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Beilman demonstrates an outsize talent

Benjamin Beilman, a virtuoso at twenty-one, filled Kleinhans Saturday night with an infectious energy during his near-flawless performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. His baby face and curiously chosen black Nehru jacket belie a deep musical sophistication.

Although a frequently performed standard of the violin repertoire, Mendelossohn’s Violin Concerto can be tricky business in concert. The concerto begins (unusually) with the soloist playing—with the orchestra—a famous, descending minor theme which, according to the composer, haunted his dreams and “gave him no peace.” The orchestra’s role is almost completely supportive and provides merely harmonic accompaniment. It is the soloist who must interpret and emote; the concerto’s dark themes can easily become trite, and it requires a mature artist to walk a thin line between passion and melodrama. Beilman did so masterfully, his cadenzas and octave runs flinging him with just enough momentum into the orchestral parts. His one obvious error was one of effort rather than omission as his bow accidently struck a stray note during one of the most complex passages.

One cannot help but compare young Beilman to Joshua Bell at a similar age. His mastery of his instrument is unquestioned, and, like Bell, his oversize talent seems able to fit itself into a body capable of growing and maturing as a musician. Great things are on the horizon for Benjamin Beilman.

The concert concluded with Anton Brucker’s Symphony No.8, a late Romantic composition which, I must confess, I find bloated and tedious. Although capable of great drama, especially in the first movement, its eighty minutes contain a seemingly endless volley of melody, as if each section was obliged to slap a beach ball around until it became too much to bear. The Brucker symphony clocks in nearly ten minutes longer than Beethoven’s 9th and nearly an hour longer than Beethoven’s 5th.

While I respect guest conductor Gunter Herbig’s decision to play the symphony unedited, the composition seemed to tax even the orchestra’s attention. Although there were moments of true artistic inspiration, several bleating horn entrances and a missed trumpet call seemed to derail the performance at critical times, resulting in a noticeable flagging of energy and interpretation.

Nonetheless, the sparse but enthusiastic crowd quickly found its feet and gave Maestro Herbig and the orchestra several curtain calls.
After the performance was over, many in the audience (including this intrepid reporter) found Buffalo Parking Enforcement’s familiar orange envelopes flapping under our windshield wipers—a sad finale indeed for the sons and daughters of Orpheus.

Frank Housh is a classically trained musician and attorney.  He is principal of the Housh Law Offices .

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