By Peter Dobrin
Philadelphia Inquirer - 28 October 2004
Lilian Kallir, 73, the Czech-born American pianist whose career spanned a debut at the age of 17 with the New York Philharmonic to collaborations with her daughter, violinist Pamela Frank, died of cancer Monday at home in New York.
A student of famed pedagogue Isabelle Vengerova and Herman de Grab, she was renowned for her Mozart and Chopin and was a highly respected teacher.
"Her playing was exceptionally natural," said Curtis Institute of Music director Gary Graffman, who also studied with Vengerova. "She had instinctive musicality, there was nothing put on. It just came out of her."
Born in Prague of Austrian parents, Mrs. Kallir's early life was spent with her family fleeing the Nazis, first moving to Switzerland for a year, and then to New York. After enrolling at the Mannes School of Music and making her debut with the Philharmonic, she began a performing career that took her to Europe, South America and across the United States.
She married Claude Frank in 1959 — the pianists met in 1947 as students at Tanglewood — and they frequently performed together. She joined the faculty of the Mannes College of Music in 1975.
"She was deeply beloved by her students," said Joel Lester, dean of Mannes. "I watch a lot of teachers and students together, and she had a rare sense of devotion from her students that you don't find across the board."
Her playing, Lester said, had "elegance, finesse, deep musicality, wit and charm."
"She never told me I had to do this or do that," said pianist Wu Han, who named her daughter Lilian in honor of her teacher. "She always encouraged me to do what was most natural. She never dictated interpretation."
Mrs. Kallir's keyboard personality was wrought not from pyrotechnics or technical brawn, but from a respect for a work's underlying structure, and, most of all, by bringing a human touch to the shaping of melodies. Her 1998 recording of Chopin works on the Helicon label is a study in individualism — though individualism carefully tempered. There is nothing radical in her phrasing. She never overshadows the composer with her own views, but always manages to get across a few strong opinions.
"Impeccable tone and refinement of phrasing," wrote former Inquirer music critic Lesley Valdes of Mrs. Kallir's performance in 1990 of the Schumann Piano Quartet in E-flat major with the Guarneri String Quartet. "The gradually escalated keynote octaves signaled her intent to create at every opportunity a polished tone; if tempos here and later signaled a note of caution, they allowed another slant of light — another romantic perspective — on this impetuous score."
"She was obsessed with the beauty of sound," Pamela Frank said. "I think I learned a lot about tone and color and just sheer tonal beauty from her."
Mrs. Kallir kept major musical company, performing with the orchestras of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, as well as the Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, London Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and others. She worked with a long A-list of conductors, including Haitink, Giulini, Karajan and Leinsdorf.
As a chamber musician, she found partners not only with the Guarneri, but also with the Cleveland, Emerson, Juilliard, and Tokyo quartets, as well as in Pinchas Zukerman, Yo-Yo Ma and Richard Stoltzman.
Though not a prolific recording artist, she was widely praised for a take with the Midsummer Mozart Festival in San Francisco of Mozart Piano Concerto in G (K. 453), which was nominated for a Grammy.
She is survived by her husband; daughter Pamela Frank and her husband, violinist Andy Simionescu; two nieces; and a nephew. A memorial concert in New York is to be announced.
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