Contemplating a Legacy

Some thoughts from Jesse Irons on the two mentors celebrated in this weekend’s concert - Pamela Frank and her teacher in turn, Shirley Givens. The following has been published by the Boston Musical Intelligencer here!

When I first met Pam I was a freshman violin student at Peabody Conservatory, and my dear teacher Shirley Givens was so excited that her star pupil Pamela Frank was coming to solo with the Baltimore Symphony. Miss Givens had her ways and she finagled the entire studio to come to a dress rehearsal where Pam performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto and then had a chat with us directly after. It was a stunning performance and Pam had a incredible ability to to weave in and out of the orchestra texture: to soar above when needed, and to almost embed and strengthen the orchestra when that's what the part called for. It was an entirely egoless performance all about Beethoven's intention and the music was just alive and moving. 

About a year after that I had my first lesson with Pam. Miss Givens was away for the week, and had arranged for a very special guest teacher for all of us in her studio. I was extremely nervous but pulled out the concerto I've been working on: Mozart's 4th Violin Concerto in D Major. I remember playing through the first movement and being out of breath. Pam with a smile asked "how do you feel?" I said I was tired. And Pam looked at me and said, "You better not be tired, you have two more movements to play!" I was instantly smitten. After the lesson I bought her recording of the Mozart violin concertos and I've probably listened to her recording of the fourth concerto 100 times. In fact I used to tune my violin to it!

Eventually I ended up studying directly with Pam for 3 years. It was a dream come true. Every week new delights, new laughter, new insights, and my entire musical personality was fostered and nurtured and blossomed with her help.

Since helping to start A Far Cry in 2007, I made a habit every few years of checking in with Pam to see if she would play a concerto with us. Many of the Criers have personal connections with Pam, and when, a year and a half ago, Pam said "Yes!" we immediately got to work.

When I asked Pam what she was most excited to play with A Far Cry she said, "Well I just can't wait to play with you guys! With my old students!" Approximately a year ago, Pam and my mutual teacher Shirley Givens passed away, and commiserating about that and continuing discussions about what to play together, the program gained a new depth and richness. We're calling it Legacy and dedicating it to Miss Givens, but unlike many A Far Cry programs, there's no profound insight behind this this collection of pieces. It's really a chance to celebrate our favorite people, our favorite music, and the bonds - indeed the legacy - of teachers through generations. Miss Givens's favorites composer by a mile was Mozart - she once kicked a student out of her studio when they insisted they did not like Mozart - so Mozart figures prominently. Miss Givens was the consummate performer, always putting the audience fully at ease through her own obvious joy at being on stage. This is perhaps the most important lesson I learned from her, and I believe it's part of her legacy that AFC audience members often comment after concerts, "it looks like you Criers are having so much fun."

At the end of each year in Pam's studio, we would have a final studio class that would end with a bunch of multi-violin concertos all played together for fun. This Vivaldi concerto for four violins in b-minor was one of the ones we played. The four violin soloists will be Pam, two Crier violinists who are her former students, myself & Omar Chen Guey, and a wonderful current New England Conservatory student named Sophia Szokolay. In fact we're featuring young people throughout the orchestra from not only New England Conservatory, but NEC Prep School, as well as Project STEP. One of the most important things we Criers can do is work to pass on her own legacy to the next generation of string players, one of which I was shocked to learn has been attending AFC concerts since she was 5 years old.

This video is a treasure - Shirley Givens appearance on Chance of a Lifetime!