Audience can’t hold back applause for symphony and soloist Beilman

Benjamin Beilman
The Spokesman-Review

The first thing one learns in attending concerts of classical music is never to applaud between movements. Doing so, we are told, shows disrespect for the composer’s intentions and the performers’ interpretation. In Saturday night’s concert by the Spokane Symphony at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, that hallowed rule was enthusiastically, even raucously, broken.

The temperature in the room began to rise with the appearance onstage of the evening’s soloist, Benjamin Beilman, carrying his new fiddle, the “Engleman” Stradivarius of 1709, lent for his exclusive use as an award from the Nippon Foundation. Anyone in the audience prepared for yet another flashy run-through of a familiar war-horse by the latest young virtuoso was sadly mistaken. From the first improvisatory bars of his entry, Beilman made plain that he was taking a fresh, imaginative look at Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) Violin Concerto in D major Op. 35 (1878). One sought in vain for echoes of earlier great interpreters of the work. Heifetz? No. Oistrakh? Uh-uh. Milstein? Nope! This was Beilman, determined to find the heart of Tchaikovsky’s beloved concerto and set it beating again. 

With the unfailingly sensitive and responsive support of Eckert Preu and the Spokane Symphony, Beilman restored passages traditionally cut, removed alterations intended to sweeten or intensify the virtuoso character of the solo part, and, perhaps most important, refused trying to make the piece into what it is not: a classically balanced composition in the mold cast by Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Rather than hold to a relentlessly regular tempo, Beilman and Preu considered the character of each segment of the piece, and adopted the tempo which allowed it to emerge most completely and naturally. In this way, Tchaikovsky’s repeated sequences, so often viewed as defects, were shown as but one of the composer’s many devices for building tension, only to have it released in one of his hallmark climaxes.

This approach was so brilliantly executed, and did so much to enhance the audience’s delight in the music of the first movement, that they found it impossible to observe the sacrosanct rule of silence when it came to a close. They rose to their feet to express their gratitude with foot-stamping, lung-stretching enthusiasm, which reappeared at the concerto’s close. Beilman acknowledged the acclaim with an encore: the Gavotte en rondeau from J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 3 for solo violin. One could argue that the interpretation was outside the bounds of baroque style, but, in the face of such gorgeous playing, who would quibble?

Just how listening to someone blowing into a tube or scraping a string can allow us to see deeply into the human heart remains a mystery. That it does, however, cannot be denied.
Read the rest of the review here