“To play on a Steinway with its glorious tone and perfect action is always an inspiration.”
Pianist Gary Graffman described Lilian Kalir (1931-2004) as "One of the most naturally musical people I've ever known. Her central repertoire - Mozart, Schubert, Brahms - just flowed out of her absolutely convincingly." For the conductor Jonathan Sternberg, "Her playing displayed an interpretative approach that manifested a penetrating musical maturity and judgement flowered by many moments of poetry.”
She was only 16 when she won the National Music League Award and the American Artists Award of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, but a year older when she made her début with the New York Philharmonic, and 18 when she gave her début recital in New York Town Hall. In 1949 she appeared in a concerto evening in Carnegie Hall: the Schumann, and the premiere of a new piece by Alan Hovhaness which required her to produce the sounds of the gamelan from her piano, using a timpani stick on the strings.
Kalir had met her husband-to-be, pianist Claude Frank in 1947. Their best man was fellow Steinway artist Eugene Istomin. From 1960 Kalir and Frank frequently appeared on stage together, but they were selective about the piano-duo repertoire, preferring to play individually before meeting in an occasional duo; they made an exception for Mozart, whose two-piano works were a staple of their joint music-making. Mozart continued to play a profound impact on Kalir’s career, as she was a staple of the Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart festival from its early years. Her recording of the Mozart Piano Concerto No 17 in G major, K 543 was nominated for a Grammy.
Kalir toured widely in North America; she was a regular guest in London, appearing with Harry Blech and the London Mozart Players for the best part of two decades, from the 1960s onwards, and also visited Guildford for concertos with Vernon Handley and the Guildford Philharmonic. Antony Haynes, chairman of the London Mozart Players during the time of her London visits, said Kalir was "one of the warmest personalities I've ever met.”
On her passing in 2004, Steinway & Sons released the following statement in her honor:
“The House of Steinway & Sons deeply mourns the passing of the eminent American pianist, Lilian Kallir, on October 25, 2004 at the age of 73. Lilian Kallir was a treasured member of our Steinway Artist family for nearly 50 years. An inspired soloist, eloquent chamber musician, and a beloved teacher and mentor, Ms. Kallir possessed the most vibrant and nurturing of musical souls. From the time of her debut with The New York Philharmonic at the age of 17, her work and her life have inspired all fortunate to know her and hear her play. Our fond memories of Lilian will continue to enrich us, and we convey our love and heartfelt condolences to Claude, Pamela, Andy, and her entire family.”