Joanna Frankel | AspenTimes.com
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Joanna Frankel

Aspen Times writer

Joanna Frankel sits at Zélé Café, sipping an iced latte and trying to explain what it’s like to know you want to be a professional musician by the age of 7.As she talks, two large trucks rumble out of the adjacent fire department, sirens blaring. Frankel winces and immediately moves her hands to her head. These are delicate ears, and they need protecting.Like Bollettieri’s tennis players or Russian State Circus performers, 21-year-old Frankel has been training since childhood for her future profession as a violinist. She grew up in Philadelphia, not far from the Curtis Institute of Music, the epicenter of America’s Northeast music community.Her pedigree is top-notch. As a child, Frankel took lessons in the studios of Curtis’ well-known teachers. She was involved in a “pre-collegiate” program for high school students on their way to music school. And now she is finishing up her training at the Juilliard School in New York City.Her milieu is clearly small and elite; Frankel speaks of being “in the scene” but still considers herself a slight outsider because she attended and graduated from a “normal” high school.She admits it can all be a little stifling. The stereotypical tyrannical parent (à la David Helfgott’s father in the 1996 film “Shine”) is all too familiar for Frankel, who has watched friends’ lives destroyed by overbearing parents.Yet Frankel says her family always helped to keep playing in perspective. She says her parents (both schoolteachers) avoided defining her self-worth by her success in competitions, auditions and performances.”I think for someone like me it all depends on the family,” Frankel says. “I wasn’t taken out of school. I think kids that are yanked early [from school] miss important social aspects of development. When you are surrounded by kids doing one thing, it’s hard not to get competitive, especially for the parents.”Frankel is now in her final year at Juilliard, studying violin and viola. The same pressures remain – many students refer to Juilliard as Jail-yard, and Frankel’s social scene does not extend far beyond other string players in New York.But spending the summer in Aspen helps refresh her each year.”To me, Aspen is like nowhere else,” says Frankel, who has followed her teacher to the Aspen Music Festival and School the past three summers, this year winning a fellowship. “The locals are so accepting of us here, and it’s so beautiful. It’s really a magical summer.”- Eben Harrell


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