Pamela Frank is a world-class violinist. She has won international prizes and played venues from Scotland to Hollywood. But sometimes simply playing her instrument is not enough.
“It’s not all about violin playing,” Frank told one performer, “because that becomes old.”
Tuesday afternoon, six musicians from the Yale School of Music were put to the test in a master class led by Frank in Sudler Recital Hall. The program featured three violinists playing with piano accompaniment for Frank and an audience of their peers.
“It’s a little intimidating,” said violinist Sarah Pratt MUS ’03. “You’re playing for your friends and also for someone who will critique you.”
The students performed their prepared pieces with Frank observing. Then Frank joined the students onstage, providing them with criticism and sometimes borrowing their violins to demonstrate her ideas. The students performed the pieces again, trying to incorporate Frank’s critique into their playing.
Frank is a winner of the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize, one of the highest honors given to American instrumentalists. Musical talent runs in Frank’s family — her closest relatives are pianists. Her mother is pianist Lilian Kallir and her father, Yale School of Music professor Claude Frank, has performed piano recitals in countries around the world. She began her studies in violin at the age of five and in 1985, she began her professional career.
She gained international attention in 1988 when she received the Avery Fisher Career Grant. Yesterday’s class was her second master class with the Yale School of Music.
“She’s wonderful,” said Pratt, who also performed at Frank’s first Yale master class.
Frank encouraged the students to challenge themselves in their playing and to try new techniques and methods. “It’s fun. They’re willing to try new stuff,” Frank said. “I’m reminded of what’s important in music, which is the emotional impact.”
The three violinists, as well as their accompanists, were asked to forget the notes of the music and enjoy themselves. “Whatever the words you come up with are your own, but make a story,” Frank said.
Though the students said the environment of the master class can be demanding, they recognized the importance of this type of instruction.
“This is one of the most helpful things you can do,” Pratt said.
The students repeated their pieces again and again until they achieved the goals Frank had in mind. “This is good,” Frank said, after Pratt and her accompanist, Ryosuke Yanagitani MUS ’04, completed their piece. “You’re sweating a little. First time, there was no sweat involved.”
The class featured pieces by Schubert, Strauss, and Beethoven, with each performer playing one or two pieces. The violinists, Najin Kim MUS ’03, Shan Yew MUS ’03, and Pratt, were the focus of the master class, though the accompanists, Kyung Eun Han MUS ’03, Sarah Watkins, and Yanagitani, were also offered advice.
The musicians were asked to challenge normal musical limitations in an unconventional form of instruction. “Make noise,” Frank said. “Play ugly. I dare you.”