What a young artist chooses to play to introduce him- or herself to a city immediately sketches his or her persona for an audience. For a violinist, is it Tchaikovsky? Mozart? Stravinsky? Is she going to be meditative, ebullient, dazzling?
Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang made her US recital debut at Lincoln Center recently in a program of works by Albéniz, Bartok and Strauss, the former composer of which she brought to the WQXR Café. “El Puerto and “Sevilla” were arranged by Fritz Kreisler and, in their Spanish charm and colorful dance rhythms, ignore the stereotype of the isolated Scandinavian country that gave us Grieg, Munch and cool, ambient jazz.
“I do feel very at home in playing Grieg,” said the 24-year-old Frang. “In a way, Grieg was a very natural composer for me to choose for my latest CD. I also feel at least as much as home in Bartok and Strauss. It’s very much about what really appeals to you. And if the music has a strong message it just reaches you no matter where you’re from.”
The Oslo-born musician comes from an artistic family. Her father and elder sister are both double bassists, while her mother is a painter. Her early path was typical of a young prodigy: She made her solo debut with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra at the age of 10, with the Oslo Philharmonic at 12 and around the same time toured Europe and Asia.
Frang first played with the prominent violinist Anne Sophie Mutter at age 12, after the two met at the Bergen International Festival, and went on to perform Bach's Double Concerto with her on tour in 2008, which included a stop at Carnegie Hall. She speaks in reverential tones about her mentor, who has provided musical instruction as well as career guidance. “She’s been a key person in my life,” said Frang, who moved to Hamburg in 2003 to study with Mutter. “What she has done is not only from a musical point of view – but she’s supported me financially.” Frang plays a Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume violin lent by Mutter.
For those who associate Mutter with a serious brand of music-making and controlled glamour, Frang sees a different side: “When I visited New York with her she brought me to the Guggenheim Museum and Broadway and said ‘you have to taste the cheesecake’ and she really did everything she could to show me New York from the best side,” she said. “I really had some fantastic days here.”
Frang is gradually building a reputation on her own terms. She recently released her second album on EMI, and this season she has a busy calendar that includes tours with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the BBC National Orchestra and an Asia tour with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
“Right now it feels completely natural to me,” Frang said of her nonstop pace. “I was always developing myself in this direction. I feel very fortunate and very lucky that I’m able to perform a lot and to travel with my violin and do what I’m able to do.”
Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: George Wellington; Text: Brian Wise