude Frank and Lillian Kallir, in fact, were married at Marlboro Music Festival, where her father was one of the original teachers. There she came under the influence of pianist Rudolf Serkin, violinists Alexander Schneider and, of course, Laredo, among others.

Frank’s career took off. After graduating from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, she sang solo with the world’s greatest orchestras. She performed recitals with her father and pianist Peter Serkin, and chamber music with the likes of cellist Yo Yo Ma and pianist Emmanuel Ax.

But soon after winning the exclusive Avery Fisher Prize in 1999, her career came to an abrupt stop.

“I sustained a traumatic injury in 2001, which dramatically changed my life overnight,” Frank said in a phone interview from her New York City home Monday.
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