Who is the Teacher?

 “I had the impression that the young generation of pianists were more interested in reaching technical perfection than in involving themselves in the emotional and spiritual meaning of what each composer wanted to express in their works.  Somehow I started feeling responsible towards the future of music-making, instead of grumbling about this, I wanted to do something positive.”  Peter Frankl on why he began teaching at Yale at the age of 52.

Last evening, Peter Frankl gave his last concert as a Yale faculty member.  The Hungarian-born British pianist, who had a successful career as a soloist since his London debut in 1962,  accepted an invitation to teach at Yale in 1987.   What followed was a fulfilling and happy career as a teacher and mentor to countless piano students, and chamber music musicians.

Mr. Frankl began last night’s program with the 13 pieces of Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from a Childhood.) Mr. Frankl gave us a performance touched with a child-like sensitivity, and delicacy that was enormously appealing.

Baritone Randall Scarlata joined him on-stage, with more Schumann, in Dichterliebe.  Mr. Scarlata, sang with absolute conviction to the poems of Heinrich Heine, and delivered a brilliant performance that was supported in every way imaginable by Mr. Frankl’s stunning playing.

The second half of the evening began with the marvelous Frauenliebe und leben, sung by Yale School of Music teacher and mezzo-soprano Janna Baty. Ms. Baty delivered a lovely performance of this Schumann masterpiece, which tells the life of a young woman falling in love, marrying, having children, and then sings of how her husband has hurt her for the first time.

“Now you’ve hurt me for the first time, but this blow struck deep.  You sleep, you hard, cruel man, the sleep of death.”

Absolutely lovely.

Ms. Baty and Mr. Scarlata then joined forces with more Schumann, in a group of duets.

Half of the fun of the evening, was watching Mr. Frankl play in perfect synchronicity with the singers. His affection for the repertoire and his respect for the singer’s artistry was evident on his beautifully expressive face.

And then…they came.

Mr. Frankl’s students, each carrying a small bouquet of flowers, one by one, approached the stage, handed Mr. Frankl the flowers, and embraced him. He was clearly touched by this lovely tribute, and I find myself filling up as I write about it now.

I have taught. I have had great teachers.  I have wonderful memories of how my teachers helped and inspired me along the way, and I also have memories of when students inspired me, as well. Because when you teach, you also learn.

In the HBO special, SIX BY SONDHEIM, Stephen Sondheim shows a photo of his mentor and teacher, Oscar Hammerstein with an inscription by Hammerstein, saying,

“To Stevie, my friend and teacher.” 

Do you have a story about how a teacher has been an inspiration to you?

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