Saturday, February 3, 2018

2010 IVCI bronze medalist Benjamin Beilman returns to town to solo with Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Bramwell Tovey displayed rapport with ISO in debut appearance.
The mood was relaxed, animated, and picturesque in the first of two Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concerts this weekend at Hilbert Circle Theatre.

On Friday, British guest conductor Bramwell Tovey, making his first appearance on the ISO podium, gave an amusing, informative account of the action behind Igor Stravinsky's 1911 ballet score "Petrushka" before an expansive, colorful performance of that work occupied the concert's second half.

And Benjamin Beilman, who earned a bronze medal (third place) in the 2010 International Violin Competition, showed there's plenty of spine in Camille Saint-Saens' Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor — not just sweetness and Second Empire charm. I've heard performances of this that indulge overmuch in the music's sugary quality.

Benjamin Beilman: Grit and glory.
What won me over Friday was the grit and glory he exhibited from the start of his performance. Giving virility to the main theme made the lyrical contrast that followed all the more impressive. Furthermore, the slight slowing at phrase ends in that second theme was well-judged. The performance had a freedom and suppleness that was confirmed by Beilman's relaxed, unstressful stage presence.  Rapid garlands of triplets in the finale held no terrors for him. For an encore, he played the Gavotte and Rondo from Bach's third partita for solo violin in a similar manner, emphasizing its links to light dance forms.

Now 28, the violinist made a strong impression on me in competition nearly eight years ago, and is also well represented in the Music@Menlo series of recordings from an annual chamber-music festival near San Francisco. It's too bad his full-page biography in the ISO program book could find no room to mention his excellent showing here in 2010.

Tovey and the ISO opened the concert with the fizz and deluxe appeal of Carl Maria von Weber's "Invitation to the Dance" as orchestrated by Hector Berlioz. It was framed by exquisitely rendered solos by principal cellist Austin Huntington. The soft episodes sustained their lilt, and the boisterous rondo theme underlined the perdurable attractions of the waltz, whose vogue among popular dance forms remains supreme, above the fads of fox trot, twist, and boogaloo.

"Petrushka" was notable Friday for the spaciousness and glow of its many colors. The bustle of the Shrovetide Fair music was set against the bizarre claustrophobia of the ballet's story of three puppets.
The character dances before the story's climax were amply delineated; it strikes me that Maurice Ravel must have cocked an ear toward the brief dancing-bear episode when he orchestrated Bydlo (the ox cart) in Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."

After the riot of local color from the nursemaids, the mummers and other such cavorting, Tovey and the orchestra held the audience spellbound through the tortured vitality and suspenseful pauses toward the often ebullient score's very end. The indifference of a crowd on holiday toward someone else's struggles makes a fine "Petrushka" performance like this one properly troubling. The wise opening of W.H. Auden's "Musee des Beaus Arts" comes to mind.

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
walking dully along....

Or indulging in Fat Tuesday revels and taking in a puppet show before Lent's period of penance.

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