The Well-Tempered Ear

He’s a soloist, chamber player and orchestral musician: Frank Almond interview, Part 2

October 6, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is the second part of my question-and-answer interview with Frank Almond. frankalmond2

Almond is the Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, which will perform this Friday, Oct. 9, at 8 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater. Tickets are $18, $40 and$45; $10 for UW students. Call 608 262-2201.

The all-masterpiece program makes this a MUST-HEAR concert for The Ear. The Milwaukee group, under its new music director Edo de Waart, will perform Mozart’s darkly dramatic Overture to “Don Giovanni”; Brahms’ tuneful but rarely heard Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, with Almond and MSO principal cellist Joseph Johnson; and Beethoven’s sprightly and soulful evergreen Symphony No. 7, the Ear’s favorite of The Nine.

How much do you do solo work with the MSO and elsewhere? Chamber music? What are your favorite violin concertos to perform? What is a typical month like?

I’ve got a really nice variety of things going, but it’s a little hectic at times. It’s a fairly active schedule that mixes quite a few disciplines; a significant amount of solo and chamber music, and a little more teaching master classes these days, so every month has different things happening.

I’ve recorded several CDs, and the next one will be out in November or so on the Innova label. I generally play at least once a year as a soloist with the MSO, although this year I’ll be on two subscription series as well as this current tour.

I’m still a member of the chamber group An die Musik in New York, and I run my own chamber music series based in Milwaukee called Frankly Music ( I’m particularly proud of that; it’s been remarkably successful with a really unique format and some great artists. Cellist Lynn Harrell will open the series this year.

How would you explain the differences and duties between being concertmaster and soloist to the average listener? How do they pleasures they give you and the work they demand of you compare?

Being a soloist and a Concertmaster are two entirely different activities. I enjoy both, mostly because I don’t do one or the other exclusively and I learn a lot from both roles.

As a soloist, you typically come in, play your concerto, and leave; the focus is on the individual rather than leadership of an ensemble. There are great challenges in that as well as wonderful artistic rewards, although the life of a soloist isn’t usually anywhere near as glamorous as many expect it to be. It’s actually quite difficult to sustain and enjoy a career like that, even if you have the requisite phenomenal artistic abilities required these days.

In contrast, the Concertmaster is essentially an orchestral position that requires a complex set of leadership skills way beyond playing the instrument well.

Much of the job happens in rehearsal as you closely interact both verbally and visually with the other string principals (and others), but there is also a very specific role to play with regard to the conductor.

You become a sort of liaison in a way that’s hard to describe; suffice to say that it’s absolutely critical that the Concertmaster connect and relate well to the person on the podium. In my experience that relationship greatly affects any performance.

Further, you end up wearing lots of hats, both in the artistic sense and otherwise. There are certain administrative duties regarding auditions, working with the library to do bowings, things like that.

There’s a sort of public face as well, involving fundraising and donor activities and generally being a passionate (and honest) mouthpiece for the group. And of course you play all the violin solos in any particular piece.

Posted in Classical music

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