Student-faculty ensembles perform at Curtis

Pamela Frank
Philadelphia Inquirer

By Peter Dobrin

The Curtis Institute of Music draws great interest from the talent pool of China, now more than ever with Chinese alumni such as Lang Lang serving as living marketing tools.

But if Curtis wants a more representative slice of prodigies worldwide, this elite conservatory on Rittenhouse Square also must scout South America and Europe (at the very least). The student-faculty ensembles that performed Friday night at the school will no doubt prove as lures - to budding pianists and singers as well as potential donors and board members - when players materialize shortly for concerts and master classes in Paris; Berlin; Moraira, Spain; and Ischia, Italy.

The first thing audiences might notice is students and teachers performing together, a level of contact that doesn't happen at all music schools. Mikael Eliasen, head of the vocal studies department, managed Schubert's busy piano part to five excerpts from Schwanengesang, D. 957, sung by Elliot Madore, a student baritone with a wondrously developed palette of colors. Madore, 23, is also blindingly handsome, currently an undeniable asset in opera; his career route was bolstered recently when he was named a winner in the 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Violin fans found a joyous surprise. Pamela Frank, a Curtis professor whose flourishing career was halted after an injury several years ago, has been performing again. She was a girding influence on her three student string partners in Barber's "Dover Beach," with the vocal part sung sturdily, if not with consistent emotional subtlety, by Madore.

Those students - violinist Elizabeth Fayette, violist Amanda Verner, and cellist Jeong Hyoun Lee - were impressively fleet in Jean Francaix's "String Trio." They rightly thought of it as French cartoon music, well done and witty.

It was Franck's Quintet in F minor that so movingly reminded us what we've been missing while Frank has been sidelined. The violin world may be crowded, but there is no one else like Frank. She was a synergistic source for Fayette, Verner, and Lee, as well as pianist Andrew Tyson, whose tone covered everything from sensitive to brawny. Frank trained at Curtis with Felix Galimir, but so did others who somehow missed out on his most important old-world virtues. Frank has the best of those qualities. She has a big, rich sound that vibrates. Phrasing breathes with great purpose. Even single notes don't leave the strings without meaning.

If her partners still have a note or two to polish, they seem destined to spend the next few concerts in Europe in a more important transfer of knowledge: You can tell your students that music as written on the page is only the palest suggestion of what it can be, but unless you've sat next to an artist like Frank proving that idea bar for bar, you can't possibly understand how true it is.