fbpx

A password will be e-mailed to you.

Photo by Kat Schleicher Frank Almond’s dressing room looks spartan this September afternoon. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra season-opener is still a week away, and behind a door in a Marcus Center hallway, the dressing room looks like a dorm room before student orientation, or perhaps a long-abandoned Motel 6. But everything Almond needs for his afternoon […]


Photo by Kat Schleicher

Frank Almond’s dressing room looks spartan this September afternoon. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra season-opener is still a week away, and behind a door in a Marcus Center hallway, the dressing room looks like a dorm room before student orientation, or perhaps a long-abandoned Motel 6. But everything Almond needs for his afternoon rehearsal is here. His casually dressed self and his Lipinski Stradivarius, which sits atop its open case on a counter next to him.

Not an elephant, exactly. 
The already-cherished 300-year-old violin became even more famous in January when Almond was attacked and robbed after a concert at Wisconsin Lutheran College. It was missing for 10 days before police located it and arrested the thieves. Almond has been through the trauma of the robbery and the legal ups and downs, but he’s also seen an outpouring of support from around the world. And that outpouring still seems to affect him deeply, as does his history with the violin. But he’s not dwelling on January’s drama. And that mettle has demonstrated why he’s so valuable in Milwaukee’s music community.  

Almond wasn’t the driven child prodigy you hear about in classical music these days. He admits he wasn’t “serious” about the violin until the waning years of high school, when he realized he “didn’t want to work at McDonald’s in San Diego,” like many of his friends. He was serious and talented enough to make important connections, including Joseph Silverstein, the legendary violinist and conductor who, Almond says, “was a great soloist, a fantastic intellect, a great chamber musician and a wonderful teacher.” 

Meeting Silverstein helped Almond settle on a music career, and he was soon off to Juilliard. Like most young talents of his age, he was leaning toward a solo career. In fact, when he came to Milwaukee to audition for the MSO’s then-music director, Zdeněk Mácal, he was less interested in the job than in getting a chance to play for Mácal, with the hope of getting on his roster of possible soloists for future concerts. But Almond eventually landed the concertmaster job, made Milwaukee his home, and has since spent nearly two decades matching his mentor’s accomplishments. As a teacher, he’s had positions at several universities, including Northwestern. This year, he’ll work with Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra as its first artist-in-residence, and he frequently performs as a soloist with the MSO. 
As a chamber musician, Almond often performs at festivals and special concerts. His 2013 recording, A Violin’s Life, a musical exploration of the Lipinski Strad’s history made with frequent collaborator William Wolfram, was one of the year’s best-selling classical recordings. And his own chamber series, Frankly Music, has been part of a chamber music revival in Milwaukee.
“The chamber music scene has totally changed in the last 10 years,” Almond says. That is thanks in part to ensembles like Present Music, the Prometheus Trio, the Fine Arts Quartet and the Philomusica Quartet. But it’s hard to ignore the influence of Frankly Music as a force in offering great music and building audiences in the city. When Almond first arrived in Milwaukee in 1995, the main chamber music venue was the long-defunct Artist Series at the Pabst. “It was very stuck in the old mold,” he says. “It felt alienating and stiff.” 
The first Frankly Music concerts – 11 years ago – were Almond’s response to old-mold programming. “The idea was to have some sort of interaction between the musicians and the audience,” he says, “which is trickier than it sounds.” But after some trial and error, Almond thinks he’s found the right format – and it typically involves wine and cheese receptions. 
“It always bugged me: You finish these intense concerts – sometimes great experiences and sometimes not so great – and everybody just goes home. It just feels weird,” he says. Those post-concert receptions “changed the whole atmosphere,” appealing to many first-time concert-goers. 
This month, Almond will honor Richard Strauss with an ensemble that features Mario Gotoh and Toby Appel, string players of international stature, along with the leading players of the MSO, including Andrew Raciti, Ilana Setapen, Peter Thomas and Susan Babini. Despite the star quality, the joy and challenge of making chamber music lies in the ability to work together. “People come in and play really well,” Almond explains. “But they know it’s a collective approach, which involves a lot more compromise all around. We had a no-divas policy implemented very early on, and it’s worked out really well.” ■

RELATED  Milwaukee Athletic Club Just Announced a New Rooftop Summer Concert Series

Be there: Strauss and Mozart Nov 24. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. 914 E. Knapp St., franklymusic.org.

This story was updated to reflect two corrections. In the original, we incorrectly stated when Almond arrived in Milwaukee and at what point he met Joseph Silverstein. We regret the errors. 

Comments

comments