Frank Lévy has an international career as a pianist, chamber musician, and soloist. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the Geneva Conservatory, where he studied with Louis Hiltbrand and Maria Tipo. He continued at the Peabody Conservatory with Leon Fleischer and at the Juilliard School Professional Studies program with Emanuel Ax and Samuel Sanders. He is currently a faculty member at the CUNY Graduate Center, where he teaches a class of doctoral candidates. In the summer, he is an artist-teacher at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College.
I became a pianist because I always thought it would be more comfortable to sit at the piano than to stand playing a violin. But also, I am drawn to that amazing neutral quality that is yet so malleable that it can become fluid, mercurial or stiff. Like an orchestra, the piano can evoke any instrument.
Growing up, I was always surrounded by music and musicians. My father played musettes on the accordion beautifully. His rhythm and sense of harmony was always natural and sensitive, and my teacher, Madeleine Gottreaux, likewise. She discovered that I couldn’t read the bass clef, and so she recommended to my parents that I come to her studio twice a week to read piano music for four-hands. There were no Symphonies or Overtures by Beethoven or Halevy we did not play!
I must confess that pop music was another influence on me. French singers such as Charles Aznavour, Yves Montand, Jacques Brel were great musicians and actors. They had the gift to making the words and the music become one and unforgettable. The legato of Barbara Streisand, the freedom of Kate Buch, the colors of ABBA, and the Beatles as well.
Of course, I went with Madame Gottreaux and my father to piano recital at the Municipal Theatre and heard Willhelm Kempf, Arthur Rubinstein, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Emil Gilels, Sviatoslav Richter, Gyorgy Cziffra, and Martha Argerich among others.
People often ask me about my “style.” In music, I look for meaning, be it Romantic, Impressionistic or Abstract. I am attracted to music that is born under the influence of powerful emotions. This is because when I play, I sense the deep reasons for this music to exist. Music is the child of intensely passionate emotions, utmost tenderness, and one must play it with such empathy as they are our own pains, our aches, and our hopes because they are human emotions.
And this is the rare gift, which I feel is the necessary genius to sway and communicate with an audience. It is what people like Jacqueline du Pré, Lazar Berman, and Mstislav Rostropovich do so well.
Of course, everyone has their own thing—If I had to choose, I would say that I have affinities for Schubert, Brahms, Liszt, Schumann. It’s quasi-impossible to come down to one. I know though, that when I play the Schumann Fantasy, I always feel it as my favorite.
Sometimes, we collaborate. I have the privilege to play solo recitals, but there is nothing like joining a fellow pianist in a Rachmaninoff Suite, a violinist in a Brahms Sonata, a quartet to play the Schumann quartet!
I have performed as a soloist since the age of ten. My first recital was for a blind institute where I performed the Pathetique Sonata by Beethoven and Chopin First Ballade among others. I was fortunate to have been able to play at some of the truly great halls in the world. I have performed in London at the Barbican in Queen Elisabeth Hall, in Avery Fisher at Lincoln Center, at Carnegie Hall, at Royce Hall in Los Angeles among others. I will perform in New York in a month or two, in Singapore this June, in Kuala Lumpur this July, in Santiago Chile this coming November and Buenos Aires in November.
One new development is YouTube. It’s the biggest library anywhere. I discovered many great artists there. Any medium that is a forum for one’s inner voice is wonderful. Whether this makes it easier or not… Well, I am not sure that it does—it simply gives one more chance to expand one’s network, to market as they say.
But of course, we can never put a dollar value to art. All this marketing business is about selling and perception, not much to do with art itself. Nowadays, record albums have more in common with Victoria’s Secret than with music! I would hope that it’s my artistry that will start people talking and not the other way around.
In the future, I’d like to keep doing what I do best—which is to perform, teach and finish writing my book on practicing.
I’ll leave on some final thoughts—Young people need to trust their instinct, to have faith in their talent. They need to be aware of the reality of having a career or better, a life in music; and therefore have a plan ‘B’ and ‘C.’ Kafka, the great writer, had a day job so he could write at night. Salieri was composer of the year not Mozart. So, if true genius was missed and ignored just imagine how easy it would be to overlook talent!
I say, hang in there and do what you must do! Organize all of your life to make this must possible. Nobody said it would be easy. But life is, after all, to succeed in saying what you wanted to say.